Network Connections: An Analysis of Social Software that Turns Online Introductions into Offline Interactions
ITP Thesis Project
May 1, 2003
Alicia L. Cervini
"Designing social software is a problem that can't be attacked in the same way as designing a word processor. Designers of social software have more in common with economists or political scientists than they do with designers of single-user software." -- Clay Shirky, Social Software and the Politics of Groups
Designing social software is hard. Making new friends or finding a new job is hard. Designing social software whose goal is to enable users to make new friends or find new jobs -- well, let's just say it's hard. Yet that is precisely what a whole new generation of social software is attempting to do: use online introductions and interactions to seed offline friend and colleague relationships. If successful, the impact such software could have on our social infrastructure is profound. But for this type of social software to succeed, it needs to be designed well, and for it to be designed well, we have to ask the right questions. What makes users more or less inclined to make the leap from the virtual to the real? How do you enable users to find the people they don't know they ought to know? What kind of measures must be taken to grow the community? To control the growth of the community?
In order to start posing possible answers to these questions and others, I have selected three case studies to examine in-depth: Friendster (http://www.friendster.com), Ryze (http://www.ryze.org) and Meetup (http://www.meetup.com). Each of these online communities approaches the challenge of cultivating real-life relationships from virtual soil within different contexts and using different means. Friendster's mission is to facilitate friendships and romantic connections, Ryze's aim is to enable business networking, and Meetup's goal is to locally connect people around topics of interest. As such, they provide a good array of examples from which to glean lessons that might be useful to the future development of social software with similar goals. One possible social software goal that is not part of this inquiry, however, is online matchmaking.
While online dating services certainly create real world interactions from virtual introductions, forging real life friend and professional relationships in such a way is much more complicated. It's a goal newer to the social software scene and it's a goal tougher to achieve. The impetus to take a romantic virtual interaction offline is strong and obvious, because the physical component is integral to the nature of the relationship. Culturally, we also see dating as a lower cost social transaction. There is no implicit assumption that a date will lead to more dates, it's only a possibility. Dates are audition processes. And most people don't make the cut most of the time. Friendship, on the other hand, by definition involves mutual self-disclosure, duration and an investment of time and energy. Business relationships can effect professional reputations and a person's livelihood. Friend and colleague relationships are simply more complicated. While Friendster does include matchmaking among its site goals, I will only be assessing Friendster's ability to create friendships.
So, to begin my inquiry, "More is Different: Why 'Social Software,' Why Now?" provides a historical framework for understanding the genesis of social software designed explicitly to parlay online introductions into offline interactions. It traces the evolution of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), discusses the ideology that characterized early thinking about virtual communication and demonstrates the impact of the subsequent growth of the population of the network. The section goes on to address the adoption of the term "social software" and explain its significance as representative of a shift in our understanding of how virtual communication works -- and doesn't.
"Social Network Analysis: The Big Deal About Small Worlds" describes some of the effects that the science of social network analysis has had on the way we think about the development and design of social software. It goes on to trace the milestones in the evolution of social network analysis in order to introduce and define concepts that will figure prominently in the discussion of the three case studies: small world networks, six degrees of separation, hop count, strong and weak ties, hubs, and power-law distributions.
"The Big Picture: An Overview of Friendster, Ryze and Meetup" serves as an introduction to the macro differences between the three forms of social software under scrutiny. The in-depth examination, "Case Study Analysis: Friendster, Ryze and Meetup," maps the case studies' functionality to some fundamental aspects of successful group and community interaction: Barriers and Borders, Nymity and Identity, Searching and Finding, Privacy, Social Memory and Governance. Each part begins with an explanation of how and why the characteristic in question effects community and group dynamics?both real and virtual?in important ways, and goes on to examine case study functionality through that lens.
"Directed Searching: Working the Network" focuses on a question of particular importance to designers creating social software that allows users to generate online social networks: how do people gauge social distance? Our sense of social distance is what enables us to perform directed searches for specific people in complex social networks. Without the ability to execute directed searches through a social network, the transaction cost of finding other users within the system is simply too high to warrant using the system. Finally, the "Conclusions" section summarizes my observations and offers a set of suggested guidelines, based on the successes and failures of the case studies, for designers looking to create social software that facilitates offline friend and colleague relationships.
John Seely Brown, author of The Social Life of Information, noted, "...centripetal social needs, which call people together, compete with centrifugal technologies that allow them to move apart." By actively promoting and providing the functionality to support the creation of real-life friendships and work relationships out of online interactions, Friendster, Ryze, Meetup, and other similar forms of social software are attempting to resolve that tension. It should be an exciting ride.
More is Different: Why "Social Software," Why Now?
Once upon a time, before there was a dotcom bust, before there was a dotcom boom, before "dotcom" even meant anything to anyone, the Internet was a sparsely populated place. A sparsely populated place, but not necessarily a lonely place. Early tools for Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), such as Usenet, MUDs, MOOs and IRC , were already in use and provided the means for these first netizens to reach out to one another and form social connections online. The relationships and communities that blossomed in these virtual spaces were often intense and complex. They also typically had little to no relevance to the relationships that these early adopters maintained in the real world. The geographical spread of the early adopters of CMC coupled with the low penetration rate of the technology itself meant that virtual friends tended to be real life strangers and real life friends tended to look at you funny when you mentioned Usenet.
It should come as no surprise then that at the time (the early 1990's) conversation and academic inquiry about CMC tended to emphasize the differences between virtual and real social interactions, virtual and real social spaces, virtual and real social identities. Allucquere Rosanne Stone characterized virtual communities as "...incontrovertibly social spaces in which people still meet face-to-face, but under new definitions of both 'meet' and 'face'..." Sherry Turkle, who wrote extensively about identity construction in virtual spaces, asked "Is the real self always the one in the physical world? As more and more real business gets done in cyberspace, could the real self be the one who functions in that realm?" and Howard Rheingold wrote in his 1993 seminal text Virtual Communities:
"IRC is what you get when you strip away everything that normally allows people to understand the unspoken shared assumptions that surround and support their communications, and thus render invisible most of the web of socially mediated definitions that tells us what words and behaviors are supposed to mean in our societies. You can't see people when you are computer-chatting with them; you can't even ascertain their true identities, and you are unlikely ever to run into them on the material plane or recognize them if you do." 
Further fueling the perception of real and virtual cultures as polarized was the traditional academic community's resistance to the very notion of "online culture." Early observers of CMC became perforce advocates, obliged to defend the idea that virtual communities were a real phenomenon. As a result, in order to "prove" that there was something human, meaningful and important going on in cyberspace, early observers of CMC tended to focus on those effects that were so dramatic as to be indisputable even to skeptics. So, while email, for example, was certainly more important and more widely used, MUDs garnered more critical attention because the groups using them were communicating in an obviously new way. Demonstrating that virtual culture was different became part of showing that it existed. The general foregrounding of differences between the virtual and the real in conversation about CMC led many thinkers to become overly preoccupied with the "whole world" problem: Is cyberspace a separate realm unto itself and are you a different person when you go there?
The apparent (and actual) schism between real and virtual lives, exacerbated by the critical thought that underscored it, led pessimists to hand-wring about the disintegration of real-world communities at the hands of their virtual counterparts, and optimists to crow about the "death of distance" and "homesteading on the electronic frontier." John Perry Barlow went so far as to draft A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, in which he declared: "We are forming our own Social Contract. This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different." Many who touted the purity of online culture believed that the evolution of CMC was headed solidly and inevitably down the path toward immersive real-time 3D environments such as AlphaWorld. We would each become masters of two realities, dwelling in two entirely separate worlds, flesh and blood in one, pixels and polygons in the other. Amidst all this spectacular talk about virtual identities, immersive worlds and a separate cyberspace, however, a seemingly unremarkable thing happened that was to change the nature of the conversation entirely: More people got online. A lot more.
Metcalfe's Law, often trotted out to explain why expanding the size of a network increases its value, says that the usefulness of a network grows with the square of the number of people it can connect. If one new person purchases a fax machine, for example, the number of nodes in the network has increased linearly, but the number of connections that can be made has increased quadratically. The "usefulness" of the network is best seen through the lens of potential paths, rather than the number of nodes. But Metcalfe's model is more appropriate for a network that primarily consists of point-to-point communication, like the telephone system. The unique strength of the Internet, however, is not point-to-point connectivity, but many-to-many connectivity; it enables users to form and connect to groups. Revisit the mathematics of Metcalfe's Law in the context of the Internet, as computer scientist David Reed did, and it becomes clear that the number of potential groups that can be made as nodes join the network scales even faster than the number of potential connections. Reed's Law says that the number of groups is 2 raised to the power of the number of users.
So, in light of Reed's Law, the fact that cheaper technology, e-mail and the advent of the GUI lowered the barrier to entry enough to lure people onto the network in droves changed not only the usefulness, but also the very character of the network. It wasn't just the introduction of new nodes onto the network that changed everything, but the complex interplay of potential groupings that those nodes created by joining. Past a certain size, what was once a difference of degree became a difference of kind. As Michael Schrage writes in Serious Play:
"Quantitative differences create qualitative differences. Make a commonplace material a dozen times stronger, and it becomes something else. Make a standard process a thousand times faster, and it becomes something else. Make a once-scarce resource a million times cheaper, and it becomes something else. And so do we." The explosive expansion of the network triggered a dramatic shift in how we viewed, used and designed CMC technologies, because more is different.
Perhaps the most immediately apparent difference was that the face of the Internet had irrevocably changed for the people who used it -- into the face of people they knew in real life. More people on the network meant more overlap between real and virtual relationships. Virtual and real social identities drew closer together as CMC became a means of fostering and maintaining pre-existing real-world relationships. The cyber-strangers were still out there, of course, but now real-life friends, family, colleagues, lovers, acquaintances and schoolmates were also out there. Able to connect and interact with their friends virtually, people didn't necessarily want to be floating avatars in 3D realms; they wanted fast and simple ways to communicate with their loved ones over the network. So they started to build them. And others started to use them. Brad Fitzpatrick, for example, created LiveJournal (http://www.livejournal.com) to stay in touch with his friends while he was at college. LiveJournal now has a user base of 1,003,271 people (460,104 currently active). After a decade in which CMC innovation had taken a backseat to the publishing and commerce applications of the World Wide Web, people simply trying to devise new ways to communicate across the network with the people they already knew kickstarted the growth of new forms of CMC.
Except that no one was calling it CMC anymore and even "virtual communities" and "groupware" seemed to be missing an essential element of what was occurring. It was around this time that the term "social software" crept onto the scene. Drop in on discussions about social software online and you'll quickly realize that leading thinkers in the industry are not entirely in agreement on how to define social software succinctly and accurately. "Social software" is an umbrella that covers everything from the collaborative work spaces of wikis, to the asynchronous discussion on weblogs, to the real-time interaction of chat, to the elaborate worlds of 3D multi-user games such as EverQuest, and more. Making the terrain even more treacherous, "social software" appears to describe a pattern of use more accurately than a category of software. Blogs, wikis and email, for example, can all be used in ways both social and non-social. Still, although it is fair to say that social software is not always used in social ways, it can be used in social ways, which distinguishes it from software that cannot. So, the simplest definition of the term would be that social software supports group interactions.
Not everyone was eager to embrace the term "social software" with open arms. After all, groups had been happily interacting online for years via message boards, chat rooms and a host of other CMC applications. Many contended that "social software" wasn't exactly new, and the sudden mushrooming of debates and conferences and papers about "social software" bore an uncomfortable resemblance to emperor's new clothes hysteria. Tom Coates, author of the blog plasticbag.org, expressed his unease with the evolving social software conversation as such: "...there's something about the abandonment of familiar terms and paradigms like the message board that worries me. There seems to be a bizarre lack of history to the whole enterprise -- a desire to claim a territory as unexplored when it's patently not." Coates is right: interacting online is not new. The functionality of virtual spaces is not radically different in many cases. So, why the sudden resurgence in interest? Why the new terminology? Why "social software," why now?"
The territory of the technology is not what's unexplored. What's relatively unexplored is the idea that groups are first class members of the system, entities unto themselves, and that the nature of group dynamics will powerfully effect the way the technology is and can be employed as a result. What works for an individual user, will not necessarily work for a group. Furthermore, it is not advisable to maintain an individual user-centric perspective when designing or evaluating social software, because groups amount to more than just the sum of their parts. As noted in Paradoxes of Group Life:
"...it is both important and possible to distinguish between that which expresses the life of the group as a whole and that which expresses merely the needs and reactions of the individual member. In discussing the behavior of groups, we view the group as a social entity capable of acting as a whole and of expressing feelings and thoughts over and beyond those of its members. Of course, at one level, it is nonsensical to talk about a group feeling something, for the feelings reside in and are actually felt by the members of the group. However, there are certain feelings that group members have that are quite different from those that they experience in isolation or in some other context. These may be thought of as group-based feelings." 
The aggregation of these "group-based feelings" is what gives the group a life of its own. So, there is more than just a semantic difference between "CMC" and "social software." The designation "social software" implies a new understanding that the needs of the individual user are not the same as the needs of a group-as-user, but that both must be accounted for within the design of the system.
The lesson was hard taught. It took watching environments like IRC turning chaotic and crumbling under the weight of large-scale participation. It took standing by helplessly as conversations on Usenet were hijacked by newbies. It took witnessing the negotiation and re-negotiation of the LambdaMOO constitution in response to user agitating. It's not that these early virtual communities were not forms of social software; it's that we didn't yet understand the significance of the fact that groups have upper limits on participation. Size matters. When the population of the network numbered in the tens of thousands that naivete wasn't usually fatal to the system , people could pretty much fend for themselves in cyberspace. Now that the population numbers in the hundreds of millions, however, the challenges we face have changed. Striking the balance between happy users and healthy groups means paying particular attention to facets of the software that support group interaction like barriers to entry, means of forming identity, explicit governance, the ability to form and transmit social norms, trust, privacy and so on. More has certainly proven to be different.
But different is exciting. With a new and evolving understanding of what makes social software work comes new expectations of how we should be able to use it. Those expectations, in turn, are influencing the ways in which we design social software and the contexts in which we deploy it. For example, Clay Shirky experimented with in-room chat as a social tool by providing the means for simultaneous live and virtual conversation during his 2001 social software summit. Workplace software, such as Groove, is being used to create shared virtual spaces for small group interaction and collaboration across technical and organizational boundaries. Ross Mayfield, Joi Ito and others have participated in what they call Happenings--"ad hoc multi-modal group events"--consisting of discussion generated simultaneously through conference call, chat and wikis. Social software is no longer just the stuff of cyberspace, it is now poised to reshape our offline social lives and patterns.
Which brings us to Friendster, Ryze and Meetup. If social software can alter how we communicate in real life, why can't it also effect who we communicate with in real life? A current trend in social software design, exemplified by the three case studies, is to create applications intended to do precisely that: parlay online introductions and interactions into real life friend and colleague relationships. The creation of this particular type of social software was fueled and informed by the developments in social network analysis that were taking place in parallel.
Social Network Analysis: The Big Deal About Small Worlds
In his 2000 book The Social Life of Information, John Seely Brown intones: "...in celebrating access to information, pundits may undervalue the power of technology to create and deploy social networks." When the World Wide Web first hit it big, and the dotcom bubble started to inflate, Brown's admonition was fitting. Social software innovation had stagnated. Programmers were lured off to preposterously high-paying industry jobs. Users grew accustomed to online interactions mediated by corporations that cast them as consumers. As dotcom disillusionment slowly drifted in, however, people began rediscovering the reason they had flocked to the network in the first place -- each other. Slowly, social software implementation started to pick up again in a bottom-up disorganized fashion. People simply started building the applications that they wanted to use themselves. When social network analysis went mainstream, it opened up new ways of thinking about these online communities. Social network analysis maps so well to the characteristics of social software, in fact, that in Rethinking Virtual Communities, the last chapter added to the 2000 edition of Virtual Communities, Rheingold writes:
"If I had encountered sociologist Barry Wellman and learned about social network analysis when I first wrote about cyberspace cultures, I could have saved us all a decade of debate by calling them 'online social networks' instead of 'virtual communities.'"
Thanks to the application of graph theory to the study of small world social networks, by scientists such as Duncan Watts, Steven Strogatz and Albert-Laszlo Baribasi, group formations suddenly became something you could visualize on scales that were previously unheard of. Social patterns could be seen, quantified and tracked. There appeared to be topological explanations for how information spreads and why some groups flounder while others flourish. Social network analysis provides the framework to understand, the tools to visualize and the language to talk about large-scale group interaction. So, to better understand the big deal about small world networks and how that knowledge is shaping some of the decisions made by social software designers, particularly those designing software that is meant to turn online interactions into offline relationships, it's valuable to revisit the evolution of social network analysis (in a very small nutshell).
In 1967, social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment to try and pose an answer to the "small world problem," a phrase that had been kicking around the social sciences sphere for a few years. Put simply, the small world problem asks, "Starting with any two people in the world, what is the probability that they will know one another?" Introducing a little more complexity into the question, while person one and person two may not know one another directly, they may be connected through a mutual acquaintance, or even a chain of mutual acquaintances. So, Milgram's hope was to be able to assign a numerical value to the average distance between any two people on earth, measured by the length of the chain of intermediate acquaintances that connected them. 
To test his hypothesis that any two people could be connected in such a way, and furthermore that the number of intermediate links required would in fact be quite small, Milgram conducted two studies in which a sample of people were asked to move a message toward a target person. Each person in the sample was instructed to pass the message forward to one person they knew on a first name basis that they thought would be more likely to know the target person. If the participant with the message in hand knew the target person, he forwarded it and the chain was completed. In the Kansas study, the wife of a Divinity School student living in Cambridge was the target person. In the Nebraska study, a stockbroker who worked in Boston and lived in Sharon, Massachusetts was the target person. When Milgram analyzed the data produced by the successfully completed message-passing chains, he concluded that the average number of intermediate acquaintances was 5.5 -- or, put in what are now familiar terms, the small world phenomenon says that there are only six degrees of separation between us all.
Though it played a crucial role in laying the groundwork for what was to become the field of social network analysis, Milgram's experiment really raised more questions than it answered. Some became preoccupied with perceived problems with the parameters of the experiment itself: Does the fact that a farmer in Nebraska can reach a stock broker in Massachusetts through a short chain of intermediaries really imply that the same can be said of any two people in the world? Does a 20% rate of successfully completed chains constitute enough of a data sample to draw a meaningful conclusion? Does the fact that the experiment has yet to be successfully replicated throw the entire premise into question? Others were more interested in the primary paradox evinced by Milgram's results: Despite the fact that people form dense social circles with high clustering co-efficients (Watts and Strogatz' term for the likelihood that two people you know also know each other), we still have access to people in remote social spheres through chains of acquaintances. How can we be locally densely connected and yet also globally connected?
The idea that we are connected via short paths to anyone in the world feels wrong to us, because we only have access to a local perspective on the social network we take part in. In John Guare's play Six Degrees of Separation the character Ouisa marvels:
"...everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on the planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice...It's not just the big names. It's anyone. A native in a rain forest. A Tierra del Fuegan. An Eskimo. I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people. It's a profound thought." 
It's profound and also hard to believe from the perspective of a single person. Given that I tend to socialize with the same group of people, and they tend to socialize with each other, how could I possibly be connected to someone halfway around the world with whom I have nothing in common? Mark Granovetter began to resolve this apparent paradox in his 1973 essay The Strength of Weak Ties. Granovetter characterizes strong ties as those which involve time, emotional intensity, intimacy and reciprocation, in other words, the people you are likely to count among your closest friends and family. People connected by strong ties tend to form clusters that exhibit high levels of redundancy, meaning that the people you are closest to are highly likely to be close to each other as well. While this makes our social lives easier, it certainly does not help explain how we could be connected to strangers on other continents. Enter the weak tie.
Weak ties are acquaintances who are not part of your closest social circle, and as such have the power to act as a bridge between your social cluster and someone else's. Granovetter, in studying the ways in which people find new jobs, discovered that the weak social ties of casual acquaintances were almost always more instrumental in the process than were the strong ties of friends and families. Strong ties, he posited, might be predisposed to help you find a job, but they are rarely in a position to do so because they have access to the same information as you do. In a dense cluster of strongly tied people, information simply ricochets between group members until it eventually peters out; there's no way for the information to escape out of the small circle of friends and into the world at large. Weak ties, according to Granovetter, provide that escape hatch: "...whatever is to be diffused can reach a larger number of people, and traverse greater social distance (i.e. path length), when passed through weak ties rather than strong." 
So, small world networks can be locally clustered, but globally sparse, because some individuals are also serving as bridges between densely clustered local groups. Continuing developments in social network theory pointed to another characteristic of small world networks that clarify Granovetter's findings further: not all nodes are created equal, some are much better at creating bridges between clusters than others. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, calls these people who act as "supernodes" Connectors. According to Gladwell, Connectors have two distinguishing features. One of them is that they tend to be members of a diverse array of subcultures, social worlds and niches. The other is that they tend to exhibit a mastery of and a taste for cultivating weak tie relationships. He writes:
"Most of us, I think, shy away from this cultivation of acquaintances. We have our circle of friends, to whom we are devoted. Acquaintances we keep at arm's length....The purpose of making an acquaintance, for most of us, is to evaluate whether we want to turn that person into a friend; we don't feel we have the time or the energy to maintain meaningful contact with everyone. [Connectors are] quite different." 
Connectors are quite different, but as it turns out, they are also typical of every large and unconstrained social system. Highly connected supernodes are a reliable consequence of self-organization in complex systems, as proven by Barabasi's discovery that small world networks are characterized by a power-law degree distribution. A power-law distribution basically indicates that 80% of the traffic is going to 1% of the participants in the network. Your worst high school fears have come true: whether or not talent, knowledge or skill is equally distributed, popularity is not. It hardly seems democratic, but the power-law is the pattern that reappears again and again in large open systems. We normally think of the elements of systems being distributed along a bell curve, where the mean, median and mode are all the same. SAT scores, for example, are represented by a bell curve, with the majority of scores falling solidly in the middle range and the number of people scoring higher than or lower than the average dropping off steadily on either side. A power-law distribution, however, creates a very different shape that is marked by a couple of very strange effects.
First, as the number of options in a small world network rises, the curve of the power law gets more precipitous, not less. Choice intensifies the curve rather than flattening it. As Clay Shirky writes in his paper Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality, "Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality." Second, the majority of elements in a power law system are not average, as in a bell curve, but below average. Plot the connections to nodes in a small world network and you'll find that nodes with a handful of connections are the norm, but that these profuse yet poorly connected nodes coexist with supernodes that are flooded with connections. These supernodes, or hubs, are powerful entities in small world networks and therefore play a significant role in keeping the network globally connected.
The small world network topology is powerful because it enables large groups to exhibit the desirable characteristics of having redundant connections, short paths between random members and a low overall clustering co-efficient. In layman's terms, this means the network is robust (random removal of nodes won't bring it to its knees, though targeted removal of hubs is another story) and ideally suited for the diffusion of information throughout vast populations. It feels local, but it is global. But, how do path lengths, strong and weak ties, hubs, and power-laws effect the design of social software? In general, forging network ties is costly in terms of time and energy. Individuals have finite amounts of both. Social software is concerned with decreasing the transaction cost of connecting individuals to groups and groups to each other. If done right, social software can simultaneously expand an individual's social network, while providing them with the means to traverse the network efficiently. In this regard, the insight into the nature of information transmission and the complexity of human relations afforded by advances in social network analysis is extremely valuable. It does not, however, make the task simple.
As important as advances in the field of social network analysis have been to the design of social software, particularly social software attempting to leverage online interactions into offline relationships, understanding the features and topology of small world networks is not in and of itself enough. Some early attempts to harness the power of small world network topology, such as 6degrees.com and FOAF, have already failed. There are still vital questions that need to be considered to make the most of what we know so far. What does it mean to be separated by six degrees? Is that a big or a small number? Do small degrees of separation matter if we don't know how to find the most efficient path to our desired target? What's the best way to locate the most efficient path to a desired target? How does the fact that not all friendships are symmetrical skew network connections? How do you account for the fact that the notion of "friendship" is colored by social context (a friend you gossip with is not necessarily a friend you borrow money from)? Perhaps the most interesting and complicated wrinkle is that social networks are dynamic.
The burgeoning field of social network analysis has provided us with the means for grasping, mapping and reflecting upon the dynamic social networks in which we take part. This is happening online and off. Friendster and Ryze make the online social networks created there visible in an effort to foster new relationships both virtual and real. Orgnet.com is a company that uses social network metrics to map the flow of decision-making in business organizations in order to maximize information flow and innovation. A new company called Visible Path has developed a Relationship Capital Management (RCM) platform that uses social network analysis to locate, leverage and create relationship capital. Reflection, however, creates change. Granovetter notes, "...rather than take network structure as static and exogenous, it is important to look into how it is produced and reproduced by the details of everyday activity." Since the structure of a social network is produced and reproduced as we participate in it, it is possible that the reflections created by advances in social network analysis will have profound effects upon the networks themselves in time. It is also possible that social software designed to seed real world relationships, such as Friendster, Ryze and Meetup, might one day play a profound role in the formation of our social infrastructure.
The Big Picture: An Overview of Friendster, Ryze and Meetup
Friendster, Ryze and Meetup are all types of social software that attempt to leverage online interactions into offline relationships. Each, however, adopts a different approach to the task. Each situates itself in a slightly different context. Each environment feels like a very different place to plant the seed of a new real-world relationship. So, before delving into the their respective functionalities, it's important to get a sense of the gestalt of each.
"Friendster is an online community that connects people through networks of friends for dating or making new friends." -- the Friendster "About" page
Friendster is operated by a privately held corporation, Friendster, Inc. and was founded in 2002 by Jonathan Abrams. Currently, Friendster is still in its beta trial phase, although it is live on the Web and has seen participation grow at an explosive rate. As a form of social software designed to foster new friendships, romantic relationships and activity partnerships (as opposed to work relationships), Friendster feels like a friendly place to be. The design interface is visually appealing, casual and clean with a smiley face serving as the company logo. User profiles read like the Cliff's Notes of a dinner party conversation.
The look and feel of the site suits Friendster's people-centric, as opposed to event-centric, approach to facilitating real world interaction. Rather than providing tools to coordinate or organize real-world meetings, Friendster solely provides tools that enable people to meet and interact virtually. While site language explicitly and ubiquitously encourages face-to-face meetings, the onus is on the user to take the virtual acquaintance into the realm of the real.
Friendster operates on the "friend of a friend" principle: if I am your friend, then maybe I would want to be friends with your other friends, too. To make manifest the friend of a friend phenomenon you join Friendster, invite your real life friends into the system, have your friends invite their friends, and so on to build a "personal network" of friends of friends up to four degrees of separation. The software then enables you to search this personal network (and only this personal network), interact with other users in your personal network and hopefully forge enough of a connection with a member of your personal network that you decide to meet in person. Essentially, Friendster maps pre-existing real world relationships and makes these connections visible to the members of that network. By reflecting the social network back to the members of that network, Friendster hopes to foster real world friendships between people who might not otherwise have met, despite being connected by only a short chain of acquaintances.
At first, Friendster's functionality might sound trivial, as if the same goal could be accomplished by just throwing a really good house party, but it's important to remember that typically an individual only has access to a local perspective of the social networks they take part in. The number of people you're connected to feels small because you're only conscious of your immediate connections; networks, however, get big fast as you scale out. For example, I currently have 15 "friends" on Friendster, but at the moment these 15 friends have provided me with a searchable personal network of 27,067 people. That would be one big house party.
The question implicitly raised by Friendster's premise, however, is whether or not there is any social meaning to the knowledge that someone is only four degrees of separation away from you. How short does a chain of acquaintances have to be to really be considered short? Are a small hop count and "socially close" the same thing?
"Ryze helps people make connections and grow their networks. You can network to grow your business, build your career and life, find a job and make sales or just keep in touch with friends." -- Ryze "About" page
Adrian Scott, of Napster fame, launched the beta version of Ryze in October 2001. Ryze was born when Scott realized he wanted a way for the people who interacted at the business networking events he regularly held to keep in touch outside of the event. The goal was to create a way to maintain and build business and personal networks across geography, as well as to make it easier to remember the respective backgrounds of the people who interacted at networking events. Much more professionally oriented than either Friendster or Meetup, Ryze's interface is heavily text-based and feels rather no-nonsense.
Ryze's approach to facilitating offline interaction is to provide a hybrid of both people-centric and event-centric tools and information. Not only does Ryze support functionality to enable users to interact with one another within the virtual environment, but it also provides a plethora of information about real-world events all over the country run and attended by Ryzers. Ryze events can be public, private, sponsored by Ryze, sponsored by other companies, professional in nature or interest based. Site-wide, Ryze users and Ryze real-world events are given equal attention. Ryze networking can happen online, offline, or as a combination of both.
To start benefiting from the Ryze network, a prospective user need only join, set up a profile, say who they know and what they do and start interacting with other Ryzers. Ryze users designated as "friends" may or may not be previous real-world acquaintances. Though Ryze users are repeatedly encouraged to invite people into the network, it's entirely possible that a user could become a thriving member of Ryze having had no prior real world interaction with any of its members. So, the Ryze network is not a reflection of a pre-existing real-world network of relationships, like Friendster's is intended to be, but rather a creation of a small world network from scratch, comprised of a mix of real world friends and strangers mingling online.
Ryze also operates on the "friend of a friend" principle, as "who you know" is the currency of the experience. However, because Ryze stresses business networking over the development of casual relationships the emphasis is placed not on homophily ("I'd like your friend because I like you, I like you because you're like me"), but on the information the weak ties in small world networks can provide. As Granovetter demonstrated, your direct friends may be more inclined to help you find a job than people you are only weakly connected to, but they're usually not in a position to do so. Weak ties tend to have access to different (and potentially useful) information than you do precisely because you are not socially close. So, Ryze allows users to generate a profusion of weak ties faster and more efficiently than anyone could ever do in the real world, and hopes to enable users to turn those virtual weak ties into real-world gains.
The question raised implicitly by Ryze's premise is whether generating an abundance of weak ties is as useful as it seems. Is there such a thing as too many weak ties? Are all weak ties created equal or are some stronger than others? Are virtual weak ties qualitatively different?
"Some say that the Internet eliminates the need for face-to-face connections. We say that millions of years of evolution have created a species that needs real world friends. Enter Meetup. We do something the Internet should do: locally connect people around topics of interest." -- Meetup "About" page
Meetup was founded in 2002 by Scott Heiferman, Matt Meeker and Peter Kamali. Tired of that old "the Internet will mean the death of distance" chestnut, Heiferman et al. chose instead to focus on the Internet's potential to foster social connections in local communities. Meetup organizes simultaneous, interest-based get-togethers in cities all over the country (and 55 cities around the world as well). Meetup's design is clean and accessible and the logo is a dynamically generated rotation of nametags that say "Meetup" -- each handwritten and submitted by a Meetup user. Meetup's logo is an excellent metaphor for the feel of the entire site; evidence that Meetup users engage with the site and with each other is apparent everywhere. Despite the fact that Meetup does not support robust online user interaction, it's evident that interaction is taking place, people are meeting one another, and relationships are being forged. If you want to take part, though, you have to go to a meetup. You don't have to go home, but you can't interact here.
As you might have guessed, Meetup's approach to facilitating real world interaction is entirely event-centric. Hence the lack of elaborate user profiles or online interaction functionality. Rather than providing the tools to cultivate a robust online community characterized by interaction, discussion and "getting to know you" type activity, Meetup attempts to push all of that interplay offline as quickly as possible. When a user joins, it's because they're expressing interest in attending a meetup; there's no other reason to register with the system. The most lightweight of the three applications, Meetup is a bare-bones broker of real world interaction. Users have a big say in how meetups happen, they can submit topics they'd like to have a meetup about, as well as cities and venues in which they would like them to occur, but on-site, user-to-user interaction is kept to a bare minimum.
Clearly, Meetup is not a "friend of a friend" network the way Friendster and Ryze are. What matters on Meetup is not who you know (and who you don't), but what you like and what you do. Meetup does not map social relationships between users; it simply provides the who, what, when and where of each meetup. If you're interested in a particular topic, Meetup enables you to find people in your local community that are also interested in that topic. The rest is up to you once you get there.
The question raised implicitly by Meetup's premise is whether or not affinity is a strong enough motivator all by itself to bring complete strangers together. Is being of like mind enough to turn an anemic virtual interaction into a robust offline interaction?
Case Study Analysis: Friendster, Ryze and Meetup
There is no codified way to analyze social software functionality. Design decisions often overlap and influence one other in ways that are difficult to trace. Indeed, ITP professors Clay Shirky and Jessica Hammer ultimately abandoned their 2002 attempt to create a taxonomy of social software, because they found that other than determining whether the software facilitated synchronous or asynchronous communication, the different factors weren't separate or clear enough to make large-scale, categorical distinctions. While there is no formal set of rules to employ when examining social software, there are questions to ask that help illuminate user patterns, group culture and software efficacy. So, rather than examine the three case studies purely from a functionality perspective, I will approach my analyses by mapping software functionality to the fundamental aspects of successful group and community interaction.
In particular, the facets of flourishing communities online and offline that I will limn are Barriers and Borders, Nymity and Identity, Searching and Finding, Privacy, Social Memory and Governance. Each section will begin with an explanation of how and why the characteristic in question effects community and group dynamics--both real and virtual--in important ways, and will go on to examine case study functionality through that lens. The characteristics I've selected for scrutiny are by no means meant to represent an exhaustive analysis of either group dynamics or the three case studies. Rather, they are meant to serve as a foundation from which to begin answering the following questions: Do the case studies support healthy communities and user interactions online? Are they fertile grounds for planting the seed of real world relationships? What lessons can be gleaned from the case studies that might effect the design decisions comprising future forms of social software that strive to create real world friend and colleague relationships from virtual first encounters?
Case Study Analysis: Barriers and Borders
Clubs have velvet ropes, parties have guest lists and theaters have maximum occupancies in part because offline it's patently obvious that group size matters. Online, there may be no physical constraints to group size, but there are still human constraints. There's a reason we don't invite sixty people to a study group, forty people to a dinner party or thirty people to a book club meeting and it doesn't have to do with the size of the room: Groups have upper limits on participation. Past a certain size, group communication starts to devolve into either an audience/speaker model or else into complete chaos. To create an environment in which fruitful group interaction can take place, social software needs to erect barriers to entry and also define borders within the community at large. Barriers and borders protect virtual communities from both scale and drift by controlling the number of users entering the system and providing them with the means to form smaller groups or subsets once they get there.
Barriers to entry can take the form of subscription fees, as in EverQuest, required invitations from an existing member, as in LiveJournal, or any other design decision that effectively slows the join-rate. Designing a good barrier, however, can be tricky; make it too easy to join and your community may get flooded and overrun, but make it too hard and your community may stagnate from the lack of growth. Social software designers must find a happy medium between throwing open the gates to new members and turning them away at the door. Well-developed borders within the system, though, can help alleviate the scaling problem associated with mass participation. By incorporating functionality that enables users to break off into smaller groups within the system, like clans on EverQuest or Friend lists on LiveJournal, social software designers can afford to make the barrier to entry more permeable.
Barriers and Borders: Friendster
A new user can join Friendster without being invited. However, join without being invited and you're a lonely node of one. Your personal network will have no members, which means you will be unable to see anyone else's user profile and there will be no one you can interact with on Friendster. Other than opting out at this point, the lonely node has two options. She can search all Friendster users by full name or email in the hopes that one of her real life friends is already in the system, in which case she can ask to be their friend (but can't see their user profile unless/until she is acknowledged as a friend). Or she can send email invitations to her real life friends in the hopes that they will join the system. Friendship on Friendster is reciprocal; both parties must agree that they are friends. Once a Friendster user becomes "friends" with another Friendster user, she gains access to that friend's entire network of friends up to four degrees of separation. So the invitation system acts as both the barrier to entry as well as the mechanism that creates site growth. In theory, the maximum hop count of four is also a means of controlling the scale of the community for individual users.
There are three types of border on Friendster: a user's personal Friend list (which ranges in size from the single digits to the triple digits from user to user), a user's personal network and a user's Bookmarks. "Friends" are people one hop count away from you in your personal network, and ostensibly people that you know in real life. A personal network is the fraction of total Friendster users that a given user has access to through friends of friends for searching through, sending private messages to or exchanging BBS messages. There is no difference built into the system between the type of interaction a user can have with a friend versus the type of interaction a user can have with any other member of their personal network. So, in my case, the system allows me to interact with my 15 "friends" the same way it allows me to interact with the 27,067 other Friendster users my friends connect me to. Bookmarks are a private collection of links to other users that a given Friendster user finds interesting or otherwise worth remembering.
Site wide editorial encourages Friendster users to keep "building their personal network" and entreats them to "invite more friends." The heading of every Friendster search page is adorned with the names of the "most friendly people in your network" along with the number of friends they have accumulated. Such aggressive "friend-pushing" on the part of Friendster encourages users to invite more people into the network, but it also encourages users to collapse the network connections within their existing Friendster personal network. Why settle for being separated from another user by four degrees when you can friend each other and then be directly connected and considered "friends" by the system? Further incentivizing the collapse of network connections and accelerating user clustering is the fact that hubs dropping out of the system can cause a significant percentage of a user's personal network to suddenly vanish. A given user may not have been interacting with the hub, but they may have been interacting with another user they only had access to because of the hub. If a casual on-site interaction between users separated by more than one degree occurs, it behooves both users to friend one another sooner rather than later lest any of the crucial network connections that link them drop out. This would seem to work against the idea that first-degree Friendster friends are supposed to be people that users know well in either real or virtual spaces.
Friendster's borders do not seem to be an effective means of offsetting the problems of scale Friendster is likely to encounter as a result of the invitation system it employs. Uninhibited growth of both a user's friend list as well as a user's personal network is reinforced by site functionality, in ways both intentional and not.
Barriers and Borders: Ryze
Ryze takes a multi-faceted approach to creating barriers and borders. On the one hand, Ryze pushes users to invite more users into the system even more aggressively than does Friendster, but on the other Ryze also provides many more borders with which to make sense of the Ryze population as a whole.
The Ryze FAQ says: "Ryze is really about reaching out and making connections with others rather than creating a world with tight borders." Site functionality and editorial certainly seems to make good on that promise. A link to invite new people to Ryze is on every single page, and a list of the "Most Inviting Members" is featured above the fold on the homepage. To post in another user's guestbook for the first time, you must invite another user, and the form for inviting new users is the default resolve page whenever a user makes a change to their profile. A "Ryze Leadership Council" consisting of 16 Ryze members who have made "significant contributions to the growth of the community based on the new members they have brought to Ryze" is selected every month and archived on the site. Finally, Ryze generates an "Invite Report" for each user that catalogues the "Confirmed Recruits Credited to Your Invites," and provides users with a special URL, appended with a user's Ryze nickname, for posting to message boards. Using the special URL ensures that the user who posted the message gets "credit" for any "recruits" who find their way to Ryze via the message board post. So, Ryze has built a great deal of positive reinforcement for user recruiting into the system. Ryze seems to be throwing the gates open.
However, all new members to Ryze have a basic membership by default. Basic membership offers such paltry functionality that it's fair to say Ryze's most significant barrier to entry is actually a subscription fee, despite its apparent open door policies. Ryze membership is offered in Bronze, Silver and Gold packages, each enabling successively more sophisticated means of finding specific users within the system. Ryze enlists the help of its user base to grow the population as quickly as possible, but then gives the best tools for sorting through that population only to those willing to pay a fee for the added functionality. While paid subscribers have access to the most sophisticated search functionality (discussed at length in the Search section), a fact which dramatically enhances the site experience, basic members still have limited access to other means of making sense of the Ryze population as a whole.
Ryze "Networks," also called "tribes" on the site, form one type of border within the system. Networks are groupings of Ryze users around a shared interest or topic. Networks range in character from professional, like the Entertainment Industry Network, to geographical, like the Northern California Natives Network, to frivolous, like the Chocophiles Network. Currently, a user can join an unlimited number of Networks. Network memberships are listed on a user's Ryze page and are visible to the community at large. Only Gold members may create a Network, and they may only create one. Network members communicate with one another about the topic at hand via a designated Network message board. Network moderation is transferable to another Gold member if the original creator no longer wishes to moderate. (Interestingly, many users have requested polling/surveying capability to be built into Ryze Networks -- no doubt because group decision-making is hard. At this time, however, this functionality does not exist.)
Ryze also features a "Friends" list. Users can create links to friends on Ryze, which are then displayed in the Friend section of a user's Ryze page. What exactly a Ryze friend is, however, is not altogether clear. An "Add as Friend" link is available on every user's Ryze page, which would seem to encourage users to friend people whose pages they simply find interesting. Furthermore, "Friendship" on Ryze is not necessarily reciprocal, as a user does not need permission to add another user to their friend list. Friends are not automatically notified if you add or remove them from your friends list. While Ryze friends, unlike Friendster friends, are not necessarily meant to be people you know in real life, Ryze users can add friends to their friend list who are not yet members of Ryze. A truncated version of their email address appears on your list. If they join the system later, their full name is automatically filled in as it is with other Ryze users.
Another border within the Ryze system is the "Contact" list. A user's Contact list is private and cannot be viewed by other Ryzers. It enables users to save links to Ryze members they find interesting, and keep track of contact information for people who are not in the system as well. When you elect to list a Ryze member as a contact, however, they are notified so that they can choose to release more personal contact information to you or not. Ryze users are able to set default permissions on their personal contact information, should another Ryzer ever choose to make them a contact. They can also, however, set Contact permissions on an item by item basis for particular users. So, a user can opt to provide their work number and AIM handle, but keep their home phone number private, for a specific Ryzer should that Ryzer ever decide to list them as a contact.
Finally, "Events" form yet another border within the Ryze community. Events are face to face gatherings of Ryze members that are publicized and organized on the site. Any member can submit an event, and events run the gamut from official Ryze business networking mixers, to featured speakers, to film festivals, to Network oriented social get-togethers. Submitted events can be made public, in which case they are posted to the Events Calendar and visible to all members of Ryze, or they can be private, in which case invitations are emailed to specific Ryze members only. Every Ryze event has its own page where Ryze members can find out more about the event, and which other Ryzers will be in attendance.
While Ryze recruits new members rigorously, it also provides many borders within the system to help bring order to its spreading population. The various means at Ryze users' disposal for creating affiliation within the system will certainly help with scaling problems on Ryze. However, event-centric social software that acts as a broker for face to face meetings must also be concerned with another facet of the scaling problem: the upper limits on real life get-togethers. A Ryze user expressed this very sentiment in a guestbook post to the founder's user page:
"Have you given any thought on what Ryze will be like in 2 years? 5 years? I'm somewhat concerned because the growing member base can make 'the small community feel' diminished. For example, look at AOL -- when I joined in 1994, everybody was friendly and cordial. Nowadays it's a sea of strangers. Can you imagine over 2000 people at your Ryze mixer? (That's a lot of sushi)" -- posted to Adrian Scott's guestbook 3/20/03
There are currently no upper limits on Event participation indicated on Ryze.
Barriers and Borders: Meetup
To grow the site population, Meetup provides a "Tell Friends" tab on every meetup page, as well as a graphic and link that can be used to publicize a user's participation in a meetup on the web. The primary barrier to entry on Meetup is that there's no reason whatsoever to join the system unless you actually want to attend a meetup. Since there is no functionality to support user-to-user interaction, other than a very small, unthreaded BBS for each meetup (that can only be posted to by users who have indicated interest in attending that particular meetup), the software can't really get flooded with users. On the other hand, as we've seen with Ryze, scale might prove to be a problem for the meetup itself. A meetup with fifteen attendees would be very different than a meetup with two hundred attendees. While Meetup administrators cancel meetups with fewer than five confirmed participants, there is currently no upper limit on meetup participation indicated on the site.
As Meetup's goal is to locally connect people around specific topics of interest, borders on the site are intuitive and form along lines of meetup topic and city. So, if I have expressed interest in the LiveJournal meetup in New York, I can see and post to the Attendees BBS of that meetup. On the other hand, I can see, but not post to, the LiveJournal BBS for the San Francisco meetup. So, meetup topic is one border, but meetup city is the border that dictates user interaction. There are no borders on Meetup created by user relationships or user-to-user interaction, no way to indicate "friendship." Although, by expressing interest in a meetup, presumably you are indicating an affinity of some kind with everyone else interested in the same meetup.
Case Study Analysis: Nymity and Identity
Communities are social structures with rules (tacit or otherwise) and customs. These norms form over time and are predicated upon the presence of accountability within the group. If someone believes they will be held responsible for their actions, they will modify their behaviors to make them acceptable to the group. Offline, accountability is rolled up in physical presence: you are accountable because you were there and people saw you. Online, presence is not necessarily coupled with identity.
The use of consistent pseudonymity in online environments is necessary for the creation of healthy online communities because it forges a system of accountability in the absence of physical presence. In addition, the flip side of accountability is the ability to build social capital. If I can be held accountable for my actions, that may discourage me from acts of mischief, but it may also inspire me to acts of altruism. Consistent pseudonymity means I have a name that I can tie a reputation to. So, while consistent pseudonymity is certainly not the only measure of a thriving online community, the degree to which users create identities for themselves in an online environment can be an indicator of whether or not those users have the potential to form groups and healthy communities.
The identity imperative is even more important for social software that hopes to leverage robust online communities into offline interactions and relationships. It may be true that on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog, but they figure it out pretty quickly once you meet them at the local coffee shop. The more of a schism there appears to be between the identity a user forges for themselves online and the identity they project in person, the less likely that face-to-face meeting is to result in an ongoing relationship of a friendly or professional nature. If the discrepancy between virtual and real identities is glaring enough, the user in question will be perceived as having deliberately misrepresented themselves -- not a solid foundation upon which to build a new relationship.
Interestingly, the same rules do not necessarily apply to social software that emphasizes the offline interaction/formation of community over the online interaction/formation of community. If the goal of the site is to push interaction between users almost entirely into the real world, as it is with Meetup, then the process of identity construction can be left for the actual meeting between users. If there is minimal user interaction on the site itself, then being held accountable for your actions in the online environment is just not as important. Accountability and the ability to build social capital are once again situated in physical presence.
Nymity and Identity: Friendster
On Friendster, each new user must create a profile containing nickname, gender, what they're interested in meeting people for (dating, serious relationship, friends, activity partner, just there to help), whether they're interested in meeting men, women or both, their relationship status (single/divorced/separated/open marriage), age, and location. Just to begin using the software quite a lot of information is required. Optional fields in the Friendster profile include hometown, occupation, interests, favorite music, favorite books, favorite television shows, favorite movies, a text field to write about yourself, and a text field to write about the type of person you're looking for. Users are also encouraged to post up to five photos of themselves, with an admonition not to upload photos containing children, pets, cartoons, celebrities or other copyrighted images. (A quick glance through the Friendster gallery reveals that many users have decided not to heed the warning.) Pseudonyms are consistent for the duration of site activity and are tied to a given user's profile page.
Further fleshing out a given Friendster user's identity are user testimonials. Testimonials appear message board-style on a given user's profile page. Testimonials can be submitted by any member of a user's personal network and are meant to act as a testament to that user's good qualities and overall friend-worthiness. Each Friendster user, however, has the ability to reject a submitted testimonial. Since testimonials are subject to approval, it seems likely that they will only ever paint the best possible picture of a given user. In addition, the number of testimonials a user has garnered is broadcast to the community at large as part of the profile information that appears whenever a search is executed. As a result, the number of testimonials for a given user is almost more important than what the testimonial itself says (since the approval process almost guarantees it will be something good). Quantity trumps quality. The social pressure inherent in the system for users to write testimonials for one another would seem to dilute their power to convey valuable information over time, as the process becomes a tit-for-tat "you write one for me, I'll write one for you" exchange.
Finally, in theory, identity is further forged on Friendster by who you are friends with. If someone I like and trust considers you a friend, then presumably I can trust and will like you as well. This premise is the fundamental assumption of Friendster's design, as well as its PR campaign. After all, friendship on Friendster is reciprocal; both parties must confirm that they are real life friends. To add another user as a friend, you must provide either their email address, or their full first and last name, and you are prompted in bold red type "Continue only if you really are friends with Alicia." When another user tries to add you as a friend, Friendster makes a point to again print in bold red type "You should approve this request only if you really are friends with Alicia." So, if you say you're friends, you must really be friends. Right? Except that social software shouldn't try to forbid what it can't prevent.
Two of my 15 Friendster friends are actual real life friends of mine. Three are people I had brief email exchanges with over Friendster. Nine are people I go to school with, but don't really know. One is someone from my LiveJournal friend list that I've never met. We weren't trying to game the system; none of us had malicious intent. So why did we all blatantly disregard the "seriously, you must be actual real life friends to click here" warning? Because Friendster isn't fun until you have a big personal network to search through. Friendster's "friend of a friend" design principle is executed in such a restrictive way (you can only see other users you are connected to through friends), it encourages users to invite people, real life friends or not, into the system simply to make their searchable networks larger.
It also encourages users to let other users that may be gaming the system off the hook. The "friendliest person in my network" currently has 295 friends. Do I really think that not only does this person have 295 real life friends, but that he also managed to convince every single one of them to join Friendster? Nope. I can "Flag for Review" him--report him to Friendster admin--as a clear-cut perpetrator of drive-by friending, but I'm not going to. He's a hub. If Friendster admin determines that this user is indeed actively soliciting Friendster friendship, his account will be deleted, and a huge chunk of my personal network will collapse. To report him would be biting off my nose to spite my face. So, live and let live. I know that my friend list is full of people that aren't really my friends, so why should I begrudge this gentleman his friend list? Clearly, while Friendster friend lists are supposed to communicate valuable information about a given user's identity, I think it's fair to say that they often don't.
Nymity and Identity: Ryze
Ryze user pages are akin to personal homepages. While they contain several pre-formatted (but not required) elements, they also afford the user with a great deal of HTML format-able space in which to include any other information the user wishes to share with the Ryze community. Guestbook entries, the Friend list and Ryze Network affiliations are also displayed on a user's profile page. So, Ryze user pages vary wildly in overall tone and content; some are spare and communicate little about the user, others are very in-depth accounts of professional history, still others convey a combination of professional and personal interests and history. Since Ryze user pages display how many hits a given page has gotten, it's easy to see a direct correlation between the amount of information provided on a page and the interest that user generates within the community. So, while none of the Ryze user profile fields are required, to choose not to fill them out would be tantamount to going to a cocktail party and spending the night in the hall closet.
Pre-formatted fields on the Ryze user profile include first name, last name, company, title, interests, location, hometown, universities attended, previous companies and titles held, personal homepage URL, company homepage URL, blog URL and blog RSS URL. "Have," as in "this is what I can offer the community," and "Want," as in "this is what I hope to get out of the community," are also pre-formatted fields. Ryze enables users to upload one photograph of themselves that is posted next to the user's site activity or search results. Photographs can also be uploaded, however, in the HTML format-able section of a Ryzer's profile. Ryzers have used this space to express themselves by posting photographs, artwork, short bios, links to their work on the web, their philosophies of life, their favorite things, and myriad other artifacts.
While every Ryze user chooses a "Ryze Name," the handle with which they log in to the system, site-wide references to Ryzers tend to favor the user's first and last name as indicated on the user's profile page, as opposed to their Ryze Name. In part, this design decision was no doubt implemented to facilitate the business networking that occurs on the site. It's difficult to recognize a name as someone you once worked with if the name is "lacquerdaysaint" as opposed to "Alicia Cervini." An interesting effect of this choice, however, is that users can change their first and last name in their user profile whenever they like. So, while people using the system for legitimate networking have a stake in keeping their name consistent, anyone who is looking to game the system could hide behind name changes. While their Ryze Name would remain consistent, the relatively obscure use of the Ryze Name site wide would not necessarily give them away.
Nymity and Identity: Meetup
User identity on Meetup is the most attenuated. Once registered with the site, by providing an email address and selecting a password, a Meetup user need only create a nickname to sign up for a particular meetup. They are then listed on the "Attendees" page of the event, viewable to all Meetup users. While users who have expressed interest in a particular meetup are given the option to post a "profile" as a way of "introducing" themselves to the other event attendees, they are encouraged by the site copy to "Keep it brief!" Some users post brief messages, others post links to personal pages on the web that provide a great deal of information about themselves, still others forgo the introduction post altogether. There is no consistency from user to user as to what sort of information is provided in the profile post.
Moreover, individual users do not necessarily maintain consistent pseudonymity from meetup to meetup. Users are able to give themselves different nicknames and post alternative introductory messages for each meetup they express interest in. A given user could have as many "identities" on Meetup as meetups they join. Users manage their pseudonyms, introductory posts and meetups from a private Account page hidden from Meetup users at large. Really a given meetup has more of a user profile on Meetup than do the users. Each event features the Who, What, When and Where of the meetup. Each meetup page also conveys: Next Meetup (when and where it is), Profile (where users set their greeting), Tell Friends (where users can invite others to the meetup), Attendees (where attendees interact), Photos (of past meetups about the same topic) and Links (to sites deemed relevant to the meetup in question).
While formation of identity on Meetup itself is exceedingly difficult, it's possible to import identity into Meetup from other social software communities. Meetup's support of user interaction is so spare, many other forms of social software have adopted Meetup as a tool with which to arrange face to face meetings of virtual friends. Consistently, a good percentage of the most popular Meetup topics are groups formed around other types of social software: LiveJournal, Xanga, Weblogger, Slashdot, and so on. Users who have invested time and energy into creating an online identity may want that fact demonstrated for the benefit of the other users attending the meetup. Often, a user expressing interest in a meetup centered around other forms of social software will indicate their pseudonym from the other online community in their introductory post. This practice underscores the "social capital" side of identity: once you've built a good reputation, you want it to travel with you.
Case Study Analysis: Searching and Finding
When searching for an apartment, a job, or a mate in real life the general rule of thumb is to tell as many people as possible that you're looking. Information diffuses through social networks in such a way that you can never be sure where your lucky break is going to come from. The more people you tell, the more likely you are to find what you're looking for. Alternatively, if you're looking for more specialized information, like the best places in New York to take swing dancing lessons for example, you might elect to do a more targeted search of your social network. Rather than telling everyone you meet what you're looking for, you could assess which of your friends and acquaintances might be best able to provide the information you need and limit the scope of your inquiry to save yourself time. Word of mouth information shapes our lives in profound ways.
The premise behind much social software that attempts to turn online interactions into offline relationships is that social software can create a social network with breadth and depth that dwarfs the networks we are able to activate in real-life. Tap into this turbo-boosted network and presumably you can make valuable social connections and find information more efficiently than ever before: word of mouth at warp ten. Friendster and Ryze--"who you know" social software--fall squarely into this category. The breadth afforded by the technology, however, becomes a bug and not a feature if the network isn't searchable. Generate a profusion of weak virtual ties without providing users with the means to winnow through them in a meaningful way and the transaction cost of using the software becomes so high that employing it becomes a burden rather than a boon.
Searching and Finding: Friendster
On Friendster, no matter what kind of search you do you can only find members of your personal network. The Gallery section is where you go to search for a person using any combination of the following statistics: gender, age, location, relationship status and what sort of relationship a user hopes to find on Friendster. So if a user wanted to look at all the men in their personal network that are between the ages of 29 and 38, within 5 miles of Brooklyn, in open marriages, interested in dating, that have uploaded a photo, they would go to the Gallery. Sounds a lot more like how you would look for a date than how you would look for a friend. Although a user certainly could use the Gallery for less salacious sounding searches to locate a friend or activity partner, the search results generated by the Gallery don't provide any additional information about the user other than the number of friends and testimonials they have. So, rather than having to click through to all those user profiles to find one that looks interesting (since people don't usually choose friends and activity partners based on a photo), a different kind of search might be more suitable for those trying to make friends on Friendster.
While it is not possible to search by occupation or hometown, user profile interests and favorites are hyperlinked to one another. So if you have listed "culture jamming" as one of your interests, you can click it in your profile and view any other users in your personal network that have also listed "culture jamming" as an interest. Unfortunately, all the interests and favorites in a Friendster user profile are hyperlinked by default, regardless of whether or not there are any matches, so a user could spend a lot of time dead-ending this way. As an alternative, a user can go to the User Search section and search for specific interests or favorites by typing a search keyword into a blank search field. The page includes a hyperlinked list of the ten most recently performed searches. Search results display any matching users' photo and the complete list of their interests or favorites. Finally, if you want to search for a particular user in your personal network, the User Search section allows you to search by first name only. If you want to search the entire pool of Friendster users for someone you know in real life, you must submit their full name or email address. If you find a real life friend in the system in this manner, you must ask to add them as a friend before you can view their user profile.
The lingering question raised by Friendster's search functionality is whether people actually choose friends because of common interests. While common interests make good conversation starters, are they an effective and efficient way to ascertain whether or not you might want to pursue a friendship with someone? What exactly is going to motivate a Friendster user to take the interaction offline?
Searching and Finding: Ryze
With only a basic membership a Ryzer is mostly equipped to search for groups they're interested in, but not specific people within the system. The Events calendar is fully visible to basic members, although bios of attendees are not. Basic members can also search for a specific Ryze Network by entering a topic in the provided search field. If a user's search turns up nothing, Ryze generates ten randomly selected Networks for the user to peruse. Alternatively, basic members can find Networks by browsing the complete list of Networks, scanning the list of Ryze's 20 biggest Networks, reviewing the list of Ryze's most active Network message boards, or clicking through to a Network from another Ryzer's user page. Basic members are provided with few means for finding individual members, however. Ryze's "Members" section displays the "member rooms"--photo, name, title, company, interests--of 30 randomly selected users. Refresh and 30 new randomly chosen rooms are dynamically generated and displayed. Ryze's "Find People" functionality only enables basic users to search Ryze members (and even their own Contact list) by first name. All other individual Ryzers can only be found through peripatetic navigation of the site: by following the hyperlinked friend lists and guestbook entries on user pages or by following hyperlinked user names on Network BBSs and Event pages.
In a business networking system where a large part of the utility of the software lies in a user's ability to find specific people within a vast social network, membership has its privileges but Gold membership has more and better privileges. And Ryze makes sure you know it; upon upgrading, all advanced functionality is punctuated with "As a Gold member, you get access to this!" First, Gold members are provided with more robust group search functionality. In addition to the means of searching detailed above, Gold members can scan through mini-bios of the newest Ryze members in a one page summary, as well as the mini-bios of Event attendees (in order to determine ahead of time who will be most fruitful to mingle with). Gold members can also execute a "FriendScan" of the friends of their friends. The functionality that enables Gold members to pinpoint specific Ryzers within the system, however, is the most exciting. Advanced search functionality entitles Gold members to search the Ryze user base using any combination of the pre-formatted user profile fields: First Name, Last Name, Company, Industry, Interests, University, Home City, Home State, Home Country and Gender. This degree of specificity enables a user to search for specific types of people, as well as specific individuals they may have worked with before or know in real life. In addition, Gold members are bestowed with "Pivot Capability," which means all green hyperlinked elements on user pages can be followed and generate search results pages.
Provided you are a Gold member, Ryze search functionality is robust. It allows for both targeted searching and serendipitous finding. It facilitates the discovery of both individuals and groups that may be of interest. It provides search parameters along multiple axes.
Searching and Finding: Meetup
Though Meetup features the five most recent user memberships on the homepage, Meetup is event-centric, as opposed to user-centric and searches can only be completed on topics or cities, not users. A user can submit a search for a specific topic or browse all Meetup topics by type. Meetup topics are grouped into nineteen categories: Automotive, Books, Cultures & Community, Education, Entertainment, Financial, Games, Health, Hobbies, In The Market For, Internet & Technology, Languages, Music, Pets, Politics & Activism, Religion, Science, Sports, Work & Career. If a user can't find the meetup topic they're looking for, they can submit a topic suggestion to the site. Users can also browse meetups by city. If someone living in Augusta, Georgia wanted to know what kind of meetups were happening in her town, she could find Augusta in the city list and view the ten most popular meetup topics in Augusta, as well as ten potential upcoming meetups in Augusta. She could also view the complete list of ranked meetups in Augusta (currently there are 144, with Witches drawing 22 members and Drummers drawing only 1), as well as the complete list of upcoming meetups. If a user can't find the city they live in or a city near them by zip code, they can submit the name of their city to Meetup for consideration as a future meetup location.
For users who aren't sure what they're looking for, Meetup also highlights meetup topics site wide in such a way as to foster serendipity. Meetup's homepage presents a list of Featured Meetups, as well as ten Upcoming Meetups from around the world. The Meetup Stats page reveals lists of Top Topics (#1: Dean in 2004), Top Cities (#1: New York City), Top Topics in the Last 7 Days, Top Cities in the Last 7 Days, Fastest Growing Topics (#1: My Dear Diary), and Fastest Growing Cities (#1: Mubai, India). Finally, Meetup does a little collaborative filtering as well. On every meetup page, users can view a dynamically generated list of ten other meetup topics popular with members of that particular meetup. So, as it turns out, people (in the aggregate) who like Dumpster Diving also have a penchant for Boggle, the Eighties, Feng Shui, Financial Chaos and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Who knew?
Overall, it is easier to find a topic of interest than a person of interest, so Meetup has a much less daunting task than either Friendster or Ryze when it comes to making their site searchable in an effective and meaningful way. Topics, after all, have one dimension whereas people have many. Nevertheless, Meetup does an excellent job of making their site searchable. The functionality Meetup provides for finding and selecting a meetup to join makes the process feel a lot like browsing a bookstore. Sometimes you know exactly what you want, sometimes you ask the bookseller for a recommendation, sometimes you choose a bestseller, and sometimes you just pick something off the shelf because it looks good.
Case Study Analysis: Privacy
As the number of ways in which a user can be found increases, so too does the user's need to establish boundaries and seek refuge in privacy. In the physical world, we can go behind closed doors if we want to be alone, we can whisper if we want only selected individuals to hear us, or we can shout if we're addressing an audience. In short, we can control, to a very large degree, who hears us say what. Furthermore, we can choose who we wish to be an audience to. We can step out of earshot, ignore or talk over people we don't want to listen to. Privacy exists on a spectrum. It is a matter of degree; it is not binary. This nuanced control over who witnesses our social activity and whose social advances we wish to be a party to is a fundamental aspect of interpersonal relations. As Jeffrey Rosen writes in The Unwanted Gaze: "...although social norms of accessibility vary widely according to culture and context, people have a general expectation that they won't be molested by social overtures to which they haven't explicitly or implicitly given consent." 
Furthermore, the ability to control whether online activities and interactions are public, private or secret is an especially important consideration for social software designers that hope to turn online interactions into offline relationships. Reality television notwithstanding, friendships are not formed in front of an audience. Throw a spotlight on the intricate process of cultivating a nascent friendship and the relationship is likely to wither and die on the vine. Rosen goes on to say: "In order to flourish, the intimate relationships on which true knowledge of another person depends need space as well as time: sanctuaries from the gaze of the crowd in which slow mutual self-disclosure is possible." Social software that supports asynchronous communication enables users to tessellate time according to their whims, but it also needs to be sure to provide the space in which private interactions can occur if it hopes to seed meaningful relationships both virtual and real.
The majority of user to user communication on Friendster takes place via Private Message. Private Messages are an asynchronous mode of communication accessed through the Friendster interface and stored on Friendster's servers. Users elect to be notified via email when they have received a Friendster Private Message. Messages waiting to be read are stored in the user's Friendster in-box. Similar in style and functionality to email, Private Messages can only be viewed by the recipient. Once a user has sent a Private Message there is no way to get it back or delete it. There is also no way to block another user from sending you Private Messages. While you can delete Friends from your friend list (Friends are not notified when they are dropped), you cannot specify a member of your personal network to be deleted or blocked. If a user is being harassed via Private Messages, her only recourse is to flag the offending user for review by Friendster admin.
There are three types of social interaction possible on Friendster that may involve more than two users: "Ask for an Introduction," "Suggest a Match" and "Forward to a Friend." If you spy a Friendster user that you'd like to meet, but feel hesitant to contact a stranger directly, you can ask any of the middlemen on the network path between you to broker the virtual meeting by introducing you to the mysterious stranger. Only the parties involved in the introduction are privy to the proceedings. On the other hand, if you spy a Friendster user that you think deserves to meet that special someone, you can suggest a match between that user and any of your Friends, or any member of your personal network that you've saved in your Bookmarks. Nobody knows that a match has been suggested other than the three of you, and once the suggestion has been made, the matchmaking user is out of the communication loop. Finally, a link to a given user's profile can be forwarded to another Friendster member, or even a real life friend who is not a Friendster user, with only the sender and recipients knowing that the action has taken place. The user whose profile is being forwarded is not informed. There does not appear to be any limit to how many people can receive the forward. Any of these social overtures can be ignored, but none of them can be blocked.
Bookmarks can be used as a subtle means of user to user communication. When a Friendster user elects to add someone to their Bookmark page, she has the choice to let that action be made visible to the person being bookmarked or not. Bookmarks are not visible to the Friendster user base at large. However, each user can see who has bookmarked them (provided the bookmarker has made the action visible as opposed to hidden), as well as the list of people they have bookmarked (and whether or not they chose to make the bookmark hidden or visible) on their Bookmarks page. There is no way to block another user from bookmarking you.
All other social interactions on Friendster are made public to the edge of your personal network. Testimonials are visible to all members of your personal network (often the Testimonial section is treated more like a dialogue with users posting responses on their own Testimonial board), as are any messages posted to the main Friendster BBS. A strange and somewhat jarring effect of the "only to the edge of your personal network" rule, is that often message board replies are visible, but the originating post is not. When this occurs, the respondent is a member of your personal network, but the original poster is too many hops away to be in your personal network. Likewise, you can see all the friends of someone at the edge of your network, but you will not be able to click through to their profiles if they are more than four degrees away from you. This tantalizing hint of activity you can't fully see is a somewhat undesirable form of privacy on the site, and is yet another way in which Friendster's design promotes aggressive personal network building.
Events on Ryze can be listed as public and published to the Events Calendar, or listed as private and sent only to invitees via email. Ryze also features a public chat room, although it does not seem to be functionality favored by Ryzers as I have yet to enter the chat room to find another Ryzer present. Network message boards are visible to the community at large, not just Network members, in part to help users decide if they want to join a given Network. Emails advising users of Network events sent by the Network administrator, however, are only sent to Network members, and only if the Network member has agreed to receive them. While interacting on a Network message board, a user can elect at any time to respond to a given poster via Private Message rather than posting to the board. Private Messages on Ryze function much the same way as Private Messages on Friendster. Only the sender and recipient are privy to Private Message communication; Ryze notifies users via email when they have received a message; messages received and sent are archived; specific users cannot be blocked from sending a Private Message. Gold members, on the other hand, can set their preferences so that only other Gold members may send them Private Messages or post in their Guestbook.
While basic members cannot control who posts in their Guestbook, they can control whether or not the Guestbook entries are visible on their user page on a post by post basis. In addition, users who post a message in another Ryzer's Guestbook can elect at any time to hide what they've written, so that only the owner of the Guestbook will be able to read it. If you realize two days later that you've posted something regrettable in someone's Guestbook, you can still go back and hide it from the Ryze population at large; the owner of the Guestbook cannot override the hidden setting. Users also have the ability to release their contact information piecemeal on a user by user basis. While visiting another user page, checkboxes are provided to indicate what personal contact information, if any, you would be willing to release to that user should they ever decide to add you as a Contact. In the event that a user does add you as a Contact, Ryze notifies you via email to allow you to release more personal contact information if you wish. Finally, users can allow spiders and search engines to crawl their user page or not.
Privacy is a particularly important issue for business networking software like Ryze. Since real life jobs and professional reputations could be at stake during Ryze interactions, it is vitally important that users be able to communicate in a discreet manner. Furthermore, in order to facilitate real life networking, users provide a great deal of personal and historical information about themselves. If users were not able to control access to this information in a nuanced way they could easily become victims of users gaming the system. If that were the case, it seems likely that either users wouldn't share personal information at all, which would make using the software somewhat pointless, or else users wouldn't use the software period. Fortunately, Ryze supports a good balance of public and private communication and allows users to mete out their contact information on a user by user basis.
Because the only form of user to user interaction on Meetup is the small threaded BBS on each meetup page, there are no degrees of privacy for user interaction. The meetup message boards are visible to all Meetup users, though only meetup attendees have posting privileges. Meetups themselves are also very much public events, with photos from the meetup available for viewing on the site wherever applicable. Because Meetup pushes user interaction to the physical realm as quickly as possible, the lack of privacy on the site does not have a negative impact on user experience. If there are new friends to be made through Meetup, they'll be made at the meetup, not on the website.
Case Study Analysis: Social Memory
Anthropologist Robin Dunbar argued that brain size correlates to optimal social group size in primates. Managing the complexity of a social group takes brainpower. The larger the brain, the larger a social group the species can handle. While a group of 20 might not seem like too much to manage, to "know" the other members of the group you must be able to keep track of 190 two-way relationships. This takes us back to Metcalfe's Law: While the number of members in a group increases linearly, the number of potential connections increases quadratically. So, small increases in group size result in significant increases in social complexity, and managing that complexity takes significant processing power on the part of individual group members. Dunbar, who devised a formula for determining a species' maximum group size based on the size of the neocortex in relation to the rest of the brain, determined that humans can handle approximately 150 personal relationships before they reach critical social mass. 
So why does this matter to social software designers attempting to leverage online interactions into real life relationships? If we can only remember so many contexts for so many people with so many connections and interpersonal relationships, how can social software expand our social circles? In theory, social software can take us well beyond our 150 relationship maximum in the form of virtual ties -- by minding the context on our behalf. If the software archives interactions, makes friend relationships explicit and maintains a database of salient information about users, it is, in effect, doing all that social group processing work for us. Granted, once two users take a newly forged relationship out of the virtual realm and into the real, they are once again on their own in terms of making sense of their social circle. However, social software designed with a user-accessible memory still avails us of a pool of social possibilities that we would never have been able to retain on our own.
Social Memory: Friendster
While Friend lists and Bookmarks are means of keeping track of your Friendster friends and users of interest, neither list supports any means of differentiation for the collection of users contained therein. Since there is no way for a user to sort, categorize or annotate their Friends and Bookmarks, a user with Friends or Bookmarks in the double or triple digits might have a difficult time making sense of the users represented there. Why did I find this person interesting? Why did I think it was a good idea to add them as a friend? Did I find them or did they find me? What did we talk about? Because user profiles are accessible for as long as a user is part of the system, and a few forms of user-to-user communication are archived, some of these answers can be found, but not without a good deal of sifting through the site.
All Friendster Private Messages sent and received are archived in a user's in-box. Messages can be deleted at any time. To help make sense of accumulating in-box messages, the sender's user photo is displayed next to the message they've sent, but in-boxes cannot be sorted or reorganized; Private Messages are simply archived in the order they were received. The Friendster BBS archives the last 1000 posts, but this often represents a time span of only two days. In addition, since everyone in your personal network uses the BBS, it can represent a pool of thousands of users, most of whom you will never have directly interacted with. Friendster social gestures such as asking for an introduction, suggesting a match and forwarding user profiles to friends are not archived within the system. All possible network paths to another user are made explicit and are always accessible within the system, but the paths change as the structure of the network changes. A path that was available yesterday might not be available today and the system retains no memory of the defunct path. If I delete my Friendster account, I vanish from the system quietly and completely as if I were never there.
So, while Friendster has a social memory in that it saves and displays user profiles and testimonials, it is not so good at making the nature of user relationships and the history of user interactions explicit within the system, which is a big part of making sense of social complexity.
Social Memory: Ryze
The most sophisticated form of social memory available on Ryze is accessible via the user's Contact Manager. A user can store an unlimited number of Contacts, both Ryze members and non-Ryze members, and the functionality of a Contact page enables users to both categorize and annotate Contact entries. Contact pages include fields for home addresses and phone numbers, work addresses and phone numbers, category, notes, interests, birthday and follow up dates. If the Contact is a Ryze user, interests are automatically imported from their Ryze user page. Contacts can also be downloaded or exported to other forms of software or viewed as a graph demonstrating the growth of a user's Contact list on a month by month basis. Making Ryze Contacts more accessible still, Contacts are searchable by as many fields as a user's membership level gives them access to.
Though robust in and of itself, a user's Contact list is far from the only form of social memory available to Ryzers. Network message board posts, Guestbook entries and Private Messages are all archived. Moreover, Ryze's approach to archiving Private Messages is much more useful than Friendster's approach. Ryze Private messages are also archived by the date they're received, but click on a particular one and every message ever received from or sent by that user will be displayed underneath, along with a list of that user's friends. Archiving Private Messages in this way provides users with a richer context in which to place a Ryzer they've communicated with in the past. Ryze members can also manage the Networks they belong to and the type of communications they wish to receive from Network leaders on the Network Memberships page. Ryzers can build Friend lists, as well as view a list of everyone who lists them as a friend. Finally, Event coverage of Ryze Events features photographs taken at the event that can be downloaded or even purchased as prints.
A particularly interesting aspect of Ryze's social memory is that Ryze requires nonexclusive ongoing rights (though not copyright) to all user-submitted materials. This unusual policy is explained as follows: "Once material is posted to the site it becomes an important part of the continuity of the site and the network of information. Think of the service more as a database of interconnected information than as a web page service." The history of a user's interaction and activity on Ryze may have value to the community whether or not the user is still a member of the system. Because Ryze saves the record of their interactions, if Ryzers elect to leave the system, the relationships forged on Ryze or at Ryze Events are not left broken. Ryze functionality provides many simple ways to manage social complexity.
Social Memory: Meetup
An event-centric environment, Meetup retains information about meetup topic and city trends overall, however once the date of a particular scheduled meetup passes, the focus turns to the next scheduled meetup for that topic. As long as a user remains on the Attendees list of a meetup, their profile message will roll over from meetup to meetup for that topic (though the user can change it at any time). Messages posted to the topic BBS also roll over from meetup date to meetup date. If meetups have been held successfully, attendees are encouraged to submit photos of the event. Meetups are memorialized in both the "Photos" section, where photos from any city that held a meetup for that topic on that date can be viewed (if applicable), and the "Next Meetup" section, where quotes from meetup attendees are featured. Meetup's social memory is more akin to a scrapbook than a Rolodex.
Since the majority of user-to-user interaction occurs at the meetup itself, any friends or acquaintances made through Meetup must be managed the old-fashioned way. Although Meetup users are provided with an Account page that helps them to manage the meetup topics they've expressed interest in, Meetup does not archive information about users that would enable people to manage relationships forged as a result of meetup participation.
Case Study Analysis: Governance
We have learned, through time and experience, that virtual communities are not utopian communes impervious to the effects of real world skullduggery. Sadly, as it is in real life, so shall it be in the virtual: Charlatans, hucksters, and ne'er-do-wells tread among us. A group's first line of defense against social malignancy is the set of social norms established and practiced by the productive members of the group. A breach of social norms will often incite a group movement to quell the improper behavior. Free riders and users looking to game the system, however, can be harder to stymie organically because these users often rely on the setting of social norms to shape the nature of their actions. After all, you can't game a system until you know what the rules are.
So, social norms do part of the job, but governance has to make up the difference. Francis Fukuyama, in his book Trust, explains why social norms alone are not enough:
"Hierarchies are necessary because not all people within a community can be relied upon to live by tacit ethical rules alone. A small number may be actively asocial, seeking to undermine or exploit the group through fraud or simple mischievousness. A much larger number will tend to be free riders, willing to benefit from membership in the group while contributing as little as possible to the common cause. Hierarchies are necessary because all people cannot be trusted at all times to live by internalized ethical rules and do their fair share. They must ultimately be coerced by explicit rules and sanctions in the event they do not live up to them." 
Governance plays a crucial role in the creation and maintenance of healthy online communities, and the stakes are even higher for social software that seeks to export virtual relationships to the real world. Virtual breaches of social norms could potentially have real world consequences.
Friendster users can report abuse via the "Flag for Review" link featured prominently on every user page. Friendster reserves the right to remove any posted material or terminate the account of any member in violation of the Terms of Service. Friendster expressly forbids the inclusion of any personally identifiable information, such as phone numbers, addresses, last names, URLs or email addresses, in public areas of the site and reserves the right to remove any such information.
Ryze users can report abuse via the "Flag for Admin" link that appears on every user page. Ryze reserves the right to remove any posted material or terminate the account of any member in violation of the Terms of Service. The most common form of abuse on Ryze is spam. To thwart spammers, Ryze recommends that Ryzers never post their email addresses in public venues, such as message boards or Guestbooks, but has also implemented several forms of pre-emptive functionality. Basic members can only post 25 Guestbook entries within a 24-hour period (Gold members are currently beta testing a higher Guestbook limit). Complete lists of Network members are available only to Network leaders. The Contact Manager enables users to exchange and maintain records of personal information privately.
Meetup users can report abuse via the Help page, or by following the "Report Abuse Here" link at the bottom of every meetup Attendees list. Meetup reserves the right to suspend or terminate the account of any user found to be violating the Terms of Service. Because meetups are not supervised by Meetup representatives, Meetup administration relinquishes all responsibility for anything that might occur during or on the way to a meetup. However, to help make these face-to-face interactions safer, meetup venues are always public places, and meetups with fewer than five confirmed attendees are cancelled. A current problem that remains unresolved by Meetup administration is when users RSVP in the affirmative to a meetup, but then do not actually attend.
Directed Searching: Working the Network
Before distilling my observations about site functionality into a series of conclusions, there is one topic, applying to Friendster and Ryze but not Meetup, so important that it must be broached separately: directed searching of a social network. While the fact that we are connected to a given person through a short chain of intermediaries may sound exciting, we are in fact connected to everyone on the planet by only a short chain of intermediaries. Without the ability to do a directed search over the network for the person you're looking for, the fact that you are only a few short hops away is not necessarily actionable knowledge. The more we learn about small world topology, the more the result of Milgram's social experiment is interesting not because it demonstrates that we are connected by short paths of intermediaries, but because it reveals that in the real world somehow we are able to find them.
Milgram's missive said: "If you do not know the target person on a personal basis, do not try to contact him directly. Instead, mail this folder...to a personal acquaintance who is more likely than you to know the target person [my italics]." So, what exactly is a person taking into account when determining which of their acquaintances would be "more likely to know" a specific person than they are? Of all the possible directions in which each person in the chain could have sent Milgram's letter, how could path selection have been so accurate that, on average, successfully completed chains reached their target in fewer than six steps? It follows that we must employ methods of interpreting the social information at our disposal to make our search more likely to hit the desired mark.
The question is what kind of social information provides the context people need to be able to accurately gauge social direction and distance? It's a question of the utmost importance for the designers of "who you know" social software, like Friendster and Ryze. The value of such software lies in being part of a robust virtual social network, but also in having the tools to traverse the network in an efficient way. The efficacy and efficiency of the search process is key to the success of the software. Without a practical means of executing a directed search you are not traversing the network, but trawling it -- casting a net as far and wide as you can and dragging it across the network in the hopes of finding what you're looking for. Cast. Drag. Repeat. Trawling is a far cry from traversing; it might turn out to be effective, but it's certainly not efficient. So, to determine whether the transaction cost of searching the network is sufficiently low, we need to ask if the social information provided by Friendster and Ryze equips a user to trawl, to traverse or both.
As it turns out, when it comes to homing in on a person's location in social space, people have a very strong sense of distance and direction, and it is measured not by square miles or hop count but by spheres of affiliation. Watts says:
"...in real social networks, individuals possess social identities. By belonging to certain groups and playing certain roles, individuals acquire characteristics that make them more or less likely to interact with one another. Social identity, in other words, drives the creation of social networks."
So, the social contexts in which we participate--groups, institutions, activities--determine to a large extent how we identify ourselves and others, and therefore it is through the lens of these affiliations that we make sense of social space. Milgram himself alluded to the primacy of social structure over network structure in human cognitive processes when he said, "Social communication is sometimes restricted less by physical distance than by social distance...We should think of the two points as being not five persons apart, but five 'circles of acquaintances' apart -- five 'structures' apart."
These structures are the social dimensions created by our affiliations: geographical, racial, professional, educational, organizational, etc. Depending on who you're looking for and what you're trying to achieve, different social dimensions will be the best way to assess social nearness. Usually, however, it is the consideration of more than one social dimension that enables people to ascertain the best path toward someone to a high degree of accuracy. Knowing someone lives in Arizona would not help me too much in finding a path to him or her. However, knowing that they live in Arizona, went to Oberlin and work in new media would help me. I have no personal affiliation with Arizona or anyone from there, so I would disregard that as a social dimension. However, I know several people from high school who went to Oberlin (almost went there myself) and I currently work in new media. The latter two social dimensions would be the contexts I would activate to help me find my target. Indeed, after studying affiliation networks and creating a social network search model, Watts and Strogatz concluded:
"As long as individuals are more likely to know other people like them (homophily), and--crucially--as long as they measure similarity along more than one social dimension, then not only will short paths exist between almost anyone almost anywhere, but also individuals with only local information about the network will be able to find them."
So, in order for Friendster and Ryze to provide effective network traversal tools, they need to enable users to measure social dimensions by making real life affiliations explicit within the system. The more affiliations made explicit, the better, as different social dimensions will be meaningful to different individuals executing a directed search.
As we've seen, Friendster user profiles provide more information about affinities than about affiliations. Affinities may be good conversation starters, but they don't reveal whether or not the user in question is someone you would want to start a conversation with in the first place. "My favorite movie is Gremlins and I like peaches" is simply not as useful for assessing social distance as say "I'm from Cleveland and I used to work in the publicity department at MTV." In general, affinities are far less effective when it comes to making a directed search because you don't have to belong to anything to have a proclivity for something. Wildly disparate people from all over the world could be peach loving Gremlins aficionados. Moreover, unless you're the peach farming president of the Gremlins fan club (affiliations), knowing you love Gremlins and peaches is not a social metric that helps me find a path to you. Occupation, location and hometown are the only affiliation-related fields in a Friendster user profile, and of the three only location is searchable. One is better than none, but nowhere near enough to execute directed searches regularly and reliably. Friendster simply does not provide enough social dimensions with which to place someone in social space.
Ryze user profiles, on the other hand, no doubt because they were designed in the spirit of real world business networking, provide an enormous amount of affiliative information. Universities, former companies, current company, positions held, location, hometown -- and those are just the preformatted fields in a user's profile. Ryze users tend to fill their pages with even more affiliative information of their own accord. A user's list of interests serve as the only affinity search pivots, all other Ryze pivots are affiliative in nature. Interestingly, provided you have more than a basic membership, Ryze search functionality enables you to search for users by more than one pivot simultaneously. This would seem to imply that not only is Ryze better equipped to help users find paths to target users, but it also enables users to skip the path entirely and go directly to the user they want. In the real world, geographical and time constraints might force me to be satisfied with finding a target person through a chain of intermediaries, but social software like Ryze lets you go straight to the source.
Ben Hammersley commented upon this phenomenon in his article about "who you know" social software, Click to the Clique:
"Given the right knowledge of the people between us, I could probably plot a chain of people between myself -- here in the depths of the Swedish countryside -- and you, wherever you are. If such information was available, and it turned out it might be advantageous for us to chat, then we could ask each of the middlemen in turn for an introduction and get on with it. Or we could skip the middle guys altogether. That's the idea of the growing number of social network sites on the net today." 
Skipping the middlemen altogether is certainly the most efficient means of traversing the network. Since that's the idea of the growing number of social network sites on the net today, whether or not the site supports directed searching is a make or break question. Ryze's functionality, by supporting searches across multiple social dimensions (affiliations), achieves that end. Friendster's, by highlighting affinities, does not.
Ryze supports both traversing and trawling (you can search by interests or random members if you really want to); Friendster only supports trawling. There is one advantage to trawling a network: serendipity. Sometimes people don't actually know what they're looking for or where they're going, but they like what they find when they get there. John Seely Brown describes personalized news feeds in a way that resonates here: "Such a model neglects how difficult it is for people to know and describe what they want...It also neglects the importance of serendipitous news--news that people didn't set out to find -- to the way people understand the world." But trawling the network should be the user's choice, not the only option. Social software that attempts to turn online interaction into offline relationships by building robust online social networks for users to tap into should make user affinities and user affiliations explicit in order to facilitate both undirected and directed searches.
Friendster's stated goal is to enable people to build a virtual social network of friends of friends in order to facilitate real world dating and friendships. A good deal of trust is required to make that leap from virtual interaction to real life meeting for the purposes of forging a friendship. Friendster would seem to be well-suited for facilitating face to face meetings, as personal connections on Friendster are supposed to be made though referrals. A user testimonial posted on Friendster expresses this phenomenon as such:
"Christian, 32, single, from San Francisco, CA (member since May 2002) says: We all know that meeting people out in the wild is a risky proposition. With Friendster, you meet people through people that you already know and trust. So it's like having an infinite social network." -- Friendster user testimonial
Friendster's trust mechanism, however, is deeply flawed. Maybe you meet people through people that you already know and trust on Friendster. Except we've seen that Friendster friend lists do not necessarily reflect real world friendships. We've seen that Friendster testimonials skew to paint the best possible picture of a user. We've seen that Friendster's "personal network" can encourage premature network contractions and friendship solicitation. So, the idea that "we're all friends (of friends) here" is really more of a gimmick than a statement of fact. If a Friendster friend that is your real-life friend volunteers to introduce you to another real-life Friendster friend, then the referral is likely to be sound. However, once you begin looking for people to meet on Friendster, all bets are off.
Even in a perfect Friendster world where everyone who said they were real life friends actually was, someone four degrees away from you is still not necessarily socially close. Valdis Krebs, developer of the social network analysis software InFlow, thinks four degrees is too big a number to even bother with:
"The six-degrees small world is a fallacy. The small world is two or three steps. I, for example, am supposedly six steps from Madonna. But if I want a backstage pass, it's not going to happen. On the other hand, if I know you, and you know Madonna's manager, there's a chance it will. The practical limit is about three hops. After that, information, for the most part, doesn't travel."
The largest part of a Friendster user's personal network is the part that is the least accessible: the users that are four hops away. Friendster does not support network traversal, so middlemen ought to be important, and yet the majority of acquaintance chains are too long to support the transmission of information. Reaching specific users or transmitting information becomes so hard that explicit network paths become more of a novelty than an important feature of Friendster's functionality.
Even if one were to find another Friendster user by trawling the network or being introduced by a bonafied friend, the user interaction supported by Friendster does not make the incentive to meet face to face for the purpose of forging a friendship simple and clear. Because email-styled Private Messages are the primary means of communicating, conversation with another user is intense and direct. On a site like LiveJournal, conversation between users is the product of the creation of journal entries. It happens organically and evolves over time in response to the journal entries users create. Friendster Private Message communication, on the other hand, must sustain itself. This is actually quite hard with someone you don't really know. At a certain point, even if you've exchanged pleasant words and learned a few interesting things, you find yourself asking, "Okay, now what?" Friendster has a poor social memory in that users have no way of annotating or categorizing other users, so once the email exchange stops, the user is likely to drop off the radar. But exchanging emails indefinitely is also not a reasonable option because private one-on-one communication is time and energy consuming. If a clear incentive and easy means of planning a face to face meeting is not provided, the communication is likely to burn out before a friendship can evolve virtually or the interaction can shift to the real world.
Unfortunately, because Friendster user-to-user communication is for the most part private, there's no evidence that other users are meeting in real-life. As a result, there's no social momentum built into the system to encourage people to meet. "Everybody else is doing it" really is a powerful motivator, but it's also completely missing on Friendster. In addition, because there are no event-centric components to Friendster's functionality, the burden to arrange a meeting rests squarely on he shoulders of the user. So, not only is it unclear whether or not anyone else is arranging face-to-face meetings, but if you want to you're on your own. Either you must decide to meet one-on-one (which can be scary in real life), or you can try to convene a group of Friendster users by sending separate Private Messages (which is hard to coordinate) or you can post a message to the Friendster BBS. After all, that's what the BBS is for:
"Use the Bulletin Board to post messages (such as questions, party invites, event information, romance issues, etc.) to your entire personal network. You can only see bulletins that were posted by people in your network, and your postings will only be visible to people who are connected to you."Great. So, if I were a particularly gregarious Friendster user ready to start making those face-to-face connections, I could throw a party and post the invitation to the Friendster BBS--where all 27,067 members of my personal network would see it. Better warn the neighbors.
When it comes to arranging face to face meetings, Friendster has a Goldilocks problem. Some user clusters are too big (your personal network). Some user clusters are too small (Private Messages). No user clusters are just right, because even the users on your friend list must be contacted via one-on-one private messages. Providing ways for users to cluster and communicate around topics of interest or affiliations would be a more organic way to facilitate face-to-face meetings. If the purpose is to foster real-world friendships, convening a group to meet in real life is paradoxically easier (provided that no one particular member must be present) than arranging a one-on-one meeting. Groups provide safety in numbers, as well as a meta-agenda that takes the social pressure off any two given individuals. While Friendster will no doubt birth some friendship success stories (serendipity is like that), its functionality seems far better suited to a dating service than to a friend service.
Ryze, in contrast, circumvents many of the obstacles that litter the path to offline meetings. Ryze's stated goal is to enable people to make connections and grow networks that will enable users to make business contacts. As a result, an inherent advantage Ryze enjoys is that the incentive to meet for the purpose of business networking, as opposed to making a new friend, is clear and simple. First, "business contact" is a relationship that requires far less maintenance than "friend." It's easier to get into; it's easier to get out of. It's also easier to describe and look for the perfect job than the "perfect friend." Furthermore, the fact that network traversal is possible on Ryze, due to the emphasis placed on user affiliations, means that the search itself will be easier as well. Easy is good; it's what keeps the transaction costs of using the software acceptably low.
While the trust mechanism on Ryze initially appears to be the weakest of the three case studies because it's merely declarative in nature, a combination of factors serves to boost the trust factor considerably. Believing someone is who they say they are and knows who they say they know simply because they say it is a bigger leap of faith than accepting the referral of a friend or meeting a person face to face. However, as John Seely Brown notes: "In general, people look beyond information to triangulate reliability. People look past what others say, for example, to gauge trustworthiness. Some clues might be formal and institutional...Others are informal." So, who and what a Ryzer says they know are only part of the picture. Are they members of Networks? Which ones? Do they interact there? What do other Network members seem to think of this person? Do they attend events? Which ones? Is their user profile detailed? Consistent? Are their friendships reciprocal? There are so many ways to be a member of a group and to interact on Ryze that users leave footprints and clues all over the system. A great deal of metadata about users can be collected and mined on Ryze.
If that sounds suspiciously like a little too much work, a user can forgo the detective work all together and rely on Ryze's event-coordination tools to meet the person face to face at a Ryze event. The event-centric elements on Ryze further serve to enhance trust. If you're one of those that prefers eye contact and a handshake to a user profile, Ryzers are meeting in real life and those meetings are both easy to see and easy to join. Circumspect users can attend Ryze events, organized and run by Ryze administrators. Bolder users can attend user or Network listed events. On Ryze, everybody's doing it and it's obvious (you can even get a souvenir print in a convenient wallet size).
Finally, Ryze provides a good combination of public and private means of communicating. Ryzers can communicate with entire groups, on Network BBSs and through Event pages, or with specific individuals, through Private Messages or Guestbook entries. More importantly, however, Ryze also provides users with the tools to manage and remember the virtual and real social interactions they've had and the users they've met. The ability to annotate users in the Contact list means that Ryze can be a powerful transactive memory for users. Gladwell says of memory:
"When we talk about memory, we aren't just talking about ideas and impressions and facts stored inside our heads. An awful lot of what we remember is actually stored outside our brains. Most of us deliberately don't memorize most of the phone numbers we need. But we do memorize where to find them -- in a phone book, or in our personal Rolodex. Or we memorize the number 411, so we can call directory assistance. Nor do most of us know, say, the capital of Paraguay or some other obscure country. Why bother? It's an awful lot easier to buy an atlas and store that kind of information there."
Since there is a human limit to the number of social connections most people can reasonably manage and maintain, Ryze's relationship management functionality essentially serves as a social complexity cruncher. Ryze may bump its head against the scale ceiling a bit, particularly during real life Events, but Ryze's functionality certainly seems to be successfully bridging the gap between virtual and real worlds. The same can be said for Meetup.
Meetup's stated goal is to locally connect people around topics of interest. The most lightweight of the three applications, Meetup achieves this end by employing a radically different design strategy than either Friendster or Ryze: Little to no onsite user-to-user interaction or user identity. Part of the reason meetups happen successfully, despite the almost complete lack of user-to-user interaction, is that the incentive to meet is simple and clear. When you go to a meetup, it's to meet people to talk about a specific topic. No fuss, no muss. In addition, evidence that meetups occur can be seen all over the site. Photographs, user testimonials, news articles, and attendance lists posted to the site all demonstrate that meetups happen. The visibility of meetups and the ease within the system create social momentum.
In addition, meetups look safe. While Meetup administrators do not supervise meetups, all meetups take place in public venues and meetups with fewer than 5 confirmed attendees are cancelled. Of course, there's always the potential that confirmed attendees who RSVP'd in the affirmative might not show up. Arriving at a meetup to find yourself the only user there would be a nuisance, but it wouldn't be dangerous. Meetup truancy, however, could pose a problem for Meetup. Finding yourself the only attendee at a meetup could discourage you from trying Meetup again, particularly if you had to travel to get there. Unfortunately, because there is no consistent pseudonymity on Meetup, there's no way to rely on social norms for regulating RSVP behavior. So, Meetup has to resort to forbidding what it can't prevent. Meetup's only other Achilles' heel is the exact opposite problem: meetups that get too big. Although, splitting or subdividing popular meetups could resolve this issue if site popularity continues to grow.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of Meetup, however, is the fact that half of the top 10 most popular meetup topics are pre-existing social software communities such as LiveJournal, Slashdot, Weblogger, and Fark. Each of these communities is a robust form of social software, conversational in nature and with trust mechanisms and reputation systems of their own. These outside community members will often import their pseudonyms into Meetup. The success of Meetup as an add-on tool for other forms of social software would seem to imply that social software attempting to parlay online communication into offline interactions is best served by the extremes of user-to-user interaction. Either the site should implement a reputation system and support robust user-to-user interaction, or the site should pare onsite user-to-user interaction to a bare minimum. It's the middle ground occupied by Friendster--a present but deeply flawed trust mechanism and middling support for user-to-user interaction--that causes the most trouble.
So, without further ado, an informal collection of Guidelines for the design of social software intended to turn online interactions into offline friend and colleague relationships as gleaned from Friendster, Ryze and Meetup:
1. Make the incentive to meet simple and clear. Real life meetings require an investment of time and energy. If it's not clear what users stand to gain by making that investment, they won't. "Make a business contact" is clear and simple. "Meet another person who also likes to talk about knitting" is clear and simple. "Make a friend" is not clear or simple. Seems like it should be, but it's not.
2. Build event-centric components into the software. If you want users to meet face to face, make it easy for them to do so. Build functionality into the system designed expressly for that purpose. Keep in mind that planning to convene a group is paradoxically easier (provided the participation of any given group member is not required) than attempting to arrange a meeting between two individuals.
3. Don't forbid what you can't prevent. Unfortunately, the honor system is not a valid design parameter. Rely on it at your peril. See: Friendster's invitation policy, Meetup's RSVP policy.
4. Create a transactive social memory. If your software is designed to create an online social network, providing the means to generate an explosion of weak acquaintance ties is not enough. Users should be able to annotate, contextualize and categorize their friends within the system to help make sense of them. The software should remember social interactions and relationships on our behalf. If it doesn't, network ties become too costly to forge and maintain.
5. Make successful meetings visible within the system. Success breeds success. If your software is facilitating offline relationships, make them obvious within the system. Let users post pictures of the event or talk about what happened when they met. Give users an example to follow. Make meeting look like a good idea.
6. Facilitate network traversal and trawling. If your software is designed to create an online social network, provide users with the means to evaluate each other's social affiliations, not just their affinities. Our social affiliations are how we gauge social distance. If users are left affiliation-blind, it becomes impossible to execute directed searches within the system.
7. Beware the Goldilocks problem. Some user clusters are too big. Some are too small. Strive for just right. Just right will depend on what the group in question is trying to achieve. Enabling users to form different groups of different sizes for different reasons will go a long way towards resolving the Goldilocks problem.
8. Expect the system to evolve. Let it. The functionality of Friendster and Ryze evolved even over the course of the last few months. This is not surprising. Social networks are dynamic, and users use social software in unexpected ways. The best thing is just to build something you think will work. Then be ready to change it.
 Clay Shirky, "What is Social Software," Social Software, 22 March 2003, (http://social.itp.tsoa.nyu.edu/weblog/) (4 April 2003).
 John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000), xix.
 Usenet, MUDS and group chat were invented within 18 months of one another in the late 70s. The WELL emerged in 1985, IRC in 1988. And then, apart from email in 1992, things got pretty quiet on the CMC development front. Source: Clay Shirky, "Social Software and the Politics of Groups," Clay Shirky's Writings About the Internet, 9 March 2003, (http://shirky.com/writings/group_politics.html) (4 April 2003).
 Allucquere Rosanne Stone, The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age, (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1995).
 Sherry Turkle, "Virtuality and its Discontents," The American Prospect Online, 1 December 1996, (http://www.prospect.org/print/V7/24/turkle-s.html) (2 April 2003).
 Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000), 183.
 Clay Shirky, Social Weather class, 16 September 2002.
 Rheingold, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier.
 John Perry Barlow, "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," HotWired, 8 February 1996, (http://hotwired.lycos.com/wired_online/4.06/declaration/) (21 April 2003).
 Alphaworld, (http://www.activeworlds.com/worlds/alphaworld/) (21 April 2003).
 David Weinberger, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web, (Cambridge: Perseus Press, 2002),105-106.
 Michael Schrage, Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000), 12.
 Nobel laureate Phillip Anderson coined the expression "more is different" in his 1971 paper of the same title, which was published in Science the following year.
 Matt Jones' weblog has a particularly good debate: "Discussing Social Software," blackbeltjones.com, 3 January 2003, (http://www.blackbeltjones.com/work/mt/archives/000472.html) (3 March 2003).
 Shirky, "Social Software and the Politics of Groups."
 "The excesses of 'Social Software'," plasticbag.org, 8 January 2003, (http://www.plasticbag.org/files/comm/the_excesses_of_social_software.shtml) (3 March 2003).
 David N. Berg and Kenwyn K. Smith, Paradoxes of Group Life, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987), 63.
 Chugalug IRC, 8 September 2002, (http://mail.chatt.net/pipermail/chugalug/2002-September/000341.html) (28 April 2003).
 "The September that Never Ended," The Jargon Dictionary, (http://kldp.org/~eunjea/jargon/?idx=September-that-never-ended.html) (28 April 2003).
 "LambdaMOO Takes a New Direction," (http://www.cc.gatech.edu/classes/AY2001/cs6470_fall/LTAND.html) (4 April 2003).
 CommuniTree is one early example of a system that failed spectacularly when it careened into the effects of scale. CommuniTree's disintegration is documented in Chapter 5 of Stone's The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age.
 Clay Shirky, "In-Room Chat as a Social Tool," O'Reilly Open P2P, 26 December 2002, (http://www.openp2p.com/pub/a/p2p/2002/12/26/inroom_chat.html) (3 March 2003).
 "Groove Workspace FAQ," Groove Networks, (http://www.groove.net/products/workspace/faq.html) (3 March 2003).
 "Happening," Ross Mayfield's Weblog, 15 February 2003, (http://radio.weblogs.com/0114726/2003/02/15.html) (3 March 2003).
 Brown and Duguid, The Social Life of Information, xvii.
 Rheingold, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, 359.
 Stanley Milgram, "The Small World Problem," Psychology Today, May 1967, 62.
 Ibid., 64.
 John Guare, Six Degrees of Separation: A Play, (New York: Vintage Books, 1990).
 Mark Granovetter, "The Strength of Weak Ties," American Journal of Sociology, v. 78, 1973, 1361.
 Ibid., 1366.
 Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 200), 45-46.
 Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Linked: The New Science of Networks, (Cambridge: Perseus Press, 2002), 70.
 Clay Shirky, "Power Laws Weblogs and Inequalities," Clay Shirky's Writings About the Internet, 8 February 2003, (http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html) (3 March 2003).
 Duncan J. Watts, Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 240-242.
 Duncan J. Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), 132-136.
 Watts, Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness, 5.
 Orgnet.com, (http://www.orgnet.com/decisions.html) (3 March 2003).
 Antony Brydon, email correspondence with author, 7 April 2003.
 Mark Granovetter, Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974),152.
 "Friendster beta," (http://www2.friendster.com/index.jsp) (2 April 2003).
 "About Ryze," (http://new.ryze.com/about.php) (2 April 2003).
 "Meetup Frequent Questions," (http://www.meetup.com/faq/about_us/) (2 April 2003).
 Jessica Hammer, email correspondence with author, 14 April 2003.
 Richard J. Hackman, Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002),100.
 While a maximum hopcount is not indicated anywhere on the Friendster site, empirical evidence points to a maximum hop count of four.
 "Ryze FAQ," (http://ryze.trakhelp.com/bin/answer.py?answer=124&topic=-1) (31 March 2003).
 "About Ryze," (http://new.ryze.com/about.php) (31 March 2003).
 "Adrian Scott's Guestbook," (http://new.ryze.com/view.php?who=adrian) (31 March 2003).
 Hackman, Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances,105-106.
 When I began studying Friendster in March, adding a friend did not require inputting a full name or email address. Clearly, Friendster is trying to ensure that Friendster friends are genuinely real life friends to have implemented this functionality. Equally clearly, there have been abuses of the system for Friendster admin to have thought this was a necessary change. Despite making it slightly harder to add people that are not real life friends, it's a measure that is still quite easy to get around, particularly when the pressure to grow your personal network is such a part of the Friendster experience.
 "Meetup Stats," (http://www.meetup.com/stats.jsp) (21 April 2003).
 Ryze used to feature FriendScan level I (friends of friends) for Silver members and FriendScan level II (friends of friends of friends) for Gold members. FriendScan level II has recently vanished as available functionality. It would be interesting to know if Ryze elected to do away with FriendScan level II because it was technologically unfeasible or socially impractical and undesirable. I'm guessing the latter.
 Jeffrey Rosen, The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America, (New York: Knopf, 2001), 17.
 Ibid., 8.
 Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, 177-179.
 Ibid., 179.
 "Ryze FAQ," (http://ryze.trakhelp.com/bin/answer.py?answer=126&topic=-1) (31 March 2003).
 Berg and Smith, Paradoxes of Group Life, 60.
 Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 25.
 Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, 136.
 Milgram, "The Small World Problem," 65.
 Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, 116.
 Ibid., 148.
 Milgram, "The Small World Problem," 66-67.
 Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, 153.
 Ben Hammersley, "Click to the Clique," The Guardian, 9 January 2003, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4579200,00.html) (31 March, 2003).
 If you're a hub or a high profile personality in the system, users regularly skipping the middleman could be problematic; after all, middlemen act as filters by essentially vouching for the person they're introducing. But the typical network member is not a hub and not inundated with communication from unknown users.
 Facilitating directed searches for users is not an issue for Meetup, which has a fundamentally different design principle than does Friendster and Ryze. It is interesting to note, however, that more than half of the most popular meetups are consistently affiliation based and not affinity based.
 Brown and Duguid, The Social Life of Information, 218-219.
 "Friendster Testimonials," (http://www.friendster.com/info/testimonials.jsp) (31 March 2003).
 Jon Udell, "Seeing and Tuning Social Networks," O'Reilly Network, 4 June 2002, (http://www.oreillynet.com/1pt/a/2385) (3 March, 2003).
 Brown and Duguid, The Social Life of Information,187.
 Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,187-188.
 Amber Cartwright and Melora Heavey, "Meetup Findings," (http://stage.itp.tsoa.nyu.edu/%7Eac931/meetUp_findings.html) (29 April 2003).
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