Facebook: digital architect

There is this neat article all the way from 2007, neatly dividing the slew of social network/media content sites out there into six types of social spaces. This is at a time when social networks are still new, and we didn’t have a framework through which we can classify them, between all the different types of user behaviors and media objects; not that these distinctions are actually any useful in identifying user motivations in using one site over another, or the types of relationships that the site engenders among its users.

Matt Locke developed a more user-centred model of classification, based on the assumptions users have about what they can *do* in certain kinds of space, who they’ll be doing it with, and what kinds of behaviours are expected.

I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while, so here they are — six different types of social spaces, based on behaviours and expectations, not platforms, genres or formats. Caveat — this a crude analysis, and the examples are not exclusive — there are lots of overlaps between these spaces; and they exist both online and offline:

Secret Spaces

Behaviour: Private, intimate communication, normally with only one or two others, often using private references, slang or code

Expectations: Absolute privacy and control over the communication between users, and no unauthorised communication from third parties (eg spam)

Examples: SMS, IM


Group Spaces

Behaviours: Reinforcing the identity of a self-defined group, and your position within the group, eg ‘stroking‘ behaviour to let the group share a sense of belonging, or mild competitiveness to signal hierarchies within the group (eg who has the most friends, posts, tags, etc)

Expectations: A shared reference point for the group — eg a band, football club, school, workplace, region, etc. Rules about approving membership of the group, and icons for the group to signal their membership (badges, profiles, etc)

Examples: Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, etc


Publishing Spaces

Behaviours: Creating your own content or showcasing your talents to an audience outside of your usual social group

Expectations: The ability to control the context and presentation of your creative content. Ways to receive feedback, comments and advice from other users.

Examples: Flickr, Youtube, Revver, etc


Performing Spaces

Behaviours: Playing a defined role within a game structure. Experimenting through simulation, rehearsal and teamwork to achieve a goal. Iterative exploration or repetition of activities in order to perfect their performance

Expectations: A clear set of rules that is understood by all players. Clear rewards for success or failure. The ability to test the boundaries of the game structure, or to perform extravagantly to show off your talents

Examples: MMORPGs, Sports, Drama


Participation Spaces

Behaviours: Co-ordination of lots of small individual acts to achieve a common goal. Shared belief in the goal, and advocacy to encourage participation by others.

Expectations: Rules or structures that help co-ordinate activity towards the goal. The ability to create micro-communities within larger participation groups — eg a group of friends going on a political march together, or a workplace group created to train for a marathon

Examples: Meetup, Threadless, CambrianHouse.com, MySociety


Watching Spaces

Behaviours: Passive viewing of a linear event as part of a large group. Organising a group to attend an event, and sharing experiences afterwards

Expectations: Spectacle, entertainment, a feeling of thrill or joy. A shared sense of occasion, or of being taking out of your everyday existence for the duration of the event. Mementos or relics of the event (eg programmes, tickets, recordings, photos, etc)

Examples: Television, Cinema, Sports, Theatre, etc

Danah Boyd (or danah boyd?) also recently did an interview, summarized at The Verge, that touched on the same points about different sites for different types of interactions, a behavior that I don’t think is restricted to that group called the millennials. Just as I had previously made the analogy that one does not sleep in the kitchen, so it is that people require different spaces and contexts for their different types of activities and interactions with different groups of people. To assume that Facebook itself can support the multitude of relationships out there is mistaken. Google+ tries to solve that with Circles, but that demands too much of the user the way different contexts of different apps don’t. (rightly pointed out by Dan Hon in his newsletter – subscribe!)

Which makes Facebook’s recent shopping spree – Instagram, Whatsapp, and now Oculus VR – so exciting. I’m really excited for the latest acquisition and think it is a brilliant buy, and Mark (because, you know, he seems like the type of CEO you’d address by first name) has laid out why it would be so. Gaming, sure, but think healthcare, education, armchair tourism, court side game seats as well.



Cue the en masse freaking out, but those who think that Mark is just trying to replicate Facebook and its unwieldy modern address book network experience to the other platforms it has acquired are sorely mistaken. Facebook the company is now bigger than Facebook the social network. The brand has expanded from being merely one social space to being a builder of social spaces, a digital architecture firm, if you will, for all forms of public/private/publicly-private/privately-public spaces for social interaction. Social, in Mark’s head, encompasses far more than what the lay audience have in mind. And people has always invented and looked for more ways to connect with one another. Software and digital interaction wants to approximate real life, and we’re far from achieving that in entirety. (Whisper, Secret, and now, Rumr? Break down gossip across the different spheres of life – romantic relationships, work, and you have a new social network app waiting. Note the latest craze – anti-social apps.) This gives Facebook an awful lot of room for future growth (though it may want to develop some of these future spaces rather than buy them).

The problem with being a social company is that it has always been tied up to advertising for revenues, and I long to see something with a different business model. (It’s advertising monies, or you coast on scale and hype and wait for someone to snap you up.) That’s why this venture into hardware is so exciting. It can turn out to be the most social platform there is, playing host to a multitude of interactions and eliminating the problem of context. With Oculus, there is also room to get revenue in a way that is actually useful to the (initially, mostly enterprise) user experience. By the time VR gets into the mainstream, advertisements may get in the way, but the medium (I think) demands a radically different take on advertising in the way Google Glass doesn’t (and that should deserve some excitement on its own). (Also, I want to see how Glass will stack up against Oculus Rift five years from now.)

The only thing I don’t really like about this is that these young companies are not allowed some time to develop and grow their own wings and culture before being scooped up. Sure, acquisitions will remain independent, but they weigh on the mind, and it’ll be good for things to develop in a way that does not necessarily conform to a Facebook view of the world. But otherwise, this direction to go beyond software code is…fresh, at the very least. We’ll have time tell us how it pans out.

Facebook as a social network may be old news, but Facebook as a company is looking like a very exciting place to be right now.


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