SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

What is a Social Network, Anyway? (Hint: It’s Not Geocities!)

Posted by Bob Warfield on October 4, 2007

Marc Andreesen has been annoyed for the last time by people like Steve Ballmer comparing Social Networks like Facebook (or Andreesen’s Ning) to GeocitiesHis diatribe lays down a great blow-by-blow feature comparison on why Social Networks are not Geocities.

These are important distinctions to make, because they go to the heart of the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.  What do I mean?

It’s a little bit tempting to regard Social Networks as being just what Geocities was: a really easy way for people to create a personalized web page for themselves.  Don’t go there, that’s a trap!  I know many seasoned Social Network users that do think of it that way, but it belies the important difference.  Creating a personalized web page is so Web 1.0.  It’s shouting your persona and message without providing any means for anyone to respond.  Yeah sure you could stick your email address up there, and it is a form of response, but that’s not what we’re talking about here!

Let’s pick through Andreesen’s list of Facebook features for things that are not strictly a “write only” personal web page:

  • Friends and the social graph
  • Profiles with structured, indexed profile information
  • Status updates
  • Messaging
  • Walls
  • Pokes
  • Groups
  • Discussions
  • Search
  • Video uploading
  • Events
  • Marketplace
  • Polls
  • Notifications and feeds system-wide
  • Mobile feeds
  • Invitations and contact importing — creating a viral loop that causes users to propagate Facebook to their friends and colleagues
  • A full level two Internet platform so others can add new stuff to Facebook.
  • Can you see the difference all of those things make?  I see two big additions to the personal web page idea.  First, we have the ability to create relationships with others on the network and have the system remember those relationships over time and use them to good effect.  That’s not like sending someone a link to your Geocities page!  It creates real affinity between these groups of people and keeps them bouncing off one another.

    Second, we have a whole raft of things to do!  They are social things to do.  They are live and changing.  They reach out to others and create actions at a distance on other pages.  We can push back and interact with them.  Wow!  This is a lot more engaging than just staring at someone’s vanity web page (although I am quite proud of mine, BTW!).

    And, all of this is packaged in a way that mere mortals can participate fully.  Geocities was a cave you could paint petroglyphs on the walls of.  Facebook is a modern home.  You can go buy furniture for and decorate.  It has electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing.  There are TV’s, radios, and telephones inside.  Friends come to visit.

    Ning, BTW, fits this model too.  Ning is where you can create your own personalized specialized version of Facebook.  It may not be your main home, but it can be your vacation home in the mountains.  It can be the hotel you stay in when you go visit a certain place (a group of people with like interests, say, like a conference).  Or like a clubhouse where you and your buds like to hang out some of the time.

    Pmarca says this stuff really matters, and he’s right.  It changes everything.  At the same time, it isn’t everything.  Your whole web experience is not going to collapse down to just your Facebook page.  Social Networks also may not be the final destination on the web.  In 5 or 10 years we may be reading that some fool called the new new thing, “Just like Facebook.”

    3 Responses to “What is a Social Network, Anyway? (Hint: It’s Not Geocities!)”

    1. blored said

      I agree, let’s just not downplay Geocities’ impact on the Web. It was huge, and years ahead of its time.

      When people compare my website to the next Geocities, I take it as a compliment.

      Mark from ClutterMe

    2. Holy cow Smoothey! And I am struggling hard to work out how to do a ceo blog in wordpress and later maybe in something with bells and whisles. Just getting text and one, one, inserted link right is enough to scare the be—s out of me, pal.

      And uh a a personal blog …and NOW you tell me it’s all out of date? That was LAST WEEK (not netiquette? sorry no caps) when email, just little old html email was on the slide wasn’t it?

      Phew! I am an old man and this hype is killing me off…or is it the milk used to drink! help!

      Incidentally – very professional looking blog. Do you run seminars for starters? Not really kiddin.

      Greetings from old europe Mainz-Frankfurt area where the world’s biggest best book fair starts tomorrow. plug. WordPress!

      Hey this IS a blog isn’t it? seems like fun enough. Now networking? oh nah.


    3. smoothspan said

      Cheer up Lonewordsmith. Take heart in my last lines: “Your whole web experience is not going to collapse down to just your Facebook page.”

      There are many web experiences out there. Social Networks are one, blogging another. Not only do they not have to be pitted against one another, but I believe different people naturally prefer different styles even to do relatively the same thing. See my recent post on Web 2.0 Personality Styles for more:

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