Caveat: There’s a lot of different ways of slicing and dicing social networks. In this post, I want to show the three fundamental approaches that social networks use for activity around social media. If I was writing about identity, profile and management of friends, it would be a whole different grouping of examples.. I think. Another caveat: blogs are a technology, not a social network, so they can be used in different ways e.g. a PR blog is one-to-many, but you can have group blogs (few-to-many). They can be link sites (post a link) or media blogs (whack up video, audio, powerpoint) and so on… I’ve tried to stick with the general use of a blog (article based, one-to-many discussion).

I got chatting with some very nice people over drinks at Bar Luca (after the very fun DebateIT discussion that Rachel Slattery conned me into). And I spoke on styles of networks at a lovely conference last week, so it’s probably stewed enough (like old tea) to be articulated here on dear ol’ bloggy.

I reckon there are three types of social networks that are media focussed and then a fourth which is not media. Sometimes I think there might be five altogether, but, nah, not sure. Anyway the main three are: Discover and share, Create (content) and share, Conversation and share (or at least, bring in your friends). The fourth is activity, usually aggregated, not around media.

Discover and share
Discover and share is where you find something cool, link to it, and add a couple of lines.

Facebook is a great discover and share, or search and share network. Found a good video? Go to posted items and embed it, share with your network. Shared content that is hosted mostly externally. Found a good blog post? Link to it and click share. But you won’t want to write an indepth review. Keep that for your blog. Yes, most people add a line or two and that’s it.

Social bookmarking is also discovery and share: Digg and del.icio.us and technorati and whatnot. Link to something, rate it, comment on it, move on. Some blogs fall into this category, particularly the ones that don’t really create original content, the ones that perform the social function of “hey! here’s the media article on xyz, enjoy it!”. Many people will use Twitter this way from time to time, (or, in Guy Kawasaki’s case) always.

Guy2 guykawasaki

Pink Underwear for Mike Tyson http://tinyurl.com/399xqm

Catering to a Growing Mobile Workforce: Did you know that hotels and airports are upgrading their fu.. http://tinyurl.com/2pjogf
Internet Brownouts Feared By As Early As 2010: Within a few years says a study, internet use will be .. http://tinyurl.com/262sgf
Two Teams Discover How to Make Stem Cells from Skin Cells http://tinyurl.com/yomnq5

Guy Kawasaki is linking to a social media voting site called Truemors. A bit like Digg. The courier mail in Queensland tweets. And some kind soul has set up tweets for Melbourne Transport so that you get updates on travel delays.

And just to be clear, the discover and share, or find and share, doesn’t mean there is no content created, such as discussion, just that the discussion tends to be a bite, rather than a sitdown meal. Lots and lots of one/two sentence responses, funny quips, pokes and how-are-yous. One would be challenged to write War and Peace on a discover and share site. Even managing group discussions and walls is a nightmare in Facebook – much better to have the content or conversation elsewhere and simply link to it in FB.

Create and share
Some blogs are create and share. That means you write something on your own in your home office or while the boss or teacher isn’t looking, and post it up and hope someone will discover it, think it’s cool, comment, rate and then link to it from a discovery site like Digg or Facebook or from another blog. MySpace is create and share site although, again, some people use blogs and MySpace to simply link to discovered items. Create a video and blog it on YouTube. Ditto Flickr for fotos and Slideshare for Powerpoint. Podcasts – create sound/audio.

I’d also argue that ‘create and share’ is about depth of content. If someone links to a media article and writes a sentence or two, that’s a ‘discover and share’ process. But if they analyse the article, agree or disagree with it, expound their arguments, pull in other sources, write a bloody essay on it, then we’ve moved into creating content. And yes, I understand that clicking on a star rating system or writing “thanks” could be considered creating content, for the purposes of this blog post, it’s not. I don’t know of a word for “depth of content” – maybe content plus plus?

Content sites are often one-to-many. Not truly collaborative. I create a video and upload it to YouTube and you can comment or vote on it. End of story.

Conversation – and share by grabbing friends to join in:
One element of conversation sites is that you are allowed to bang on and on and on about a subject without people (usually) getting too antsy. Forums or bulletin boards are like this. I’ve seen threads (discussions) that have been developed over a couple of years, and have thousands of responses, usually from the same core 100 or so people who may have responded 20 or 30 times each. Now you can’t do that on a blog post – I’m probably wearing out my welcome on that BusinessSpectator site, as I’m up to 3 comments in response to other commenters comments. Pretty soon, the blog host, or another reader is going to tell me to stop dominating the discussion. Why? Because a blog is a content and comment site, not an indepth waffle on for days and years site. Which is what a conversation site is, by the way. (I imagine there are blogs that are run as conversation sites, but I’m talking generally). Any instant communications networks are communicate and share – the other side of Twitter, chat channels, virtual world.

Conversation reveals depth by discussion: the to-ing and fro-ing. So, not a blog post where the blogger has had to sit down and think out the creation of the content, but something that is revealed dynamically, over time. Hmm how would a conversation blog look? Ok, like this:

Blog Post by SilkCharm: hi guys I’m thinking of writing a blog about different types of social networks. What do you think?
Comment by xyz: oh I wrote that last week.
Comment by SilkCharm: did not
Comment by xyz: did too!
Comment by MotherHen: settle down guys
Comment by Gandalf1990: hey did you see Australian Idol last night?
Comment by SilkCharm: @xyz did not! @Gandalf1990 yeah, I liked what Nat was wearing.

Doesn’t really work for me, not on a blog. But perfect for a forum or Twitter or instant chat or… a conversation network. And while it’s not exactly riveting stuff, it is popular, this phaffing and waffling around. It’s a lot of what we do on social networks – even discover and share ones like Facebook.

So, in the old days, we used to try and build all three elements into one network. And some of these networks do that – Twitter can be:

discover and share by following CNN and getting late breaking news headlines, or finding out who your friends follow.
create and share by microblogging status updates.Ok I’m stretching it a bit with this one, Twitter doesn’t lend itself to creation of deep content.
communicate and share by @responding to inane or other comments by followers

I personally think that aggregator networks (the new type) such as Plaxo using RSS feeds is a discover and share mechanism, but others might disagree and put them in their own category.
I’m also not sure where to stick activities inside the networks like Facebook such as scrabble (scrabulous), trading gifts, vampire/ninja/pirate/zombie/werewolf biting – it’s not social media but it is social, so it probably should belong below… maybe?

The last style of social network is one that is not media/discussion based. But I already wrote about that in my Social Networks are much MORE than Social Media blog post. Hint: Meraki and social telecommunications, eLance and social jobs, Zopa and social banking, eBay and social auctions.

Well I could keep going and going, there’s probably a thesis in here somewhere. But tell me, how does this all read to you? Make sense? Or am I so completely off track they should lock me up in a padded cell. Mmmm… padded cell (Homer Simpson voice). Oh boy, I need a holiday.