Situational Relevance in Social Networking
Anyone who has spent a fair amount of time on a social networking website is familiar with the “whats next?” problem. Put quite simply, “whats next?” is what you say to yourself after you have exhausted the novelty of the service, and from that moment on you use the site less and less.
Friendster.com has been stung terribly by this problem. Orkut and LinkedIn as well. Looking at the traffic graphs for Friendster and LinkedIn we can see similar traffic patterns – a long, steady climb upward, followed by a sharp drop, and decreasing pageviews over time. In television, they call a phenomenon like this “jumping the shark”. While Im not going to try and coin such a catchy name, I call this the “whats next?” moment because it represents the time period when the users sat up, looked around, and got tired of the service.
MySpace and Facebook (Alexas charts are misleading) do not suffer from this problem. In many ways, Facebook and Friendster and MySpace and LinkedIn are similar: the visible technology, interface and face-value outcomes of site use are all very much similar. Why is it, then, that users demonstrate clear preference of some social networking websites over others?
The answer, it turns out, is actually quite simple, and it deals with the concept of situational relevance. We all have many social networks: our primary social network, which is comprised of our close friends and family, and numerous secondary social networks, which may be comprised of coworkers, classmates, neighbors, fellow church patrons, teammates and so on. As our social networks are webs, the primary and the secondary nets all intertwine; regardless, we maintain separate identities for each.
Additionally, at different times in our lives, our primary and secondary social networks grow together and apart. For example:
As youths, our primary social network grows very close to the secondary social network of classmates.
As we enter adulthood, our primary social network moves away from the secondary social network of our classmates, and towards the secondary social network of coworkers and community relationships.
As grown adults, our primary social network may move closer to the secondary social networks of PTAs, church groups and neighborhood associations.
Of course, these lists are not absolute, just illustrative examples. At different times in our lives, different social networks play more or less important roles: they are situationally relevant.
From birth through adolescence and young adulthood, our primary social network expands continuously. Eventually, we settle; the incentives for primary social network expansion, such as partnering and friend aggregation, diminish. As we settle on a core social network,