Yet another post inspired by a most excellent conversation going on within the nextNY community. The top half is important back story and theory, while the second half is the punch-line to validate the title of this post. In a recent discussion on the nextNY listserv, Phil Dupré asked a "philosophical question:"
What is the distinct value between a wiki and a social networking site?
Adam Quirk was quick to point out that wikis are about information and social networks are about people. That's true, simple and clear. But I took the queue to bring up the fact there's a magical middle ground here. I said,
Look at Yelp. That's a site that's about the content -- and collaborating on that content -- but it is also about the people who are doing the collaboration. Yelp is not a wiki, but it does have many of the same benefits. . . . What's the relationship between information and the people building the content? We have a name for this (it used to be on our cards): Social Knitting.
Now, "Social Knitting" is a term I've used in the past to describe the process by which groups of people develop content and social bonds simultaneously. You can read more about my early thinking on the matter here; it's actually really fun for me to read that, because it was written before any code was written for BricaBox, and while a lot has changed and we know more today than before, it still rings true.
Back to the conversation on the nextNY list, Dan Lewis, of ArmchairGM, jumped in and talked about his site had a lot of "social knitting" like characteristics. He hit a lot of points right on the head, so I responded,
You're spot on with the ArmchairGM example. Again, it's about the content, but with good infrastructure for facilitating the natural social bonds and channels which come with collaborating on the information.
And then that statement lead to this question directed at me (from Donald Schwartz):
What in your view constitutes a "good" infrastructure and "how" does that contribute to "facilitating the natural social bonds and channels which come with collaborating on the information?" . . . Do you consider this Google infrastructure discussion facilitator a good one? If "no" how would you improve it?
And this is where Google Groups, as a product, enters the picture. In my pitch for BricaBox, I usually start by saying, "Currently, there are three mainstream web publishing tools for consumers: blogs, wikis, and forums." Indeed, a Google Group is a type of a forum, and it is one of the best places to find content (people don't search forums enough). The fact that this post was inspired by content on the Google Group is no coincidence. If you go back over Charlie's or Darren's posts, many of the are "inspired by" a conversation on the listserv, just like many of everyone's posts are inspired by conversations off the listserv.
The point is, that Google Groups is a great content creation platform, but it has zero infrastructure to promote the important social bonds that vitalize an information/content community. Right now, there's no room for social knitting.
Staying on the nextNY example, and as I've posted before, I find it to be my most valuable social network, but only because it's a local group and I've been able to create offline relationships with the people on the list. This is actually the Meetup model. But many groups are not based around an area, and are based around a topic instead. Members of these groups are from all over the place, so the only bond they have is through the threads on the forum.
That being said, this was my response to the last question asked above:
Good social infrastructure on a content sites allows people to be as interested in people as they are in content. Twitter started a great model, which has been picked up by Digg, The Huffington Post, and which we'll follow at BricaBox, which is the concept of "following." Really it's the RSS model, but I think Twitter was the first service I used which used it as the social back-end of a content platform.
An example I left out is Facebook, which implicitly and algorithmically does the following for you, thus your News Feed.
And this is why Google needs to integrate Google Groups with Orkut, the social networking platform that (seemingly) every person with a Google ID now has access to.
With Groups merged with Orkut (where there is already a groups feature, by the way), the product would still be one of the most robust, enjoyable to use forums on the net. Then, with social infrastructure attached to it, and some really easy to implement news feed and "following" systems in place, I think Google Groups would have the social infrastructure in place to be a "social knitting" application, and a much more effective resource for finding, sharing and discovering information.
Of course it would also be a boost to Orkut membership too. And we all know Google could use a little help on this in the States.