Guest Blogger: Eric Grant
The predominant model for online social networks right now is the approach utilized by the giants, such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and Twitter, in which you as the user adopt an identity in one giant and siloed network, and join subgroups based upon some kind of affiliation, such as music, movies, geography, age, etc.
The other model out there, which gets much less notice but will likely grow in both social and business settings, is that of the “micronet,” a term coined by the founders of Ning. This model operates as a “network of networks” concept that allows you to customize the membership and features around your specific affiliation, and you can customize your identity for each network (for more information on identity and social networks, see the work of Danah Boyd).
Ultimately, the likely winner in either category will be the one that offers an open platform rather than an application; in the micronet category, Ning has addressed many shortcomings and just passed the 100,000 networks mark. In the macro category, Facebook is far ahead in this game with its well-documented API and established development community (one of my old professors at Stanford, BJ Fogg, is even teaching a course on how to create more compelling FaceBook Applications). But new players enter this market all the time, and Facebook is hindered by its legacy organizing principle of home networks (which were initially based upon schools) which requires every user to declare some kind of primary affiliation.
Which brings me to a mild leap: the macro/micro competition in online social networks has some close parallels with the public school system and its students. Public policy’s traditional approach is macro - the one-size-fits-all model that teaches everyone according to the same standards. The emerging learners are micro - a variety of learning styles, some ability to find and borrow and create and share new content and pedagogy themselves, desirous of different learning outcomes, and members of many groups and activities.Eric Grant blogs at The Future of Education is Here, the blog of The Knowledge Works Foundation. This blog post was cross posted at Mr. Grant's own blog.
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