Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Monday, July 26, 2004

What is it that we want out of an SNS?

The person is obviously expecting something from the SNS that none
have provided so far. What is it that we want from an SNS that no
service is yet providing? There is something about SNS's that make
them different from other mediums - IM, email, blogs ... What is it
exactly that we are expecting SNS's to do for us? And why are current
SNS's failing to deliver that?

Maybe we expect SNS's to be a virtual world, a second life that we can
immerse ourselves into. When we connect to an SNS site, we want to
stop by the living room and see who else is already there. There are
live discussions going on about cool things. We can choose to jump
into the conversation, or we can hang back and listen. Discussions are
live, so it's more like a chat room than a Usenet newsgroup. But
unlike a chat room, nobody's anonymous -- at any time we can click on
a person's profile to get an in-depth look at their interests and
beliefs, their pictures, plus all sorts of statistics and metrics
(ratings/karma, conversation frequency, transcripts of past
conversations, Google hits, complaints, ...). It's like a virtual pub,
an online version of Cheers that we go to after a long day of work.

Maybe the ideal SNS would be called VirtualPub, or Life2. It would
basically be live chatting. When you log on, you can see if your
friend Charles is online, and if not, you can join one of the
conversations (limit 10 people per conversation, to keep things sane).
You can see a picture of everyone in the conversation, and clicking on
a picture takes you to more pictures if any are available. To help you
decide whether you want to join a live conversation, you are provided
with a summary of each person's profile beside their picture -- if you
want to do more research, you can click the summary to get an
extensive profile of that person's interests.

The ideal SNS would allow more modes of collaboration than messaging.
Like streaming audio pumping out music: background music, like in a
party, or music that the group is analyzing and commenting on in real
time (like the latest release by a punk band). They could all be
watching a video and commenting on it in real time. Or browsing the
web together in a mini-window. Or drawing on a whiteboard, for a bunch
of programming enthusiasts. Or sending little gifts to each other via

And you could leave whenever you wanted. It's just your 15 minutes of
hanging out with people. Hanging out is live - so instant messaging
please instead of forums. But hanging out is intimate, so the profiles
and photos are important. And hanging out often happens around a
secondary activity, so we need to be able to listen to music together,
watch video together, browse the web together, work on a whiteboard
together, send gifts to each other, and more and more stuff together
as ideas occur to the SNS designers. In short, we want to be able to
do cool stuff together on SNS systems, more than just profiles and


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