shifting social sands

I’ve been saying for some time that FB can’t be all things to all people, and, ultimately, that trying to be will be its biggest challenge. I’ve advanced the idea that people will gravitate towards networks where their specific interests are addressed.

I believe we’re beginning to see an emergance of this. Others, such as Jay Jamison — who articulates the idea of “interest-based networks” beautifully in this article — seem to think so too.

People are seemingly shocked by the rapid acceleration of Pinterest. They shouldn’t be.

Look at Pinterest’s mantra: “Organize and share things you love.” Compare this with Facebook’s: “Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them.”

See the distinction? FB is about organizing around people; Pinterest is about organizing around things.

We’ve naturally conceived of social networks as being “for” helping us connect with other people (that’s what FB, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. do). The problem with this is that for most of us there is a relatively finite number of people with whom we’ll connect (cf. Gladwell’s idea in The Tipping Point that the max number of authentic social connections anyone can have is 150. UPDATE: Thanks to 9gs reader, Elainejoli for correcting an omission of mine. Though Gladwell is perhaps responsible for popularizing the idea of 150 social connections, the theory was originated by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar).

Not so with things.

We’re constantly discovering new things about which we might want to learn more (in an era where everyone is a content creator, this ain’t slowing down).

The unintended consequence of organizing around things, of course, is that it leads to the possibility of breaking through the glass ceiling of acquaintances. In other words, we have a far better chance of making new social acquaintances via organizing around things than we do connecting with people. This is why Pinterest is growing so quickly.

When we organize around a thing, we’re breaking through barriers of geography and demographics and, instead, uniting around a shared psychographic interest. I can, for instance, tweet a link to an article about some great bbq that I’m looking forward to trying in Austin during sxsw, and I know that some percentage of my followers on Twitter and FB will appreciate this article. However, I’m unlikely to expand my social circle via this gesture.

Conversely, if I go organize myself around the interest/object of bbq, and then look to see others who have done the same, there is a chance that my social circle can expand (i.e. meet new people).

To be clear, I’m not for a minute saying that FB is going away/going to fail (the cost of abandonment is just too high for most people; though there have been some studies of late showing a large degree of unused FB accounts).

Rather, I’m saying that there is tremendous opportunity to rethink how we should be concieving of networks moving forward. As I’ve argued forever, look to objects of interest (in some respects, the more specific the better) that people are passionate about, and give them the tools to better organize. Doing so will lead to far more durable, rewarding, and expansive connections than organizing around existing social connections.

Of course, the real winner will be the person/company who combines object-orientated organization with acquaintance-orientated organization (you can bet FB is working on this). The chart below attempts to exemplify the trends, and the potential outcome.

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  1. Elainejoli’s avatar

    The number 150 belongs to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar (Dunbar’s Number) not to Malcolm Gladwell (who did use the number in his book).


    1. George Howard’s avatar

      that’s great information – thank you. Will update the post after I do a bit of research.



    2. Whodatwhodidnt’s avatar

      Great post.. I joined pintrest once I had this exact mode of thinking. I sell books for kids and learned that there are TONS of moms on Pintrest… I’ve already sold more books because of the people I’ve met on there… 


      1. George Howard’s avatar

        Great to hear.

        Thanks for chiming in.




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