Social Networks and Blogging: The Chasms and Bridges

What’s the difference between a social network and blogs or a blogging service? One is for your *friends*, the other is for your *audience*. The key difference is that one group already knows you(it’s easy to replace “friends” with “coworkers”, “family”, “neighbors”, etc). Pure social networking services like “hi5″: and “”: are made for connecting with your friends, family, and miscellaneous contacts. Pure blogging services like “TypePad”: and “”: are for publishing content that’s available to anyone. But either service can be connected to anything on the Internet, because the true “killer-app” of the web, the hyperlink, lets me send people to my profile page or my latest entry, so long as what I’m linking to is publicly available.

Different Reasons Put Chasms Between Them

Blogging is all about sharing your ideas, pictures, analysis, jokes, links, or even your life with anyone who wants to view it. From the best bloggers, it’s an *in-depth*, *high-quality*, *frequent* experience. Or at least two of the three. Blogging can be used to reach many people at once. You’re sending content out into the world, and when you speak it’s not just to one person, but to everyone reading. You _can_ have conversations, like “Kent Newsome”: “and I”: “just”: “had”:, but they’re _open_ conversations so that they benefit our audience as well as ourselves.

Social networking, on the other hand, is all about connecting with people you know or want to get to know. It’s a *casual*, *no-pressure*, *as-you-can* experience. It’s a many-to-many experience rather than one-to-many. Each person’s profile is a piece in a greater picture, and most social networks add extra dimensions to this picture by adding smaller spheres within it in the form of “groups” you can join. Conversation on social networking services are one-to-one through messaging a friend, or many-to-many by through forums and group chats.

The Power of Aggregation

Let’s say your high school class has 200 people in it. You’re friends with 50 of them, good friends with 10. From your college classes, you got to know about 400 people, 100 of them you really likes, and 20 of them became close friends. You’ve been through a few jobs, had maybe 50 coworkers you liked, 5 of them you’d actually hang out with on a regular basis. From those three groups alone, you have 200 people you have positive, if casual, relationships with, and 35 people you’d identify as a close contact. For most people, that’s too many to keep up an *in-depth* relationship with. Social networking services let you at least maintain a *casual* relationship by making it easy to get an overview of any person at any time. Facebook has taken it a step further with their News Feed by letting everyone see individual changes each of their friends have made(subject to privacy settings), eliminating redundantly checking profiles for new information.

Blogging benefits from aggregation as well. RSS feeds bring the content we’re most interested in to one place, as it’s published. While you miss out on the presentational aspects of each blog(like my _beautiful_ sandy-blue design) it takes away the effort of checking 35 different sites only to find 5 of them have updated. De-centralization is excellent for personalization and uniqueness, and serves those with strong ties well. But centralization is essential for convenience and maintenance of weak ties.

Bridges Between Blogs

I used the term “pure” services in my first paragraph because not all suffer from the chasms mentioned above, although the most innovative of these have the unfortunate reputation of not being “serious” tools. The professional software most often used for high-traffic blogs like “Movable Type”:, “WordPress”:, or the excellent “Textpattern”: are all made to create a stand-alone blog, unconnected to a central service or community. TypePad and, as mentioned above, are the hosted versions of these tools, yet still are made for stand-alone sites. But before any of these tools came out, “LiveJournal”: was building blogs *and* communities. The “Friends Page” lists all recent entries of users whose username you’ve added as a friend. It was the first blog aggregator, and it did so in a way much more similar to present-day social networking services than RSS readers.

Every Medium Has a Purpose

In what I hope will emerge as a frequent theme of this blog, new mediums rarely make old mediums invalid. Communications tools are many and varying in capabilities because communication itself has no single form or purpose. You don’t have to believe me, look to the market for proof. “Six Apart”:, the makers of Movable Type, acquired LiveJournal because they recognize the strengths of both types of tools. They’ve since launched “Vox”:, a service that further blurs the lines between social networking service and blogging service. Google now owns “Blogger”:, but they also maintain “Orkut”:, a site so highly used in Brazil that it had “11 out of 12 million”: Brazilian home-internet users had an account in 2006.

To blog or to network? Why not both?

Social Strategist