In Why Some Social Network Services Work and Others Don't, Jyri Engeström talks about two ways of looking at social networks.

As best I can make out, here’s the two types:

What a great difference, that little extra clause makes!

Consider the following: You (A) have 4 coworkers (B, C, D, and E) in your group. And everyone knows someone else. A’, B’, C’, D’, and E’.

By the first, Internet traditional meaning of social network, the network is some mesh of A, B, C, D, E, and A’, B’, C’, D’, and E’.

By the second, object-centered meaning of social network, the network is some mesh of A, B, C, D, and E. But not any of the other people.

The object here is the fact that you and your coworkers work together. You work in the same space, toward a collective goal- whatever your company is making. You may not be there for the same super-reasons. Perhaps B is raising money for her trip. C actually likes the place. D is there because he wants to make a million dollars. E is just supporting his family. But the object (either in the sense of goal, or in the sense of a thing that exists between you all, like a pale lifeless boring rock) here is that you are all working together.

Anything that does not share in that object is, quite simply, not part of the social network.

Now, let’s say that D’ is the wife of D. And let’s say that she appears at work some days, and that she appears at company meetings. And now let’s say that C’s husband is the same. Some days he appears, to pick up mom, and C and kid are at the company Christmas party.

Are C’ and D’ part of the social network? I don’t know. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. I would want to hear about what we were attempting to prove, about what we were trying to say about the social network, before committing one way or the other.

But E’s friend who plays hockey with E is almost certainly not part of the social network, by the object-centered model of social networks.

To put it visually:

Each color is for one object. Multiple instances of the same kind of object still get different colors. Just because I’m a dad and she’s a mom, doesn’t mean I’m in the same Social Network as you, also a dad. If we belonged to a father’s club, yes. But just because we’re both fathers, no. So draw the line between me and my spouse a different color than the line between you and your spouse. Two different social networks. Objects of the same type. But different objects, different “things.”



Funny that no-one, either here or on MeatballWiki, have ever made this page.

I am really frustrated that I can’t use my InkscapeToOddmuse script. This is just perfect for a picture. But the time it takes to make and prepare PNG’s from SVG is just terribly prohibitive.

I see that there is a very interesting line of research connected with these ideas. It’s called “Activity Theory.”

It too seems to have stemmed from Marxist thought- something I find vaguely disturbing, also since I’m deeply interested in the Critical Theory as well.

What I find interesting right now in the “Activity Theory,” if I understand it right, and my understanding of my understanding right, is that it…

  • …features analysis of social relationships, and considers them objective things.
  • …is interested in the power relationships as well.
  • …focuses on tools and mediums.
  • …has for its goal: liberation.

The CriticalTheory seems to be focused on communication. Activity theory seems to focus on the relationships and tools (including language.) The two are clearly connected, but seem very different.

The networking around objects idea is similar to what is employed in ELGG. People have the option to network around interests, instead of just saying “you are my friend” and flagging a connection. You can start out in a ELGG community by stating your interests with keywords, then seeing who else shares those interests and conencting with them.


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