In The Network is the Market, Ross Mayfield introduces us to the social theory behind Tribe.Net, a friendster-type social network-builder that is just coming out of beta. Like friendster, (but without that whole icky high-school-esque vibe) the idea is to build interconnected nodes of common interests.
But unlike friendster, tribe.net is about information flow (classifieds, messages) that facilitate social trade, not just social connections. The most interesting aspect of Mayfield’s arguments about all this is his suggestion that social capital should and could replace economic capital as the driving force behind the political economy of the web. We can see how this might ring true when we look at the related debates about audio “piracy” and the difficulties that offline media outlets (including the record industry ) are having online, and the dismal failure of web advertising (at least he earlier, pre-viral broadcast model of advertising), compared with the apparent success of the social networks built through, say, blogging. Secondly, the “value of the small” that is an integral part of the tribe.net philosophy: “the smaller the network the stronger the ties and the more valuable the information flow.”
I think this is what creative networks need to think about as well – music subcultures, for example – creating nodes – small, dense networks with explicit social ties, and explicit or implicit social and cultural economies of exchange and value (these New Economy types stole it from “underground” communities in the first place anyway). A good start would be something like Soulseek, which is quite unlike the vast anonymity/broadcast model of Napster or KaZaA, and which sonic cultures at the more experimental end of music seem to be embracing – to the extent that new music commentator Jeff Harrington can sing its praises. Try finding Stockhausen on KaZaA.
For those interested in going into more theoretical depth into augmented social networks more generally, there is a recent article on the topic at First Monday. From the abstract:
This paper proposes the creation of an Augmented Social Network (ASN) that would build identity and trust into the architecture of the Internet, in the public interest, in order to facilitate introductions between people who share affinities or complementary capabilities across social networks. The ASN has three main objectives: 1) To create an Internet-wide system that enables more efficient and effective knowledge sharing between people across institutional, geographic, and social boundaries; 2) To establish a form of persistent online identity that supports the public commons and the values of civil society; and, 3) To enhance the ability of citizens to form relationships and self-organize around shared interests in communities of practice in order to better engage in the process of democratic governance. In effect, the ASN proposes a form of “online citizenship” for the Information Age.