More than a million "contacts"--so what?

Maybe I just don't understand "social software." No, come to think of it, that's a given: I don't understand social software.

I joined Orkut because someone invited me. I accepted as "friends" anyone who asked--with one or two exceptions--if I had even the slightest idea who they were. I might have done the reverse--called myself someone's friend in absence of their action--once, maybe twice.

Some time last week, Orkut said I had more than one million contacts via the 19 "friends." As of today, that's up to 1,194,628.

And I'll be d***d if I know what that means. That I could reasonably expect any of 1.2 million people to pay attention to a message I send them? Probably not. That there are six degrees of separation between me and 1.2 million people who are somehow on Orkut? Probably, but so what?

There does seem to be an emphasis on dating, but I'm not looking. I'm in two "communities," but although I check Orkut more-or-less once a day, I don't even remember to check those communities for postings.

And, of course, Orkut's currently running so slowly and badly that it wouldn't help much. Today, even trying to see who the 19 "friends" actually are and what posts might be on the LISNews forum, I was logged out twice within 20 minutes for "30 minutes of inactivity," and it took an average of two minutes to get from screen to screen. This may say something about Google's commitment to this whole idea: Seems like they have a 486 somewhere hooked up to a phone line...

(If I put quotes around "friends" it's because I've only met 10 of the 19, and there are only five or six who I'd consider anything more than very casual acquaintances.)

What am I missing? What's the big deal with Orkut or other "social software"? Or is it just that I'm asocial, and thus not a very good fit?


Orkut has made me feel like more of a dweeb than I ever did in high school when I was a serious square peg. I mean, how do I get to hang with the cook kids who have the "lasers" communities? There's something very clubby about it, and I haven't figured out its purpose, aside from being a tremendous time-suck. I really liked the idea of social networking software, but don't think Orkut or Friendster have begun to meet the hype. I personally don't find Orkut any more useful than other forms of online community building, such as LISNews. It has offered me considerable mindless amusement on several occasions, but it's worn thin pretty quickly. Frankly, when I started peeking into LISNews, I thought I'd last a few months before moving on to the next shiny new online thing. But, there are substance, camraderie, amusement and the infrequent infusion of drama found on LISNews, and it's been enough to keep me engaged and caring for well over a year. I don't feel like so much of a dweeb here (an illusion I'd like to maintain, in case any of you feet moved to tell me different....).

I probably am wrong, but I see social software as just another iteration of online community building (whether the orientation of the community is business, social, etc.). From what little time I've spent on such services as Orkut, Friendster, etc., it strikes me as multi-layered bulletin boards coupled with 6 Degrees technology. I think the general idea is to engender social capital (i.e. trust) via the technology ... Joe Schmo may not know Jill Jackov from Eve, but if he knows Candi Carter and Candy and Jill were college roommates and are still friends despite being 2000 miles away, then in theory, Joe can trust Jill.On the other hand, I don't really grok social software ... I haven't had a "hot dang!" moment that has made it very useful for me. Then again, I only just found an RSS aggregator that I really like, so add whatever grains of salt to the $0.02 that you feel works for you ...

Well, I also cheated because I used HTML code that would keep the < and > visible.If you type the characters:
  &lt;it gets translated into a visible
  <In the same way,

OK, Anna, you just revealed what an idiot I really am sometimes. I didn't even notice that box--that's why I spelled everying out.
(I know, the box has always been there, but you know how it is. If I asked you over coffee, could you tell me whether the "LIS" in the banner is in serif or sans, and whether there's anything else unusual about its presentation? No fair: You looked.)

Thanks for providing a much more readable explanation.

Now I'll go back to the cartoons...

(I do have an excuse: I have a cold and my brain is running even less efficient than usual. Then there's my usual excuse: Duh.)

This is what he was describing:<a href=" htm">K. Matthew Dame's article</a>Just make sure in the drop-down box below the text entry box you select "HTML formatted".

Not at all touchy, Walt. And look at this thread - it's become quite a handy little glimpse at "social software" in action - I'm so behind the 8 ball, I didn't even know about looking at a "page source", but thanks to you I've now discovered just that on my IE toolbar! :-D

Here's my try on more on social software

And it appears to work! Many thanks, Walt!

Easiest way to figure out my explanation is to do what I do to learn from others (or steal, as you wish): Look at the page source. While this page is awfully long, still, if you view source, and scroll down around two-thirds of the way, you'll come to the place where I placed the href, and can see exactly how it's coded.

If I was touchier than usual on my birth name (which is still my legal name, to be sure) it's because someone with whom I'm negotiating on a speaking panel was using it today as well. I don't really mind the longer form that much, but my entire bibliography (except for one VERY early article) is under "Walt."

Gosh, Walt, I don't know how - or why - I slipped up on your name! Believe me, I know what an albatross a "birth name" can be (not to insinuate that yours is to you). My own given name is the Victorian Winifred Lucilla but I've never been called it in my life except my unwitting teachers on the first day of class. I prefer to be called "BB" (a "given" name via an older sister) and think I chose the cyber handle bookworm out of sheer cyber habit.

Appreciate your HTML explanation - now I'll try to figure it out. ;-)

Let me know what you think about the article when you have the chance.

Thanks for the tip.
Making that link into a live one is pretty easy, even for an HTML ignoramus like me. You just put in the string left angle bracket a href= quote the full URL (with http:) close quote right angle bracket, then the reference, then left angle bracket slasha right angle bracket.

Like this: K. Matthew Dame's article should be worth a look.

It's Walt, not Walter, by the way. I'm not sure why several people in the field seem intent on using my birth name instead of my chosen professional name...

Now I'll go download and read the article. Thanks.

Coincidentally? I just read what I considered to be a very interesting article on “social software� called “Social Software in the Library� by K. Matthew Dames on

Most of the published literature about social software has been more about the commercial viability of services like Orkut, LinkedIn, Feedster, and Ryze. Missing from much of the discourse is an analysis of the practical and educational value of social software. There are few published articles that explain what social software is, how social software tools may be used to build knowledge networks, or the information professional’s role in using and mediating these tools. The purpose of this article is to fill that void. By its end, the reader should have a solid understanding of what social software is, and hopefully will understand how these tools may be used to help people and organizations work better and more collaboratively.

This is a critical time for both the social software industry and librarianship...

If I could figure out (someone please put me out of my misery?) how to add a hyperlink or do one of those "cuts" I would... but for now here's the hyperlink to the webpage:

Now as for Orkut or any of those other sites, I have't looked at them. However the idea of "social software" is one that seems extremely relevant to a librarian's world. I'm not sure if Listservers fall into the social software category or not, but just in my own shortlived experience with a couple connected to universities, I've been amazed at the help and info offered within them.

By the way, Rochelle, I loved your comment about not feeling like such a "dweeb" on LISNews and yours, too, Walter about missing the chance to have become "Rich and Powerful"! ;-)

Hmm. I was a..I guess dweeb is as good a word as any (no social skills, younger than classmates, didn't live in the Good Part of Town) in high school too, but Orkut doesn't make me feel that way. It doesn't make me feel anything at all; that's what I find odd. No affect whatsoever. (No, that's not a spelling error.)

You say you like the idea of social networking software. I'm still not sure I really understand what that would be--what it would do. But I'm slow sometimes. And heck, if I'd been a networker back in the day, maybe I'd be Rich and Powerful now. Maybe not.

not "cook" kids. or maybe I was thinking "kook."


I think that's about right--and I think that Orkut, at least, stretches the "trust" idea way too far to be useful.

There are a few hundred people for whom I could reasonably say, "If X sent me email saying that Y could use help, is a friend of theirs, and is worth paying attention to, then I'll certainly treat Y as the friend of a friend." You could also define "X" as people I've met and look forward to seeing again, and maybe feel I could ask for help in (say) a job search or the like. They're all friends, at some level.

But of the 19 "friends" at Orkut, fewer than half fall into the "X" category. Most are extremely casual acquaintances whom I've never actually met. I tend to assume the same is true of their "friends," so that the 6 degrees is really "someone who's vaguely familiar with someone who's vaguely familiar with someone who's..."--which inspires no trust whatsoever, at least in my mind.

OK, admittedly I'm wierd: I'd take email asking for help of some sorts at face value, at least at first. ("Some sorts" = comment on an issue I'm familiar with, provide a bit of information I might have, etc. "Some sorts" doesn't include sending money, opening an attachment, signing up to help get Huge Sums out of Central Neverland.)
The "acquaintance of an acquaintance of an..." might actually be better off coming directly to me.

So far, on my once-a-day (or less often) visits, Orkut's had two effects: (1) Bemusement at the ever-growing numbers in my "extended circle," (2) For a while, temptation to remove one "friend" because of annoying messages from "friends" of that "friend."

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