The most successful social networks appear to strike a balance between familiar content/activity and abstract openness. These sites seem to reflect the efforts of their users to push towards that balance. A strange example of the evolution of the social networking ecosystem comes in terms of ethnicity and culture. I was struck by Joe’s comments with regard to Phillipino people and Friendster. I’ve observed the same phenomenon with the children of Brazilian immigrants and Orkut.
At the start of last year, my students used social networks that reflected their ethnicities such as MiGente, Blackplanet, and Asian Avenue. After a few months, I noticed that students were managing accounts on multiple services. For example, out of a desire to better represent their offline networks, Latino students created profiles on Blackplanet. By September ’05, MySpace had trumped the competition.
In fact, a student recently told me that Friendster is for white people and MySpace is for people of color. In other words, despite the fact that every user’s first friend on MySpace is the ubiquitous dorky white guy, Tom, the users are defining cultural expectations of the space for themselves.
(If this interests you, I stand by my call for open social inter-networking.)