Firas started asking questions about social networking, and I was going to write a little but ended up writing a lot. So I moved it here. Here we go:

The issue that I see with existing social networking sites is that they all exhibit the problem you’re discussing. That is, after you’ve created this network of friends (and who knows why you’ve bothered to do this in the first place) there really isn’t any point other than accumulating more “friends”.

Some of the sites are targetted toward a specific purpose, like recruiting or seeking work. But I don’t see many of the more popular social networks doing anything like this. It’s as if the whole point is to say you know more people than anyone else.

Part of the problem is that social networking has turned group topology upside-down. Traditionally, you join groups with common interests, then gather friends with those interests. In the new social networking model, it seems like joining a group is ancillary to adding more friends to your list.

I agree that it would be useful to have a network of people who are all interested in the same things. The fact that they’re socially grouped that way prior to trying to gather more acquaintences at least implies that there is some reasoning for them to be present in the group. (Conversely, joining MySpace, et al, seems to imply, “I am here to gather acquaintences like baseball cards, and my collection will be more valuable as it becomes larger an dincludes more sexy people.”)

One of the primary benefits of a software application that is crafted to handle the social networking for a single group is that the group (and not the uninformed/uninvolved operator of the networking site) could maintain control of the group membership. Being a member of a respected group for a certain topic would then imply certain things about you that simply tagging your account with that topic would not. Social ranking could occur within those communities that would be more valuable than the result of thousands of teenagers showing up and voting for their “friend” as president of, for example, a geriatrics sub-group.

Membership in a group should also provide you some benefit besides being a member. Whether that includes some conversation tools like bulletin boards or email or IM, that should be part of the value of the software.

Syndication of member content is a valuable component in my idea of evolved social networking. Each member would maintain his own site, since the social network isn’t a publication/blogging tool, but a way to join all of the members. Syndication would allow members to use a central site to access the publications of the group, whether those are moderated or not, as decided by the membership.

Organizing group meetings can be important to some groups. I don’t expect groups to need Outlook-style calendars to organize their events, but some simple functionality to publicize and RSVP for upcoming meetings could be very useful.

Perhaps a module that manages group dues would be useful. This is where the social networking sites of today really fall short — they concentrate on conneting people and not providing features for specific services.

While it’s important that the site not be in “island” in the sense that it should not stand alone and expect to do everything needed for any social networking purpose, it’s also neccessary that each network be independent to operate on its own and provide those features to its membership that they find valuable. The features for a local RC car club are going to be wildly different from an election campaign group.

After the people are classified by the group they have joined, the groups themselves could interweave. Shared identities would be very useful in this regard, since you should certainly be able to join more than one group. How should this be accomplished? OpenID? Something similar.

In this scenario, the content of the groups could be syndicated up a level, where the groups themselves behave something like users to a mothership of group aggregation.

The main parent site could host individual networks, or maybe it doesn’t. They should still all have a way to link to each other, even if they are self hosted.

And of course, the whole thing should be open source, so that you can install it wherever you want. You shouldn’t have to pay a monthly fee other than the web hosting you are already probably paying too much for.

Any thoughts on what you love or hate about social networks?