Wikipedia: prototype for a collaborative, goal-oriented social network

Facebook is the de facto standard in online social networking in the eyes of the tech industry and the media and in the subconscious minds of consumers.

The “Facebook Model” of social networking is so well entrenched that any emergent rivals are swiftly and unfavorably analyzed against it. I suspect this is one of the reasons Snapchat rebranded its parent as Snap Inc and declared itself a camera company with Pinterest recently following suite..

Facebook’s dominance stifles the imagination. A weak abstraction of a local social system mapped to a global scale, it successfully creates a veneer of intimacy between its users that is wonderful and wonderfully hollow.

The platform does allow for some interesting and productive experiences to emerge. These are exclusive, small-scale endeavors, often private and invite-only: localized marketplaces for trading goods & services, profession-specific forums for education and skills development, and informal, job recommendations within closed social groups. Alas, these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Facebook has uncovered and popularized a range of conventions within online social networking which are often mimicked:

1. Temporal value is emphasized over stored value: Yesterday is irrelevant, now that there’s Today, until the arrival of Tomorrow.

2. Attention is monetized through advertising.

3. Competitiveness trumps collaboration: Likes! Followers! Interactions!

Wikipedia - founded before Facebook - gives us a prototypical model for another approach:

1. Non-profit - relying on grants and donations to survive.

2. Collaborative, not competitive - User interactions are structured around collaborating toward a mutually beneficial outcome, in this case, a Great Work.

3. Goal-oriented - The Wikipedia social network facilitates collaboration toward a global, collectively beneficial goal. Within this is a set of local goals that a participant achieves as they write, edit and moderate the encyclopedia.

4. Quality Standards: Contributions must surpass a high bar that demands approval from multiple participants.

5. Valuable to non-participants: Even if you’re not a member of the “Wikipedia social network” you can still access and benefit from it.

More recently, my new favorite place on the Internet has been Arena which shares some of Wikipedia’s qualities. A space for collaborative research, it features an open-ended design that supports user-driven use cases. As you collect and organize your research material it is made accessible to others to integrate into their own work. Local actions have global benefit. It has expanded my mind, and led me to meeting intelligent and open minded individuals.

Most importantly, it has helped guide me to a new model of socializing online that is thoughtful, productive and optimistic.


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