At this point a sizable percentage of the world’s population is familiar with social networks. After the uprising of social networks our lives have become a little bit easier as we now enjoy greater connectivity and have an easier time networking with the people we care about. However that is both the curse and blessing of social networks: they keep us confined to our natural and social silos.
When Twitter came out, one of my biggest expectations was to see it morph into the first “civic network”. You know, a place in which we get to meet new people and interact with strangers on the basis of “imagined community“. But Twitter didn’t evolve past the hash-tag concept and felt short of creating the ubiquitous civic network we all need. Then came Google Plus and, instead of pursuing the goal of becoming something bigger than Facebook, it ended up copying it.
Allow me to make the case for a civic network. What Facebook is to a club, this next property needs to be to the “open society”. An open collaboration place that is less intimate than your social network of choice, but still manages to embed intelligence, security and structure into our daily interactions. If you think of society and civility as the protocols that make us productive offline, then the idea of a civic network emerges as the tools that will make us productive as a “hive” or significant group of people. Indeed, this is a big idea, but one that could change our world for the better and have a disruptive impact for generations to come.
The Web, as it stands today is very inefficient. We have to login to multiple systems just to collaborate with a handful of people that happen to share some of our interests. The walled nature of Facebook means that eventually, half of the social Web will be un-indexable by search engines. That’s a wasted opportunity. We can do so much more.
Facebook will succeed in becoming a civic network only when it reaches critical mass as a federation system (a connective tissue that binds websites), not as a “Like-producing machine”. By redirecting the traffic to their walled gardens, the social network of today misses the larger opportunity of connecting all the people on the planet that wish to perform similar actions or go to a particular piece of content. Ergo, the personalization of the social networking experience has claimed among its casualties the civic experience, the possibility of many of us going places together and the serendipitous discovery of people, places and solutions. The social network is confined to who we like and know and is not expanding our life experience. Instead of promoting equality, the social network thrives on the exercise of elitism. Privacy and anonymity are discourage and, instead, every digital citizen is forced to constantly wear a name tag, and disclose their likes, wants, needs and social circle.
Can you imagine how impactful, relevant and disruptive would a true civic network be? Can you imagine a world where people are connected on demand according to their locations and interests? Can you imagine the forces of shared interests and locations coming together and turning us into better communities? I can.