Well, who’d have guessed. While looking for a software fix, I landed on Matt Mecham’s blog and his unscripted rant about the difference between forums and social networks. Which, unsurprisingly, I mostly agree with. BTW, Mr Mecham’s the lead developer of my current bulletin board sofware of choice.
He sees social networks as pervasive (everyone’s in it) whereas forums are “like content islands” in which only a group of people participates. In other words (my own, not his) forums are topic-oriented, not people-oriented, and restricted in reach. He also makes a couple of useful observations, paraphrased below:
- Adding “friends” and “closed groups” within a forum system is simply breaking the group with which you already converse in the forums. It’s “anti-social”.
- Each forum is specific, and posting personal info or details in one is not effective as a way of reaching all your network.
I have renounced integrating social networking (friends and groups) into Macuarium for a long time, precisely for those reasons: they go against the grain of a topic-oriented collaboration setting, and they’re a tool for fragmentation of what needs to be a cohesive, open-to-share culture.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like other tools that fall under the “social networking” umbrella, or that I don’t see the value of internal network-builidng in a forum-based community. And sharing “networkish” data inside a community can make a lot of sense when it’s the main reference for most of your network… and you do it in the appropriate, social forums. That just stresses the point that “a forum” and “a community” are not the same.
Just as “forums” and “networking tools” are different animals.