What analogies do you use in social media space?

The Town Centre on Saturday afternoon as an analogy for social networksWhat are the analogies you are using to help you and others in making better decisions about social media?

In talking about new technologies I find I often turn to analogies to help in:

  1. Explain how a technology works and what it can do (e.g. describing wiki's as similar to a whiteboard in this guide)


  2. Exploring policy responses to new forms of technology (e.g. in thinking about how youth workers should interact with social networking)

When talking with youth workers, two of my favourites for exploring social networks are:

  • Social networks as a town centre on Saturday afternoon.
    There are many different groups sharing a space, some overlapping with each other, others keeping to their own areas. Adults and young people share the space. Some of the space is effectively public space, some is private and commercialised. There are spaces you wouldn't want young children or young people to go into (pubs / clubs), and there are other very positive spaces (youth centre, sports centre). Many people are in the town centre on Saturday afternoon to meet friends, or to just hang out. Groups of friends cross over, and new friends and contacts are made.
  • Social Networks as a festival (from Greenbelt to Burning Man)
    Festivals as an analogy for social networksThis analogy was from Pete Cranston, and looks at looks at social networks as more fluid and dynamic communities – a space outside of the every-day filled with new experiences and a sense of freedom from many ordainary social norms.

Each analogy captures a different aspect of online social networks – but both should help us to use our intuitions to think about how we respond to them. For example, if detached youth workers are out and about in the town centre on a Saturday afternoon – should they be on MySpace as well? How do parents respond to their young people's participation in festivals? What of that should be transferred to the way they respond to their young people's participation in social networks.

However, as discussion in this post by Ewan McIntosh on a Jimmy Wales analogy for Wikipedia suggests, we can't trust analogies straight off. We need to us analogies as the foundations for thought experiments that take into account not only what is similar between the analogy and it's subject, but also what is different.

Over the next couple of weeks I'm planning a bit more of an exploration of the sorts of processes we need to make those thought experiments work – and as I work on that, I'd love to be thinking about other people's analogies and exploring those. So:

What are the analogies you are using to help you and others in making better decisions about social media?

ProBlogger has been looking a metaphors for blogging – although I'm particularly interested in metaphors for social networking tools and spaces.