Context Matters: Relationships in Social Media

The contexts of a relationship, whether it is online or offline, matter greatly. This might seem quite an obvious statement, but it’s something to be aware of as you wander around the web and join communities, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or even our own Empire Avenue. The context in any relationship matters. Be wary of what that context implies when next you click “Add Friend” or indeed “Buy” on Empire Avenue!

A couple of weeks ago, as we were putting the final touches of moving Empire Avenue from out of the Closed Beta, we decided to switch from Facebook’s RESTful API to the new Graph API. Kudos to the folks at Facebook; the Graph API is cleaner, better documented, and overall one of the easier I’ve personally had to implement. But the Graph API has a flaw, and it is not code based, but a human flaw. Facebook, the company, wants to change the very fundamentals of what it means to be social and what it means to have a relationship online.

Personally, regardless of Empire Avenue, I am not convinced that what Facebook is implying and trying to do is a good thing. In fact, quite the opposite, and it has ramifications for you, your privacy and more.

When you start a relationship with someone, the context in which you meet them matters. For example, I have many BioWare and MySQL friends from when I worked at those two companies. These friends were made in the context of those companies and the work we were doing at the time. There will always be that common context when we interact, no matter where or when. This isn’t rocket science; it’s just normal common sense. Basically, we call these “social circles.”

Now, for the most part, these social circles don’t mix any way meaningful because one context is usually out of place with another.

Let’s take this concept and apply it to web sites and social media sites. Ask the question of the context in which you join any particular service. I would hazard a guess that the context with which you join a site like Facebook permanently colours your perception of what that site offers you. For example, for me LinkedIn is a place to store my resume and connect with business associates. Facebook was initially introduced to me by my close friends in Newfoundland and Montreal, and it still revolves around connecting with friends. Twitter was introduced to me as a way to reach community for MySQL, and that’s what it has remained.

This is very important. It means that I expect these services to embody elements which allow that context to function. The moment the context changes, the more likely that I will leave. It doesn’t matter that I bring my status updates over from one to the other; it’s who I reach, what my audience is and who I expect to talk to that matters. Simply put, each site has a social circle, network and a context for me. The relationship you have with each site will be different for you, but you will see the similarity.

Now, Facebook wants you to give up the context. All social relationships online must be equal. They want you to take the context in which you joined Facebook and make it the same on a multitude of services. This has advantages, but it comes at a price. If, for example, you join a site within the context of gambling, do you want your data to suddenly be available to your Parent Teacher Association web application? Not every context ought to be mixed.

Empire Avenue understands the context in which we want you to join and participate; we are very up front about it! We want you to join within the context of value – to you, your networks and your community. Find people and content that otherwise would not be available to you. We are creating “value relationships.” Sure you can buy your friends, but we want you to reap the benefits of developing value relationships in a real and meaningful way.

For sure, Eaves (our virtual currency) are free, but they are limited! Think on the influence that people have and the value they may create for you by being active every day when you decide to buy virtual currency. In addition, we allow you to choose the contexts that you want to bring into Empire Avenue. Choose carefully; it could be worth real exchangeable capital for you, and certainly it will mean real social and reputation currency as well. We’re working on a number of other ways to encourage contextual interaction with others, and of course, to ensure that you’re being rewarded for your efforts within whichever social circles you contribute to.

Want an invite to Empire Avenue? Message us on Twitter and Facebook.

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