Social Networks: basic components and vectors of transformation

January 21, 2023 (1y ago) · @kgoryunov


Social networks are the constructs enabling to create and maintain relationships between individuals, groups, organizations, or even entire societies.

There are different types of social networks, however all of them have in common a few basic components.

Basic components

Any social network consists of three basic components: Identities, Relations, Distribution.

Identities create relations to interact with each other by distributing various messages and products (content, events, notifications, etc).

The interactions within a network create a network economy which might have explicit or implicit forms of economic value.

Figure 1: Basic Components of Social Networks
Figure 1: Basic Components of Social Networks

Historically, there were only a few social networks at the beginning, but as the internet society evolved and new platforms arose, the need for traveling between them became more notable.

Most of the social networks that exist today control all three basic components of it, which makes it not possible for that type of user traveling. If the value created within the network belongs to the network (not to its creator), the value has to be re-created again when the environment changes (moving to the new platform or app, platform shuts down, etc).

One of the fundamentals of systems design is the reusability principles. They were originally formulated as a part of OOP (Object-oriented programming) and later the DRY principle ("don't repeat yourself") that defined it as every piece of knowledge or asset must have a single, unambiguous, authoritative representation within a system.

Vectors of transformation

Ability to plug-in your data

Your identity, relations and credentials should be transferable. Whatever platform you’re using, your data should travel with you instead of starting from a blank profile every time you enter a new network.

Figure 2: Non-Transferable vs Transferable Identities
Figure 2: Non-Transferable vs Transferable Identities

Allowing users to export their digital identity to any cross platform protocol or social graph would be an efficient way to achieve that transferability.

Reputation system

Likewise your identity, your reputation should travel with you. Transferable reputation might solve vast of existing problems with bots, bad actors, network abuse, etc.

Additionally, that would create a new layer of discovery and engagement opportunities between the networks and users.

Figure 3: Binary vs Non-binary reputation systems
Figure 3: Binary vs Non-binary reputation systems

Reputation itself is a highly dynamic value in real life, and requires a similar granularity for the social networks too. People behave better in environments where they can earn or lose their status. Binary statuses aka verified/unverified that are dominant today, facilitates network abuses and bad behavior (impersonating, manipulations, toxic behavior, etc).

There are various solutions for the new status system already proposed, for example @apartovi proposed adding color to the status badges to differentiate the reputation score.

Distribution to third-party apps

As the social networks get bigger they tend to disable any access to the data and APIs to avoid potential data breaches and exploits. That made it very limited for its users to distribute their data (content, messaging, notifications, etc) to other apps, or instead to lock their data and do not share with other apps.

There are multiple transformation attempts already started today, including Jack Dorsey’s Bluesky, DSNP, and sgraph protocol.

To see the effective industry-wide changes it will take more time and, more importantly, dedication from developers and the internet society to adopt it for a better future.

P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, share your thoughts on Twitter and tag me!