Smithsonian NMNH bird collection, photo by Chip Clark
There’s a beautiful yet unpalatable quality to this photo. The human mind craves vast and organized displays, yet the idea of dead animals sorted into boxes unsettles the heart.
For scientific categorization, a room like this is perfect—I want to see a macaw, and I want to see it right now. In fact, show me ten macaws, show me any bird I want to see. However, the cold sort of birds by species isn’t a great way to sort everything—relationships with people, for example.
Defining relationships is difficult, but not impossible: Friend, foe, family. The problem is that relationships themselves aren’t easy categorical buckets.
One facet of this issue is that relationships change over time (see Kevin’s great post on this issue). A macaw isn’t going to morph into a canary, but a friend may turn into a girlfriend.
However, the other large failure of such an organization schema: it’s not a natural compartmentalization of the people in our lives.
If there’s one human behavior social networks feed off of, it’s our obsessive need to share. We revel in each others’ success, fall with each others’ failures and get to know each other through common interests. We ultimately love Facebook, Twitter and Google+ because they help us connect with the people we want to have a relationship with.
When you have a relationship with another human, sure, you can put labels on it. My mom, sister, brother and cousin are my family. My boyfriend is my boyfriend. My professor, manager and coworker are my professional network. However, when I come to a nugget of content I want to share, I simply don’t stop to think of people in that way.
I don’t know if this is an effect of our fractured age, but we have different kinds of friends. There is that friend you ask for recipes, that friend you go to bars with, and that very special friend you’d tell if you got cancer. I’d never want my entire family to know I cheated on a test, but I might tell my sister and my roommate—just like if I discovered Trololo Man, I might want to share mostly with my cousin and a couple buddies from my old a cappella group.
We don’t generally find content expressly to cater to a group. We typically find gold in our travels and then want to share. So isn’t it artificial to lump people into categories rather than sort by the content itself?
Show me a social network that easily differentiates between “people I’d tell my address to” and “people who care I met Paula Scher”. That will be the rub.