Active Communities and Latent Networks
I discovered the concept of latent networks and active communities last summer while trying to save a magazine by activating a community within a social network. At the time, I was fascinated by the concept of latent offline communities becoming active online communities once given the tools to discover themselves and communicate. In the Business 2.0 magazine example, it was simply a case of thousands of readers (the latent community) being given a reason and means to congregate online (the active community) where none existed before.
At that time, and for a long time afterwards, Facebook was my primary online active community. It is where I interacted most with people sharing stories, photos, videos, etc. It was where I met new people and kept in touch with old friends. Facebook helped me make plans for the future and reminisce about the past. But that large finished now. I visit Facebook a few times a week to check in on some of my groups and to respond to various proddings from my network. I upload the odd video or photo of my kids. But that’s it. Facebook is simply not where I hang out online anymore.
I finally joined Twitter earlier this year because it’s where all the cool kids were hanging out. It has now fully replaced Facebook as my online social home. I’ve written quite a bit about Twitter lately, so I won’t go in-depth here, but it is clearly my active community online.
Facebook has now become a collection of several "latent networks" with sporadic bursts of activity. At any time, for a variety of reasons, these latent networks will be activated around a cause or event – like a high school reunion, or a University alumni football game. For the most part, though, Facebook is now my rolodex for old friends and acquaintances.
LinkedIn, similarly, is part fancy business card and part fancy rolodex – much like Facebook but with latent networks comprised of different people. Old co-workers and business acquaintances reside there with tremendous potential should the need arise. In this way, LinkedIn and Facebook are more similar than ever for me now.
It’s important to stress that this change for Facebook from an active community to a latent network does not diminish it’s value to me as a social media tool. All that has changed is how I engage with the medium.
An interesting point about Twitter, though, is that I don’t think it could ever become solely a latent network. Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, active participation in the Twitter community is necessary for any of the network benefits to retain value. Inactivity on Twitter would actually allow that particular medium to atrophy and lose almost all of its network value.