Social Models in Online Software: Part 2

by Luke Wroblewski October 2, 2009

In part one of Social Models in Online Software, I outlined the kinds of relationships we can infer on the Web and within online communities. While these implicit connections between people are interesting, online social relationships are even more useful when they are explicitly declared.


Groups are perhaps the most common way of establishing one-to-many relationships in online software. At its essence, a group is simply an explicitly declared set of people that interact with each other. Because people actively create, manage, and join groups, it makes sense to consider group membership a clearly defined relationship.

Groups come in many shapes and sizes. They can be topic, relationship, or collaboration based and long-lived or temporary. But in all cases, groups enable convenient one-to-many communication and interactions. They keep people engaged with high quality content or group members, alerts of new activity, and (in some cases) with games.

Relationship-based groups support offline and personal relationships. Communication within them is more personal in nature and often involves coordinating events and meetings. Relationship-based groups tend to have a high member of messages relative to members. At least half of the groups’ members participate regularly in most relationship-based groups.

Topical groups allow people to stay up to date on information about specific concepts. Groups with a high number of members and page views relative to messages tend to be topical. In most cases, very few members of topical groups tend to know each other offline.

Another important aspect of groups is how they are set up and operated. In the 2007 paper, Preferential Behavior in Online Groups, researchers studied a large set of Yahoo! Groups and determined public, semi-public, and private groups had distinct contribution patterns. Public groups (anyone can post & view messages) tended to suffer from abusive behaviors from spam to trolling. Private groups (only members can join & post) were the best behaved and the model of choice for relationship-based groups.


2-way connections are the model of choice for most online social networks like Facebook, Bebo, and more. A symmetrical connection is confirmed and controlled by both sides (usually through an invitation process) and automatically enables mutual sharing as part of the relationship. In other words, if two people agree to be connected in a social network they will have access to each other’s information & activity.

If either side of the relationship severs the connection, the relationship itself ceases to exist. Usually people are notified when this happens (i.e. when they get “unfriend-ed”). Some interesting behavioral patterns (sources) of 2-way connections include:

  • 10% of users account for 30% of production
  • 12% of Facebook users update their status daily
  • 40% of Facebook users have updated status in past 7 days
  • 1.89% of page views are contribution (photos, content, videos, events)

Coming Next…

We’ll look in-depth at the final social model considered in my Impact of Social Models talk –asymmetrical/1-way personal relationships.