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who really owns a social network?

when we moved into our neighborhood, my wife decided to rally some troops and organized some women around the 'hood for various reasons.  she started a babysitting co-op where the currency is popsicle sticks and communication is done via a yahoo group.  you need a babysitter for 2 kids for 3 hours?  send a note to the group and within hours (usually minutes) you'll have someone willing to take you up on it...that will be 6 sticks please.  it has worked out great and is totally self-sustaining.  the neighborhood has virtually free babysitting for those times you need it during the day, etc.

she also started another group for simple social networking..."friends" they call it.  it has grown to over 120 people in our little community.  my wife started it and is the owner of the yahoo group.  people know to go to her to get on it or contact her to recommend people to be on it.  not that she's a control freak (i don't think), but she just was the default originator of the idea and hence the defacto owner.

recently, the group is growing and faceless "friends" are engaging in conversations.  i'm not on the list, but i know it has been helpful in the community identifying safety concerns, finding recommended repair services, organizing parent play groups, etc.  even at times people have sold their belongings through the list.  and therin starts the rub.  until everyone has snopeit installed on their machines, people will undoubtedly forward spam.  spam from "friends" is even worse.  it creates that sense of weirdness in your belly about how to react to it.  do you send the person a note?  or do you just delete it?  (i just delete.)  my wife's group started getting spam.  people complained to her and there may have been this expectation to fix it.  they sought her guidance to fix it.  pleaded to send a note to the group.  she did.  she "suggested" some guidelines regarding spam.  it seemed to work, people apologized and the spam has subsided.  it is now a part of the signup process (i think the disclaimer/guidelines is now a few paragraphs :-)).

now the problem has been sale items.  i think everyone appreciates the opportunity to know about a great handyman (service) who is inexpensive and does great work, or a plasma tv (product) that someone doesn't want anymore and is letting go for a few hundred bucks.  but does the same level of excitement exist for a toy tonka truck that has been used and sitting in the kids toy closet for the past year?  apparently not.  these "garage sale" items have become a new sore spot with the network...and again, my wife is sought out for fixing it.  she quickly suggested "sale item saturday" where people would post one (1) message on saturday listing their items for sale.  everyone agreed.

saturday came.  someone sent a message (this being the same person that caused some concern to begin with).  no responses.  sunday came.  no responses.  monday came and that person posted that the saturday thing didn't work and she wasn't selling her stuff fast enough.  so tuesday came and a post for a costumer for $12 was sent.  oh the flurry of emails to my wife.  fix it again, they asked.  she asked my counsel.  i asked her to differentiate the scenario of the handyman, tv, and costume for me.  she couldn't other than she *thinks* that the complaints stem from people not wanting "crap" but they are willing to filter through the "good stuff."  i told her to ignore it and other people would.  like most times, she didn't listen to my advice.  she posted a reply to the individual (and to the group) restating the purpose for sale saturday messages and that the goal was not to clog peoples' inboxes.  she made an intented-to-be humoristic jab that the list was not a virtual garage sale and to use ebay/craigslist for that purpose.  well, that person hasn't posted since (i told her i think she's cursing my wife in her home).  she asked about starting another group for sale items.  i told her that was a bad idea...then where do you draw the line.  i had similar discussions with the organizers of AZGroups when the lists started diverging and now there are i think 5 or so you can choose from.  for me it is easier to just delete if i don't want it, but that's just me i guess.

my wife was frustrated because people weren't willing to vocalize their opinion (btw, they all praised her privately for her gestures) and wanted someone to "own" the problem to fix.  i don't think my wife wants to be the sole owner of this, but again, she became the defacto owner.  it's been an interesting time seeing her be a part of these social networks.  she's a yahoo group wizard now...she moderates, rejects, etc. like the best of them.  it has been amazing seeing her leverage technology more in her life without me prodding.  she consistently checks her email now (about 2 years ago she checked it once a month), she has 3 yahoo groups she manages.  she's all about the online ticket systems, etc.  just the other day she organized the internet groups together to capitalize on bulk order pricing and got 30 cases of peaches/pears (all we wanted was a half a box).

anyhow, i think my point here (if there was one -- i'm writing this on a plane to kill time and not think about the 2 hours left) is that if you start a social network, it is yours...regardless of what anyone says and unless there is a coup, you own it.  it blossoms because of your efforts and dies because of your lack of care...don't think it doesn't.  for my wife, hers have blossomed and that is a result of her as well as the community coming together and really proving value in the networks.

some of my friends joked that the "friends" list was getting too anonymous and that they should start a new group "actual friends" :-)



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