So I realize I've been thinking of social networks as graph-based and set-based.

Graph-based means you follow other users and get a feed of their posts. (E.g. Facebook, Goople, birdsite, here).

Set-based means you are either in or out and if you're in, your feed is the same as everyone else who's in. (E.g. subreddits, mailing lists, USENET groups, web fora.)

I'm finding this to be a useful distinction.

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Now the value judgements:

Set-based social networks are better because they

a) foster a sense of community
b) that cuts across race, gender, location, etc.
c) and allow the development of fine-grained community standards.

Graph-based social networks can be mined for data and sold to advertisers. Guess which one gets funded.

Also: I miss USENET.

(I checked and it's still going. I think I'm going to try hanging around there for a while. There seem to still be some groups with non-spam activity that mostly avoid current events as a topic.)

@suetanvil I think that's a time and place that won't happen again. Plus the past is always remembered better than it actually was. I'm a lot more interested in the "rule of 150", rather than any specific technology.

@suetanvil Usenet worked as much as it did because the groups were so small. I don't think people realize how small the internet was in the early days.


Probably, yeah. But I miss being able to read people's discussions on (e.g. ) Star Trek without periodic upsetting interruptions. The Internet used to be a source of respite.

(And yes, I realize that as a straight white dude, my threshold for upsetting is waaaaaay higher than most folks' here and that the general level of upset is much higher these days anyway.)

@suetanvil It would be an interesting experiment to limit "follows" to some smallish number. If you want to add someone new, you have to take someone off.

@suetanvil I KNOW RIGHT?

Case in point: there are a lot of great people on Mastodon, and I've had plenty of good conversations with them. But they're really hard to organize and finding people with whom I share a particular interest is *hard*. And I did -- but then their toots often get drowned in the timeline and I miss on great conversations.

USENET, and then even plain ol' forums, were amazing, and I'm really pissed that we traded them for this jumbled mess.

@x64k @suetanvil It's the perennial problem here: follow someone because they had a string of interesting posts, then unfollow once you find that they RT too much politics or post about their personal life.

@USBloveDog @suetanvil yeah, kind of. I'm quite tolerant about politics and personal lives, that's not a problem (I mean, I do unfollow folks who turn out to be Nazi but that's the kind of stuff I draw the line at). But it's hard to keep stuff together, you know?

Like, I wanna know that if I click on that link then go in that section I can have a good time talking about the finer points of M68K assembly if that's what I feel like talking about this evening.

@suetanvil it's not so much that USENET (or forums) were a heaven. This is mostly a nostalgia-driven impression. But it was a lot easier to find like-minded people and have meaningful conversations with them -- and to have your opinions challenged, and to learn new things.

@suetanvil What about the filter bubble aspect?

Set based = you follow just the topics you're interested in, often from the angle you're insterested in (liberal or conservative subreddit about news from the US, for example)

While graph based might mean that you follow someone just because you know them personally, are familly or because you like their view or expertice on one topic. And they might share news and opinions about other topics and from other angles than what you followed them for


IME, the reverse is true because the forum provides a kind of neutral ground. If someone is polite and makes intelligent comments when talking about (e.g.) Star Trek, you are more likely to listen to them when talking (in good faith) about (e.g.) politics.

In contrast, the graph just exposes you to the kind of people you would have met anyway.

USENET (for all its flaws) exposed me to people and scenes that I'd never have heard of otherwise; I'd probably be a flaming homophobe without that.

@suetanvil by your classification r/the_donald would fullfill point b) and the local and federated timelines in mastodon wouldn't.


Yup. There are good graphs and bad sets; I think those are outliers, though.

(Also: Reddit is run by someone with a highschooler's understanding of free speech and/or insufficient spine to just close that cesspool down.)

(Also also: removing capitalism from the graph makes it less awful.)

@suetanvil @DeeUnderscore
I think some other advantages of set/topic-oriented socnets are:
- a common context (as opposed to context collapse)
- limitation of out-of-context reposts/boosts (which IMO are a major cause of problems with graph-based socnets)
- a common measure of what's on- or off-topic, and whether a message contributes positively or negatively to the discussion

@suetanvil I've thought of this as a distinction between the user-centric and the topic-centric. In the former case, you post as a user, and read what other users have posted. In the latter case, you post to/about a topic, and read posts about your preferred topics.

@suetanvil @DeeUnderscore

I think the graph based / user centric just means you don't control the groups you belong.

Users are grouped into clusters anyway, just they don't control them.

@suetanvil thatโ€™s really well put, thank you!
social-media-as-graphs is something i thought about before โ€“ mostly from the angle of how many features are just pretty dress-up for making the graph you produce more marketable (likes etc) โ€“ but i never thought about the graph/set difference.

@suetanvil They're both graphs. You get both things if you see the latter as hypergraphs, without need of formulating special semantics for sets.

@suetanvil By your definitions, a set based social network leads to binary inclusion-exclusion, in that you are either connected or not. A graph based social network allows properties to be set on the edge, i.e. symmetric or assymmetric follow, or a potential gradient of intimacy . Graph thinking may be better for piecemeal growth . Still, a city is not a tree

@suetanvil There is another paradigm which I'm interested in, and which federation begins to suggest - which is based in defined groups, where you se the feed that is the result of everyone in your defined group (slack, say).
For me, the pulling apart of these paradigms into separate apps is sub-optimal; a key skill of humans is the ability to slip and slide from one mindset to another in a heartbeat - in the interests of translation, of synergy, of adaptability, of efficient communication.

Dumb example: while telling a joke in the pub, someone gets louder and louder during the punchline, as they realise/hope/decide that people outside their immediate circle will/would/should appreciate it.
This is utterly normal for humans, impossible/very clunky within any of these paradigms.

@suetanvil Mastodon comes closest to the picture in my head of a social tool where we can move between these paradigms.
1/ a defined group - you can only be in if it will have you, and leave whenever you want. Comms inside the group are me-to-mygroup. If I want to push something beyond my group, it will come from 'me@mygroup'. I can be a member of any number of groups, (or none).

2/ set-based group - my group is part of something wider that it has decided to join
3/ my graph-based existence - where I am an atomised individual, looking at my selected feed. I can post from here as 'justme', or as 'me@<an_one_of_my_groups>.

This is not a 'product' or anything - but a developing thought experiment. Comments / brickbats welcome!

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