Object-centric social networking?

A 2005 post by Jyri Engeström is titled: “Why some social network services work and others don’t — Or: the case for object-centered sociality”. Among the points made:

The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They’re not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object.

The post cites as an example that Flickr turned pictures into objects of sociality. Point taken. Point questioned…

Is it the case that people go to Flickr to socialize around pictures, or is there something special about some pictures that attract social behaviors such as tagging and commenting?

I am inclined to spend time looking at pictures taken by friends, or pictures that are about things (read: subjects) of interest to me. I won’t go so far as to assert that behavior describes every visit to Flickr, but I will suggest that it seems far more likely that it is the subjects portrayed in the boundary objects that are pictures that bind and unite social interactions.

I am making a case for subject-centric social networking.

When we write a blog post about another blog post, we are not united by the blog (boundary object) itself; might have been an email, a journal article, whatever. It’s the subject of that blog post that counts, that provokes a response, a comment, a tag, a social gesture of one sort or another.

Subject-centric sociality, I believe, is an accurate way to think about social intercourse. There remains much more to say about that.

On further reflection on recent (2009) slides presented here, I’m not all that certain that Engeström’s object-centric assertion is necessarily missing the point I’m making, at least in some cases. Some of the point made in the slides could easily be interpreted as subject-centric.