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filling the void

Friday, July 20, 2007

On Social Networking

I was looking at my brother's Facebook profile, and I was overwhelmed at how filled-in it was.
He had a vast network of friends who were all on Facebook, he had some "apps" running, and a tonne of pictures.
Now, I could very well hook in to that, since about half of his friends are my friends as well, but I don't know if I have the energy to fully invest myself in yet another social networking site.
Granted, I don't hang out on many, and I'm still not sure that social networking isn't anything more than a time sink, but it's not like I (currently) have very much else to do.
The problem, of course, is that the amount of other stuff I have to do varies, while the need to keep your social networking profile going stays the same. There are various solutions to this, but regardless of which one you pick, something has to get put on the back burner. Either the social networking site(s), or something else in your life.

Yet another problem is that if I decide complete my profile, and spend hours and hours on Facebook, feeling important, what happens if Facebook either calls it quits, or something else pops up that is "all the rage", and people just migrate? I know that competition is healthy in a marketplace, and in most cases the consumers benefit from it.
Here, on the other hand, competition kills the user. Since no one is paying for any of these services, the biggest advantage of competition is lost, namely that prices go down if multiple vendors offer the same merchandise. Also, since all the data is proprietary, moving from one social networking site to another requires the user to put in all the time again to fill the profile of the new service, and keep it plied with photos and witty remarks.

Even though it is not in the best interest of the social networking sites, in fact it could quite possibly be devastating to some, it would be nice if they offered all your information in some portable format. That way, when something new comes along, you can just export your profile from one service, and import it to another. The advantages here for the users should be apparent:

  • The users only need to enter their data once.
  • The users get the best from the developers of the social networking site, since they know that proprietary data tie-in is no longer a possibility, they must fight for the users, constantly adding new features and besting their rivals.

Another nice though would be interoperability between social networking sites, but that's as likely to happen as hell dropping below zero.

If we look at this from a slightly different perspective, we can throw most of what I just said out of the window. The thing with these social networking sites is that, while they enable people to connect in ways never though possible, they provide the user with something to do.
Much like TV, keeping an active profile on a social networking site is an opium for the masses. If it was easy and required no time, people wouldn't do it. At least not more than once.

It's basically all about group mentality. Someone does something that is perceived as cool, and everybody else wants to jump on the bandwagon. Nowadays, if your profile isn't as filled as the profiles of the people around you, you are considered to be less of a person, because you obviously have fewer friends.

Social networking sites can be fun, and they are surely a time sink. If they are good or bad or just plain frivolous remains to be seen. I think that the more time you put in to them, the more you are likely to get out of them (as with most things in life), but I also think that there is a threshold you mustn't cross, when the time spent updating your profile takes over more important tasks like getting work done. (To the adults in the audience who expected "more important tasks like spending time with your friends", I say this: you are living in an outdated society. This is spending time with your friends, and the sooner adults and parents see that, the sooner kids all around the world will be better off. I have met some of my best friends via various Internet communication services.)

I wanted to close with something about using social networking services with moderation, but then the words of Hunter S. Thompson struck me, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing right".

I guess you have to ask yourself, are social networking sites worth doing?

I really should re-read these things and pick out the core theme and write a proper article, like a real writer, but right now I can't be bothered.

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