I’ll be honest here and admit that I passed on the “Myspace thing” entirely, and opted for LinkedIn instead. While I get the power of online communities, the whole concept of myspace seemed a little crude and stupid when compared to what was actually happening on the actual Internet. That, and I haven’t been fourteen for quite a while. And even when I was I have to admit I didn’t much care who signed my yearbook outside of a small group of close friends, so the idea of having that concept expanded into an online sticker book doesn’t really work for me.
That said, I can see why it worked so well for rock bands and other famous people. It lets them give the thrill of direct contact with hundreds or thousands of adoring fans without the wrist cramps and infections that comes with having to sign autographs and shake hands. That goes both ways of course. Fans get to feel that they’ve reached out and touched their gods, or even helped created them, when they actually haven’t.
So, instead of being a myspace junkie, I have been busy collecting business contacts over on LinkedIn like a character out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. There is definitely something exciting out of turning casual contacts into some kind of social proof, and on LinkedIn you can do it in a stately and mature manner! Of course whether or not it actually means anything is another story. And then there’s the whole issue of what peer pressure becomes in a society where your peers are automatically cataloged for you…
The biggest single factor in making these social networking sites work is that they need to reach a tipping point. Specifically, when enough of the people that I know, or think I know, have joined the thing, it becomes actually useful for me to do something with it. I hopped onto LinkedIn long before it became what it is today and it sat there for more than a year with only a few connections. But when it took off there was suddenly utility in it. It’s become the first place to go when you’re looking for work. With a resume, contacts, and recommendations all in one place, it takes the guesswork out of job hunting for both the applicant and the employer. And if I need to find out information, and try to branch out in a new direction I can crawl through my contacts to see who knows how, or might be able to open a door.
With over 100 people in my contact list I often wish I could just add the folks I meet directly into my account rather than having to go to all the trouble of actually handing them a business card. Maybe they’ll figure out a way for me to do it using my cell phone…
The latest site that has reached critical mass, for me at least, is FaceBook. Sure, it’s been a big story for the last year or so as it has transformed from a glorified college directory into something else entirely. But it wasn’t until this month that I felt like I cared.
But unlike most of the Web 2.0 applications, Facebook has done it by pulling a Web 1.0 trick, opening up an API where the users can start to generate applications. Like anything created by the masses, many of them are amazing, and a lot of them are dumb. What’s interesting is that a lot of them ar both. I’ve spent the last few days involved in an endless monster war where I’ve been biting and fighting my friends, turning them into Zombies and Vampires, then battling them for points. It’s crude, silly fun, but it makes you feel you’re communicating with someone rather than just collecting them like trophies.
What makes them more interesting then the a random app that you might pick up through LifeHacker or Delicious is that the plug-ins are actually viral. So, if your friends is using one they can invite you to use it simply using it on you. At that point the invitation is sent it’s up to you whether or not you want to plug it into your profile.
Another advantage is that the site’s pages don’t make your eyes bleed, no matter how much stuff you stick in there. There was a time, not so long ago, when helping me keep things organized more effectively was actually one of the main reasons to own a computer. Turns out it was a social planner all along.