27 November 2007

Anti-Social Networks

Although I've joined a couple of social networks, it's purely for the sake of some digital anthropology: I've never actually *used* them. In part, this is because I've always found their dynamics slightly unhealthy - this binary business (yes/no) of accepting someone as a "friend" seemed pretty adolescent, frankly.

Now Cory Doctorow has skewered and dissected the key problems in one of his well-written analyses:

For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there's a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I'd cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, "Am I your friend?" yes or no, this instant, please.

It's not just Facebook and it's not just me. Every "social networking service" has had this problem and every user I've spoken to has been frustrated by it. I think that's why these services are so volatile: why we're so willing to flee from Friendster and into MySpace's loving arms; from MySpace to Facebook. It's socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list -- but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who'll groan and wonder why we're dumb enough to think that we're pals).

That's why I don't worry about Facebook taking over the net. As more users flock to it, the chances that the person who precipitates your exodus will find you increases. Once that happens, poof, away you go -- and Facebook joins SixDegrees, Friendster and their pals on the scrapheap of net.history.


Anonymous said...

If you conceive of social networks as a depository of old relationships then don't expect much more than gossip from them. If you approach these networks with a goal of expanding your horizons in your chosen profession, or your fields of interest, from photography to politics, etc., then you can expect to reap a lot more benefits from your investment of time and energy. In short, you can either use it actively or passively and generally that decision will be the biggest factor in your satisfaction with it.

Glyn Moody said...

Certainly, active management of your social network can go a long way. But I really don't have the time to sort the requests I get into those whom I definitely want to stay in touch with, and those I don't. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this social lark.