I am not a luddite. In fact, I’m a big advocate of most of the concepts of social networking, and a long-time participant. But, about a month ago, A persistent friend roped me into joining Facebook, which, as you no doubt realize, is about the trendiest web site on Earth right now, basking in more than it’s fair share of memespace. Man, am I hating it.
Facebook is decidedly social. You fill out your profile, connect to your friends, and, from that point on, every time that you or a friend do anything on Facebook, the rest of your community knows about it, as a constantly updating scroll of alerts keeps you up to date. I know that Scott won a Disney trivia quiz, that Holly is now friends with Heather, and that Michelle has been experimenting with Trac, my favorite source code repository software. That’s a lot more info than LinkedIn tells me about my associates when I log on there. I also know, or have good reason to suspect, that a co-worker of mine broke up with his partner recently, because he updated his profile to note that he’s single. That was more info than I really wanted to know…
Most of what can be done on Facebook involves using the custom apps that programmers and pseudo-programmers (like me) can easily develop for the platform. The problem is that the majority of these apps are astoundingly trite in nature. There are hundreds of apps to let you poke your friends and compare your pop culture acumens. But there’s little of substance. I know that what drew the bulk of my friends to this platform was the promise of using it as a mission-marketing and fundraising tool for our non-profit orgs. There are plenty of apps that support that, but I’m pained to see where this is a very effective tool for it, unless donating to something meaningful makes people feel a bit better about themselves after six or seven hours of online tickling, poking, and otherwise engaging in remarkably trivial pursuits.
Social networking takes a lot of forms on the net, from the little “people who bought this also bought that” notes on amazon to the web-based communities around games and mobile devices to the whole hog social networks. The latest educated speculation is that Google and Yahoo will start adding social networking features to their email platforms, and Firefox 3 will act as an aggregator, pulling data from multiple social sites into the browser interface. If nothing else, this tells me that I can choose to join Facebook or Myspace today, but next year the challenge will be opting out.
Slam the blogosphere if you want, but the social interaction there starts with someone writing something they care about. And if you read a blog entry that speaks to you, you can engage in a focused conversation via the comments. Or, as I’ve done a few times in the past, roundtable discussion among related blogs. Something about the trivial level of automated discourse on Facebook almost knocks out the potential for meaningful interchanges, and when something more real pops up — like someone changing their profile to reflect a very real change in their life and who they are — it’s awkward to see it scroll up, sandwiched between the latest flixter movie showdown and the news that some friend of yours is bored with their commute. This almost moves the level of discourse between my friends and myself about three steps closer to spam. The Facebook brand of social networking is far too dominated by the fact that, even for an internet junkie like me, the majority of things that I can do on Facebook are not that interesting, meaningful or real.