There are too many social networking sites. That’s an easy statement to throw out, but in a way it’s true. There are enough social networks that I have a hard time now explaining which sites are social networks, and which ones just have social networking aspects. Pandora, for instance, is internet radio as we all know, but you can be “friends” or something with other users on it. Or maybe you “follow” people. I can’t really keep track any more. So I’m writing this piece in part as advice to those who feel lost, as well as a manifesto of how I define my internet self.
To start off with, I think I have to define my internet self. The easy summary is that my internet self, let’s call him CloudBuck, is not me. And I don’t want him to define me. I feel like that perception is getting out of control. Most often, yes, what you do on the internet says something about you and will influence how people see you in real life. It is not real life, however. For example, I recently had my Twitter and Facebook hacked or otherwise used without my knowledge. Said person posted slander about me, in a way that there was little I could do. The first instance on the ‘Book was when I had my birthday changed. This was especially annoying because people I didn’t know very well were wishing me happy birthday all day and I couldn’t change it. And so “Push Notifications” were showing up on my phone all day. Another thing that was posted later, might have been inappropriate, but I didn’t care enough to delete it.
And yet there are certain things I want my social network personas to say about me. Most of them are simply utilitarian now, but on my Twitter, for instance, I try to balance my humorous or insightful observations with simple Facebookesque status updates. These sites are a powerful tool, but I think they should be used only insofar as they are helping Real You, whether you’re actually networking, knowledge-gaining, socializing or just venting.
The plethora of networks that I use and have used in the past twelve months is indeed nauseating. There are several that I do regularly, others on occasion, others I quit and still others I know about and haven’t started yet. But could at any time. One I would like to discuss as an example of an “SN” that wasn’t doing anything for me is Foursquare. I could first point out that it was a pretty good idea until sites like Facebook and Yelped started doing essentially the same things. But the problems I have with it run deeper. It felt a lot like a game, which is what a social network shouldn’t be. The coupons you were supposed to get places were never worth it, you could make up your own places, and it overall just felt like a pissing contest. I don’t care if you’re the “Mayor” of your best friend’s house!!! But it got you extra points, so why not? That was another drawback, that by this whole points system, it actually encouraged you to be friends with fewer people. You get points for being the first of your friends at a location or the friend who’s been there the most- and you only got ranked against your friends! That feels like the antithesis of a social network. An anti-social network. And it would take unnecessary time out of my life having to find internet and check in everywhere I go.
I like my social networks to interfere in my life as little as possible. Don’t let me know every little thing that’s going on, but allow me to communicate future events, past events, and current events in an efficient manner. I had a funny exchange with a buddy of mine on FB where we were poking fun at our friendgirl’s boyfriend who we hadn’t met with inside jokes he probably didn’t get. But he soon posted, absolutely hit the mark with his response and it had me rolling. That’s what an SN should do.
A final thought- besides just sending word of new cool things around the web at record speed, these sites are often their own referenda. If a site is good, people are going to find out about it quickly through other sites. And that gives me hope for my buddy who is working with Google, promoting Google+ (heard of it?). The jury is still out, but if it’s good it will come into more widespread use. For crying out loud, for a guy who invented the term “social network”, doesn’t Mark Zuckerberg seem like the most anti-social guy ever?