I’m not asking a question about speed here; I worry that with the profligate new networks like Twitter (and its environs in the form of apps, API [ab]users and tools), LiveFyre (with its massive potential for both quality content and for trolling), and FourSquare and Gowalla along with other location-based get-off-the-computer social networks… I worry that the beauty of the centralised network, which I still feel is the best way this can work, is deteriorating.
There’s a speech in He’s Just Not That In To You, where Drew Barrymore is lamenting having to call a guy, leaving him a voicemail, to which he responds by email, so she Facebooks him – and so on, apoplexy. Is this really happening? I mean, I email people. Or I IM with them. If you have any of my four IM accounts, they’re always on because I’m a BlackBerry user and I’m a geek like that. People can pester me wherever they wish to, through whatever network, and are likely to get back one of two things: An email, or an IM. Because that’s what works. I like centralisation, even if I do enjoy being in the loop. I’m far from anonymous: Yes, I’m on LinkedIn, yes, I have a Flickr account, both of which are very disused, as well as a Fiend- I mean FriendFeed page which is similarly disused and mostly remote controlled by Twitter. I’ve even put up a couple of very low quality YouTube videos. I’m on Twitter all the freaking time. By all rights, I should be one of those people who’s all over the place and simultaneously impossible to get a hold of.
But I’m not. Because I think that practice is stupid. Still, businesses start up every day building new and diverse networks with new calls to action, innovating the methods by which we communicate with each other and leaving a startled majority of us wondering what happened to the email we used to be getting and no longer are.
Networks with plans have limits. They’re sort of like gods that way, the pick an element to be divine in, and sort of suck at everything else. If you want to kill a god, hurl its anathema at it and watch the sparks fly. Facebook? Clearly, Mafia Wars. Twitter? Probably spam bots. The thing is that these networks keep popping up, no matter how much damage the originals absorb, and whether these parent concepts survive the onslaught of abuse.
But do we need them?
For me to hold my interest in a given network, I have to treat it like a friend. Sure, my friends are on the network, and I interact with them, but the network entity itself has to have some meaning to me, I have to be able to get along with it, cultivate an interest in maintaining it. Since I started using Twitter in earnest, almost exclusively to connect with people otherwise entirely out of my reach, I’ve entirely abandoned FriendFeed – Twitter did a better job. Sorry, I’m a fair-weather networker. I’ve also scaled back on Facebook almost entirely – I haven’t posted a status update in days, and going to the web interface is a chore. I check statuses of my friends when I have thirty seconds at work, again on my BlackBerry. It takes energy to cultivate more than this, and I’m not scaleable and I know it.
So when I got introduced to LiveFyre, I decided not to do what I did with Twitter – which was get on, dive in, and then get annoyed that it behaved differently than Facebook, which at the time was my best networking friend, and subsequently abandon the thing for almost a year. I’ve taken a bit of time to analyze before diving in, and I’m not sure I like what I see. There’s nothing inherently wrong with LF itself, other than being a very directed outlet for specific kinds of content, which makes it more like a community blog than a social network.
The problem I’m having is with the idea that there must be all of these networks for everyone, and if you want to catch all of your friends, make sure you have everyone in your contact list accessible as often as you feel they need to be, you have to set up so many listening posts you’ll go into stack overflow. It’s a futile exercise. But it’s necessary one in a lot of instances, isn’t it?
But it brings me back to this:
One. How useful are global networks – I’m talking about the Facebooks and MySpaces of the world here, where the entire call to action is “Play Nice With Others” – when it comes to quickly and reliably getting accurate and succinct information from your contacts to you?
And Two. How much utility can there ever be in balkanized echo chambers when the limits of the available actions are so heavily built into the systems that no out-of-purpose use is possible?