Is Social Networking Finally Breaking Down?

I’m done. With social networking. I canceled both my Facebook and MySpace accounts last week. Why? It’s over. The dream of social networking. I’m convinced that people just don’t “get it”.

TechCrunch reports on a ridiculous new site called LifeAt. It’s supposed to be a social network for building residents in New York City? What’s next? A special website for people who ate at the downtown Mickey D’s last week? It has finally gone beyond the curious grouping of people with similar interests. Young with young. Professionals with professionals.

There are over 300 social networking websites available to sign up for about any interest you might have.

I think the key ingredient missing in so much of the fabric of social networking is the isolation of one group to each other. You join one space but you aren’t on another. Everyone seems desperate to belong, but you can only belong to so much. While there are mashup websites which will spin all your social network profiles into one huge web page, I still think we are missing the boat.

The internet is the social network of our society. I see a future where everyone has their own domain name - not just bloggers and tech pundits. But everyone. Blogging platforms are making this easier for the average Joe. Blogger and WordPress are great starts, but they still cater to the tech folks, the writer types (ahem!), the self-aware, the creative media folks, and quite often, the lonely. What about the framing contractor who works 70 hours a week. Where’s his blog? When does he read anyone else’s blog? Not often. If ever.

Forget Twitter. Life is twitter. Typing is for the geek in all of us. We have to get to the place where all of society can participate in this great conversation. As long as only the folks who can (or need) to take the time to post (type) thoughts and ideas at later times - and who have laptops and podcasting studios and know the difference between an XML feed and Quicktime video… as long as these are the types who are running the conversation, the conversation becomes, not surprisingly, about them and their lives. Hundreds of millions of others are left out. Maybe in some sense that is the way it needs to be right now. Every person in the world who has no email address (or perhaps worse - an AOL email address) can’t be considered, perhaps rightly, as equal to the conversation we are currently having (like this one for instance) as someone more technical.

But over time, this needs to change. I’ve done a lot of studies of email responses over the years. I purposely send out emails occasionally to “bait” people into responding. Most don’t. And yet, when I see them in person, sometimes a half-year later, they will bring it up and comment on it. Sometimes with very interesting and intelligent comments. When I ask, “Hey, why didn’t you just reply?”, I get a lot of answers. But lurking beneath those answers I get the same feeling I’ve had for two decades when dealing with non-computer types - they feel a sense of guilt and dirtiness for being even geeky enough to read emails frequently, for even admitting that they sometimes enjoy those pesky machines in the corner.

Note: No one thinks this way about television anymore. Not about radio - no way. Not about going to meetings at the local library or church or neighborhood community center. Or the local bar. Most people feel free to express themselves and get involved at those venues.

But on the computer, on the internet, it remains a vast and technical landscape, run by geeks mostly for geeks. (I’m using the word “geek” in a liberal, non-threatening way here: substitute techie or smart guy/gal if it makes you feel better).

I see a future where everyone will have their own domain name and will be completely platform free of any monthly plans and hosting plans. I’m waiting for the next “killer app” on the net that becomes and is completely available to everyone (no signup for $19.99/month), is built-in to every hosting account (Apache/Windows) and enables the easiest transition to community involvement for the layperson. Forget blogging. I’m talking about conversing. We tend to view it as the same, but the rest of the world doesn’t. They’ll communicate all evening in someone’s living room with a cold beer in their hand, but they’d sooner have their nose hairs plucked then to get on the computer and type a “blog post”.

We, the blogging world, need to remedy that. We need to promote tools and methods that bring average people in to this conversation. And we need to shun those tools that exclude them. I think we unconsciously are doing that (i.e. promotion of feed readers, email subscriptions for blogs), but I haven’t seen much that purposely says “Let me go overboard to get the rest of the real world involved”.

Note: Special thanks to Jake McKee for inspiring me to write this post.

Related posts

Why not leave a comment below and continue the conversation, or subscribe to my feed and get articles like this delivered automatically to your feed reader. If you don't have a feed reader, I recommend using Google Reader to start. It's free and easy. Otherwise, you can always have these articles delivered to your email inbox every day. Click here to sign up.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

No trackbacks/pingbacks yet.


Yesterday I opened my blog with “I know it is hard to believe but there are some grown- ups who have not used a computer and aren’t particularly interested. They run companies, countries and families without the need for email, the web or Facebook”
There is a real world outside of computer journalists and industry bloggers and a real need for the killer application that will allow real people to have real conversations

Unfortunately, we are in a time where people are becoming more and more apprehensive of others however we are still human and still have the need for companionship. Why not have a platform that allows for you to take a peek into someone’s life before the initial approach. If this is a necessary step to make people comfortable enough to create a sense of community with their neighbors, I am all for it.

Short of speech-to-text or other conversion technology, how can we bring people into the fold who are, by selection of their behavior, aloof of the technology needed to do so? That is, if we’re selecting people who eschew electronic communication moreso than the technophiles you describe (”technophile” here used as liberally as you use “geek”), what other means do we have to include them in these social networks?

This isn’t as rhetorical as it sounds. I’m actually curious as to how this might be accomplished. You’ve made very good points, but there’s also an implicit assumption that might need tidying up: that there is a *need* to bring these people into these electronic networks, independent of their willingness to learn to join. It’s certainly arguable that the direction in which Facebook and the like are moving is a kind of positive inclusion and group-building; but what’s the worth in transforming that networking meme and its entry points to make it easier to include people who haven’t shown the interest or conviction to make it in themselves?

Again, that’s not merely, nor mostly, rhetorical. I don’t think that there will be a one-stop-shopping kind of inclusion technology, but, to your point, that shouldn’t stop us from reducing the entry cost (as a function of logistic friction) for the people who *want* to join but are too intimidated.

On a different but similar note, I wonder if you know of aggregation technology for these conversations that take RSS or Atom aggregation a step further. I’ve played with coComment a little bit, but so far I’m only impressed with how much slower it makes Firefox 2.x. Do you have any ideas? I think that’s another area where logistic friction could be reduced, both for the people currently involved, as well as the people you’re talking about here.

Great discussion starter.


Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Your e-mail address is never displayed.
HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>