My introduction to modern electronic social networking was LinkedIn. I was invited to join the day I left Teradyne. It seemed kinda weird, sort of an online resume so I thought it not a bad thing, especially since it gave me the option of somewhat limiting my audience. I kinda avoided the myspace thing, it just seemed too weird and the few people’s pages that I was referred to sang back at me so I would get annoyed. Nothing like slamming on the mute key in a coffee shop because a friend referred me to their page that played the tune they karaoked the night before in the Atlanta underground.
When I joined Intuit, Intuit itself was (and still is) going through a massive transformation. It actually has a lot of web properties, but the mindset (and the cash cows) were on the desktop. At this point I knew that I had to figure this thing out. So over the last year I signed up for facebook and created a wordpress blog and experimented with twitter and plaxo and utterli and various other things.
My conclusion after watching other people’s tweets go by this morning is that this is attempting to replace the traditional physical neighboorhood/ghetto/small town where everyone knows your business to the web. Now anyone and everyone is in your mental ghetto. You tweet and your facebook status gets updated and people comment on it. Your blog has an rss feed watching your tweets and people start following you.
Random people read about “Steak Armeen” and leave only a footprint that you can trace through your dashboard. The come into your ghetto somewhat anonymously and exit when they’ve satisfied their curiousity. If they are motivated by what you say, they might comment, although if you look at the wordpress blogs with the top hits it’s not always friendly banter.
The one other difference in the iSocial network vs your neighborhood is that in your neighborhood the information, your whereabouts, your acquaintances were monitored by the old lady on the second floor of the 2 family sitting on your porch. If your house had smoke coming out of it, she’d call 911. On the web, we create a sense of neighborhood, but with none (or at least very little) of the old lady watching to make sure that the neighborhood was safe. To some extent we rely on the site owner/moderators, but the truth is the one thing that is truly missing in this neighborhood is the collective protection that we as social animals have relied on since sitting around the fire. Somebody was supposed to stand guard.
You can try to mimic it by having your friends and friends kids all on facebook (let’s say) and hope that someone is watching with the intent of helping you, but truly, you are on your own. I think that solving that problem, creating the safe zone or collective security, is the next real innovation that needs to be done. I guess you can call it web gangs to in it’s logical extreme. And parental controls on the computer is not a substitute for it.