Still Struggling with Social Networking

About four years ago I heard about MySpace for the first time and completely dismissed it. I don't remember when I first heard about Friendster, but I remember clearly thinking there was no "there" there. Once you signed up and added friends, then what? Who cared? Same thing for Tribe. I didn't even get to see Facebook until they opened up for non-college users. Even then I didn't see what the fuss was about.

See the trend there?

I think the problem is that I've always looked at these sites from my perspective, and I have a blog - in fact I have my own dedicated server - so what the hell do I need to use these sites for?

As I began learning a bit more about the sites, I started appreciating some things like MySpace's focus on music and bands and that the crazy designs users could create using hidden CSS allowed a level of customization and personality. I also started understanding that many people who don't have blogs or some other sort of dedicated online presence would love this aspect of these services. It's a place where others can find you. And the social aspect as well of course - kids could pore over these sites forever - adding friends, adding comments to profile pages, etc.

But it's all a learned, intellectual understanding. I still don't *feel* it.

What's worse? I didn't *see* the trend before it got here - as you would think I would being the sort of pontificating technologist I am - but now years after these sites have become the leading destinations on the Web, I still don't get it. I don't have that visceral, gut understanding of the attraction and benefits of these services - and that has made it absolutely impossible for me to make a prediction about what the *next* big thing will be. I'm still trying to catch up to what's happening now.

I have to admit, I think some part of me has been wishing for some sort of vindication and these sites would start to lose their steam and everyone would decide they were just a fad, and that would be it. I don't mind missing out on a fad... I never learned how to do the Macarena either.

But then the other day I was reading about Barack Obama's website, and how the site was key to both organizing the Democratic caucuses and for the massive amount of web fundraising. For fuck's sake, social networking is helping pick the next President of the United States and I am completely oblivious to it. In fact when I first heard about it, my thought was "Oh god. Another freakin's social network?" I didn't think, "Perfect, that's exactly what I would do..." No, I thought, "Wow that looks like a nice site, I wonder who did it? Seems like a waste of a lot of resources..."

I really hate being *that* wrong.

And yet, my honest feeling about this stuff is still sort of negative. I don't ever *use* Facebook for anything, for example. I like it over some of the other sites out there, but it doesn't hold any sort of attraction for me. So far, the most interesting thing about it is the fact that two old girlfriends have used it to get back in touch with me (both married with children), but beyond that it's just there. I get friend requests, I go in and approve them. And then I click around a bit, realize that nothing is interesting and then leave and don't come back until someone else adds me again. I have 300+ "friends" on Facebook, but if I wanted to get advice for some topic - say what's a decent garage locally, or a good recipe for chicken - I'd still do a web search and find a random forum out on the web instead. Am I missing something, or is Facebook?

And when Facebook launched their F8 platform and API last year? Just about everyone was super excited, and my thought was, "I have zero idea what to do with this stuff." I had a chat recently with a friend who did that Stanford class on the Facebook platform (a fucking *class*?!?!), and he learned a ton about what makes apps viral and interesting, etc. and yet, I still don't understand *why* anyone would bother, let alone *how* to make those sorts of viral apps.

Going forward, I'm just completely unsure about what do about this stuff. How much of social networking's features will stay "self-contained" so to speak - only relevant and useful within the scope of a specific site - and how much should be an integral part of any new service? How linked should I make new services to social networks. What minimum features will users expect now? Complete linkings of APIs and sites, or a simple import of profiles or friends? Personally, I think a forum should be good enough for any sort of interaction users need... but obviously it's really hard to predict the future when you're living in the past.

I'm not the only one struggling with this stuff I guess... Notice that Apple's MobileMe has no social or community features at all. At the minimum, a site with that sort of name would have some sort of public profile page, no? Who knows what they're planning, but it's nice to know I'm not the only one stuck in "old school" thinking.

Anyways, there's no point to this rant really. I just wanted to express my frustration with being completely bewildered by the current trends in the web today, and wondering what I need to do to get my head wrapped around this stuff.


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