Tuesday, January 25, 2005

My two cents on social networking websites. And thensome.

I must confess. I’m all about the social networking website.

This article in Monday’s NYT sort of encouraged me to share that with you.

I know, I know. Some of you are hating on this whole virtual social networking trend, claiming it’s unnatural or just plain silly. But I think it does have great potential.

Have *I* actually used any such sites to meet new people? Well, er, no, not so much. I’m sort of lazy about the actual “networking myself in” and “contacting people” part. I’m sure I’ll get around to it, eventually.

But I like observing the overall phenomenon, and I’m dorkily fascinated by watching these websites evolve. I’ve often thought to myself, wow, wouldn’t this make a great thesis? The evolution of virtual societies as facilitated by the internet? Well, look: someone’s on it. Other folks too, I'm sure. Thank goodness, because there’s this other thesis waiting in the wings, allegedly…

But here I keep on typing…

One of the most interesting things in the early days of Friendster was how people started creating profiles for celebrities and non-people entities (TV shows, universities, beverages, etc.) Even though creating “fake” profiles was against the laws of the FriendsterLand, it’s almost as if people had this intrinsic urge to unite themselves around symbols or ideals… It was all so… organic! But yet, all happening on the internet!

Then more networking sites started popping up, and the competition’s forced everyone to make a better product. And my dorky armchair analysis thus extends into comparing and contrasting the usability and features of such sites.

Myspace has definitely been better about making improvements – such as adding the standardized school search feature that (I think) Friendster initiated. And people like myspace because you can “do stuff” – make a LiveJournal-esque emo-blog (“Today I feel ____(click!)___”), play games, etc. Not my cup of tea, but hey, it keeps people coming back.

Myspace is especially good for musician/band profiles with built-in players… an MTV of the Internet, as the Times article cites. For further evidence of that, check out this article in one of our local entertainment weeklies for some first person opinions how myspace is good for such music-promo purposes. (Go figure… in a city of music-peoples, the music-oriented website is king.)

Friendster still holds a few little features that keep me coming back to semi-actively update my profile. I simply find the entire site easier to navigate – the design just seems “cleaner” to me – can’t quite explain why. Also, the little birthday cakes. Really. I forget birthdays all the freeking time. I need such pathetic reminders. Oh, and, alphabetized friends lists and RSS feeds. It just suits my purposes better… but these are really tiny features, and perhaps myspace will pick them up in time.

As for other sites? Well, I had high hopes for Orkut, being a Google production and all, but it's tough to tell what direction they're moving in, since it's turned into a very Brazil-oriented website, I think. I found the idea of Catch27 amusing, how plays on the idea that all of this business is a big game of trading and collecting “friends”… but that hasn’t made me interested enough to open a profile. The Facebook? Seems to have its strength in undergrad circles (find people in the same classes with you, etc.) Linkedin? If I had a job, or could identify what my profession was right now, then maybe it would come in handy.

Future directions?

I had a great idea that someone needs to come up with a cross-platform manager for all these sites. However, someone not only thought of that, but took a much funnier approach to the whole situation.

Also, I don’t know if that’s technologically/coding-possible… but it would be something. Especially if it could tie in meetup or evite groups as well (simple solution, I suppose, would be for someone to merge with evite or meetup)

Or, maybe the future is fractionation. i.e. myspace for arts and leisure, and other sites for business?

Ooh! I call dibs on Biomedicalresearchster! I can link to potential research collaborators, join virtual fan clubs of specific proteins or neurotransmitters, present data in the pictures section, post my favorite lab protocols… get scooped…. Er. I’ll have to work on that idea some more.

Uhm, the whole point of this post being… I am a dork.

Now, go add me or delete me on one or all of those aforementioned websites based on this fact.

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