Along with those old adages of "never go grocery shopping when you're hungry" and "don't drive angry" there should probably be one that goes "don't blog when you're on a rant." I think I'm about to prove why, but here goes anyway.
First, let me say that I'm a big believer in social computing and the ability of software to help people to extend and strengthen their connections with other human beings.
Second, let me say that in general I agree with less than 50% of what Dan Gillmor has to say. I'm tired of his endless (and fairly mindless) rants about Microsoft being evil that show his fundamental lack of understanding of the company, its employees, Bill, Steve, the industry as a whole, the software development process, and antitrust law. But today he wrote a piece about the fact that he doesn't see the value in the existing social networking software, and this time I think he's spot-on.
Orkut and Friendster are dysfunctional in their current state. Why? Because it's turned into a big Pokemon game of who can collect the biggest social network. Scoble said a while back that as a rule he always says yes to someone who asks to be his friend on Orkut; Gillmor does the same. I know a lot of other people who have adopted that ethic. Well, I'm sorry if this offends the blogerati, but I'm going to call bullshit on that particular notion. By adopting a rule like "everyone in the world is my friend" you are by definition turning it into something meaningless. Look, everyone in the world isn't your friend. The thing is supposed to represent your actual friends; if you pollute it, you have worthless garbage.
Back in November, Lili Cheng gave the first public demo of Wallop, which suddenly everyone wanted in on because they thought it was going to be the next big blogging tool or the next Friendster (the same dynamic occurred when Orkut was first unleashed). In the case of Wallop, just the opposite is true: Lili's group is doing research on how social networking software can enhance relationships and communications with small, real-life groups of friends. Now then, it's research, and when they get done with their study they may not have any provable results, but it sure seems a lot more plausible to me that software can add value to your real social network than that it can add value by creating a make-believe social network for you.
With that said, I don't think that either Orkut or Friendster actually let you do anything useful with your social network, even if it was real. I have some pet ideas for what I think would be useful, and hopefully those folks do too and can actually execute to get them into production.
So Dan and Scoble, my advice to you: stop saying "yes" to everyone. Make your online social network reflect reality. That at least will be a good first step to figuring out what these things are really good for.
OK, I've got my asbestos underwear on; fire away.
10:11:27 PM ; ;