Monday, May 28, 2007

About Face II

Since I wrote my earlier post about Facebook, I've thought alot about it, especially in light of numerous comments suggesting that the whole thing is nothing more than a fad. Maybe it is. But there's one question that keeps coming back to me.

Is the kind of social networking that happens on Facebook the first really new thing that the internet has given us?

Think about it. Most of what we do on the internet is really just faster or bigger version of things that we had been doing all along. Email is, as the name suggests, another kind of mail. Chat is a screened version of the telephone. Porn is porn, news is news, and online shopping is just a slightly faster version of what we used to call mail order.

In fact, the hubub over You-tube and Wikipedia has obscured the fact that the former is not much more than an elaborate take on America's Funniest Home Videos, and the latter is a rapid version of collaborative reference works like the Oxford English Dictionary.

But it's hard to find an obvious predecessor for Facebook. Even the paper facebooks of American universities (for which the site is named) are not really much like the site because of Facebook's interactivity and boundless connections. Internet social networking may be changing the way we relate to each other and the way we think of our world. It may be as big a development as regular mail delivery or the daily newspaper. Or it may be a fad. You know, the way the telephone was.

4 comments:

Jess said...

I've a;ways thought of it as another sort of blog. Or a combination of blogging and msn.

Sean Mackinnon said...

I think I have to agree with Todd on facebook. I mean, sure it IS just another social networking program. But it far outstrips all the existing ones, IMO. I guess it is sort of like a combination blog/chat program, but it seems better than that. I think it has something to do with being able to put less effort in than a blog, but yet still stay connected to people (those one sentence status updates can actually be quite meaningful).

Adam B said...

I hope it's not a faux pas to comment on something months past, but I'm only just discovering your blog now.

I think there is an important aspect that you've neglected. I think that the NEW-ness to things like YouTube and Wikipedia are good examples of the fundamental changes that the Internet has brought: it has levelled the playing field. All of a sudden, a lone voice in the crowd has the chance of becoming heard with the same volume as a large network. If I post something to YouTube that strikes true in the heart of millions, then millions will see it - regardless of whether the big networks agree or not. I think it's too easy to under-value that shift in power.

So YouTube is about providing you a soap-box for videos, and flickr is the same thing for still images. Blogger is for those with something written to say. Of course like any good honest soap box, there's no guarantee the person standing on it has something of substance to say... but since when did national TV or radio networks (consistently) live up to that standard? If you doubt, just watch CTV's news coverage. Disgusting.

So the "new" is about the levelled playing field. I can contribute to the scholarly knowledge of the world. I can write social commentary in my blog. I can show photos of "truth" or "beauty" and I can create videos to entertain, shock or englighten. And there's a reasonable chance, if I create something of sufficient quality, that it might be heard or seen.

That's "New" enough for me.

Ankhanu said...

Facebook isn't terribly novel. It is, like you said, an internet phenomenon that wouldn't, and didn't, really exist without the 'net, but it's not without precedent on the ol' world wide web. Sites like MySpace, Friendster and the like predate it and do much the same thing. While MySpace is still going strong, Frindster seems to have been a bit of a fad, as well as a few of the others. The concept of these networking sites, however, does not seem to be a fad; the concept is solid, just specific incarnations are prone to come and go...

It's kind of like sitcoms; sitcoms are here to stay, like it or not. Some specific sitcoms go on season after season, some are extremely popular for a season or two, then fade from memory. In both cases, the base concept continues when the show does not.

Now, in my opinion, Facebook was the first one to get the social networking concept right... but then they decided to add all those blasted applications. It was clean, it was simple and without the garish annoyances of the other networking sites. The plethora of applications has eroded that a little, but it's still pretty good overall.

... and yes, it's a fantastic procrastination tool.

-- Clayton