I am fortunate to only have a single article to point to, and it is over on ReadWriteWeb: http://readwriteweb.com/archives/facebook_goes_lite_and_tests_twitter-like_version.php.
That article contains links to all the relevant stories, but in case you haven’t heard (or in fact do not care), Facebook bought FriendFeed a few days ago, and is now offering a lite version of their site to selected testers. Whatevs.
The part that gets me is this line, from the linked article:
It is interesting to see that Facebook is working on this now, especially given that it only announced the acquisition of FriendFeed yesterday. If these screenshots turn out to be true, then this would be a full-force attack on Twitter. FriendFeed was often heralded as a potential challenger for Twitter, though it never quite got the mainstream traction to fulfill this promise.
What does that even mean? What are the stakes here, what do people have to gain, and more to the point, what is there to lose? I hear this kind of talk all the time, likely due to the streams of consciousness I follow, and it is starting to grind on me. We are talking about websites that are held together by user capital. I think everyone who cares understands that, but one glaring flaw in their planning is being ignored by most.
User capital (and I really want to call it social capital, but I will avoid that for now) is indeed an investment, but the relationship here is really skewed. There is a huge amount of subscription overlap, and the most used tools to interact with these network services tend to favor vendor neutrality (which are in themselves often subscription services, like, um, FriendFeed). These two ideas, investment and overlap, are what blow my mind about the language of social network competitions.
In the case of investment, the current state of social network economics make absolutely no sense at all. It is particularly ironic that newspapers, where experienced folks get paid to report, are failing at a time where social networks, which literally have no content generation capability outside of the throngs of eager volunteers who signup to use their site, are thriving. When some hot new network pops up some percentage of the population goes and invests a substantial amount of human hours in creating what is essentially the appeal of a given site. Sure, the ability to customize search might sound snazzy, but there is no such thing as the perfect search. Folks are investing in two things: connections and conversations. And those both require a context that is continually moving, for society, sub-cultures, and individuals. Snazzy search is just another tool for keeping an eye on that context.
This leads us to overlap. If what makes these sites different from each other are the tools that allows people to efficiently invest in the connections and conversations they value, then the rate of overlap is determined partially by the barrier to “participate”. That is in quotes because it isn’t as simple and hanging out and saying hi to your friends. There is a technical barrier, as well as some social stuff, but that is what we will call participation for this post. You have some people investing a little of their time, and honestly, they aren’t the ones who are going to keep the lights on or the servers running. They won’t be click monkeys, and will resist any attempt to coerce them into helping a company game their stats for their next round of funding. On the other end you have people who will invest a whole lot of time to a site, adding value all over the place, poking folks and replying, sending cat photos and presents to any and everyone. These are the bread and butter of Mybooks and Facepages out there. And they are also the most likely user of other tools that facilitate the connections and conversations that they were having before, during and after the TwitFeed came along. They are the ones that use the web-app/platform/lifestyle of the moment to keep an eye on the context of their lives.
And they are the ones that are getting warred on.
These tools can’t compete against each other; they are each other. What the meta-blob of social network watchers is failing to report on is the bottom-line for the investors of these sites.
If what they say is true, and these companies are getting more and more aggressive with each other, well, that is great news. Maybe they will become such crappy tools that all those wonderful social networkers out there will decide that it is finally time to get that web/tumble/micro/whatev-blog going, and learn the open standards and policies that create a better CMC experience for all of us. Or just trash talk the worst one into oblivion on the new shiny network.
And if they are blowing this out of proportion then it means we have another case of “dog bites man” syndrome, and there really isn’t much happening that is enriching, even in tech news.
Now then, I am not an expert on social networks. If I were not a pacifist, I would say I would punch anyone who said otherwise about me. I am trying to come to things in my life as a beginner, with a fresh outlook. This is the direction my outlook is taking me. Why isn’t anyone talking about how the investors have no say in the product? Why isn’t anyone pointing out social networks that put you in control of your content, and exhibit the inherent appreciation that such networks have for their members (see how I didn’t say users there? Member sounds softer, warmer. Like the Oracle and her cookies.). Why do people care more about quasi-global networks with limited functionality, instead of intentional communities that they actually belong to (like their region, school, club, or tribe)?
There is a context being framed for you at this very moment. Think about it.
One place to think about it is in good company.