On using Livejournal to talk about Facebook...our drift away from a compartmentalized Internet

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BLOT: (01 Dec 2010 - 01:21:34 PM)

On using Livejournal to talk about Facebook...our drift away from a compartmentalized Internet

Before I even begin, let me make one thing clear, I am not making fun of anyone, or attacking anyone, or jabbing at anyone (besides, you know, Facebook). This is just a trend I have noticed and it made me think of other things.

I have noticed, amongst some of my friends, a regular occurrence. They will post an entry to Livejournal that, in part or as a whole, denounces an incident that happened on Facebook. I do not have a Facebook account, not any more, so I do not know if the LJ entry is mirrored by whatever it is that Facebook calls blog entries nowadays ("Notes" when I was last there), but in some cases I am guessing not. The practice is based on a number of factors: LJ's decline in popularity along with a longer-item format leads to a place where you can speak your mind more freely. Also, LJ has a longer, more robust system of filters to keep certain people from reading certain things, and, finally, LJ has a long history as bar stool where you could come and get some bellyaches off.

Which asks the secondary question: if LJ is a place where you can speak your mind and complain about stuff, what is Facebook for? Social connections, of course. That's not actually an answer, in that all of the Internet is about networking, interacting, and sharing data; but if Facebook is anything, it is an imitation of the Internet as a whole. A macrocosm via microcosm. The big picture in one little URL. The default destination of something like 400,000,000 users (probably "+", now), it has just one primary catch: it is a catch-all. If Facebook is about sharing, it is about sharing en masse. It does not nothing particularly well outside of its mission to get you in and get you posting, a hodge-podge of technologies done better elsewhere but never quite so fulsome in the volume of response and opportunity you get. It is a so-so Flickr, a poor forum, a poorer Youtube, a worse yet blog, and a particularly noisome e-mail client. All for the price of free.

Which contrasts sharply from the Internet of just 5-10 years ago, when people were ok with being compartmentalized. Where groups hung out on IRC channels dedicated to their hobby. Where people frequented three or four newsgroups as their primary forum of online interaction and did not care that only a few hundred other people were participating. When buddy lists on AIM had fifty people arranged in buddy groups and you talked with just the same five friends every night and ignored the rest. When the forum on a band's website might be your Internet home. When people had actual websites and did their own thing without worrying too much about search engines and bookmark folders were field with urls maintained by people you knew. I remember when IGN's various gaming forums were the home of intense and constant discussion, and people tended to be members of only one board or another. I was on the Final Fantasy board, circa 2000-2002 and there were hundreds of posts a day, there, with lots of off-topic stuff and more on-topic stuff. And it was fun.

Now, I hear people cite numbers of users as though it is the only metric: more important than quality of discussion and signal to noise ratios. We have d/evolved the Internet from a series of members-only, private clubs, though a series of pubs where you could hang out with friends in a corner, to a huge marketplace (literally) where your every word is shouted into a crowd and dissected for commerce-impacting patterns. When Facebook announced its forthcoming email system, or perhaps one should say email pastiche, people chortled about how this would be the death of Google's GMail. Which was weird on two accounts. (A) If GMail is the third competitor behind both Yahoo and MSN's Hotmail, why is GMail getting beaten out indicative of anything? Do successful business models regularly attack the number three rather than aim for number one? I missed that lecture. (B) How exactly does an email set up that precludes proper attachments, proper address handling (unless it does have BCCs?), advanced event handling, and—at least from the discussions I have seen—robust features like searching and filter sorting expect to really "shut down" a system that has all those things? Are there more features there that I do not realize, because to me that's like saying the popularity of Crocs is going to kill off shoes. It's the number game without context, the idea that more users makes it a better service (Windows fanatics have cited this idea for years). How does that logic even come close to applying to email? Do these same people think that the email server at a successful bank is a failure because only a few hundred people have one at that domain? It's just more people getting protocol and provider confused.

Let's assume that this confusion will not abate, and that unique user counts will continue to be the metric of Net value (um, pun not intended). What is the outcome? Outside of jabs like the many variations of "People still use Livejournal? LOSERS!" that shows up every time some LJ post gets noticed because there are some very erudite authors and commentators and artists that still prefer its format. Outside of detailed predictions by those who claim to be well-versed in the Internet but still type all of their Google searches in the form of a question. What will the outcome be? I think we are seeing the slight edge of a tiny but full circle. These massive seas of oversharing are causing some to decide they want to have a conversation with just a few friends and so little niche sites allow that to happen. They'll take advantage of places like Livejournal or Buzz or Orkut to have these more controlled conversations. Except, unlike the old days when people looked forward to getting home from work and checking their small handful of sites to see what their online friends are up to that night, people are going to be feeling guilty and disconnected while doing this. They will end up drifting back towards the sea of noise. This will happen in tighter and tighter circles and then...I don't know. I guess we'll either move on and the Eternal September will have its own Eternal September (which I guess is having its own Eternal September at this point in time); or it will finally come full circle and people will only post the most vapid stuff to the most open sites, and honest niche sites will come back into prominence.

I am too old schooled to not look forward to the latter, though I know it isn't likely. One thing is for sure, the Internet of tomorrow will probably have just as many complaints by those who lap up the Facebook method as the Facebook method engenders complaints in old fogeys like me.

LABEL(s): Social Media

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 48
BY MONTH: December 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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