Friday, 9 May 2008

Social Networking; Dull, pointless, yet popular.


It is difficult to construct a critique of a particular genre of website without sounding biased one way or another. I have deliberately abstained from commenting or adding my voice until I'd felt that I'd "experienced" and explored such sites, and with that in mind, here I present the results. Or shall we say findings?

Social networking sites exhaust vast amounts of our time in the belief that we are somehow enhancing our status and knowledge of our "friends". Perversely, these networks of friends are often distant acquaintances or those whom we gave little more than an approving nod to when we did in fact see them in the flesh that once. There are vast amounts of research and debate into how many friends we actually maintain in our lifetime, which generally boils down to literally single figures in terms of meaningful friendships of longevity. And whilst depressing in itself, it is perhaps more depressing when considering the scurry to accumulate such relationships online. It is not the status of displaying any visible relationship to the person, merely the fact that you have a perceived numerical advantage in your own head.

To travel back in time slightly now. Myspace was the first major mainstream social networking website. Noted for the difficulty of navigation, frequent errors and hacking, it committed and commits many web development faux pas that ordinarily we as consumers just would not accept. I remember finding this fascinating, the sheer volume of people using the website despite its major character flaws. Perhaps this reflected the very users however, myself included? Never before had there been access to cumulatively so many people I knew; I could for the first time display my contacts like a badge of honour. I conclude it must be some strange primevil desire to be a part of something, however collectively inane and what in modern terms is often referred to as "following like a sheep". A further irony emerged, to me at least, in Myspace's acquisition by the NewsCorp media group in 2005. A dull, uninventive media corporation acquiring a much hyped and much used Myspace, which at its bones is the very same thing. Myspace has changed little in reality for five years and whilst not struggling, it is certainly stagnating. The bizarre angle is that its success was not the imperfections that people put up with, it was that it was new and filled a hidden craving to list our friends and post some photos to be ridiculed by our contacts.

Myspace led to the establishment of social networking as an Internet category of preference. One would check their emails, catch up on the news and in all likelihood the next tab of choice would be that of a social networking tool. Developers druelled then and now over the very thought of becoming the next social networking site of choice for idiotic schoolgirls, time killing office workers, dull IT staff, paedophiles and the attention deficit ridden students. Search for social networking websites and you will find page after page of dull, boring social networking initiatives designed with hippy colours, arty 3-d logos and all touting the unrealistic notion that people genuinely want to spend their time moving from one useless site to another. They all have one thing in common; no-one will ever be interested in them. It would be like becoming a market leader over Coca-Cola overnight; essentially it's a can of pop. You could bring out an identical drink and rename it and nobody would buy it.

Facebook is the "other" option. I predict it will remain the market leader because there is evidently a plan at their headquarters. Firstly they made it easy to use, it's stupid proof to enable even the hordes from Myspace to have an account. In addition, ease of use attracts another kind of user; regular Internet users. This coupled with "applications" was truly genius. The stupid can rate who's hot and not all day and night, whilst the rest of us can review movies, share media and use it to catch up with our genuine friends. It is not without its faults. It is still ultimately boring, a haven for identity theft and Facebook is not cool, no matter how hard we attempt to convince ourselves. It is useful for contacting groups of work colleagues, establishing working groups and finding people you hoped you would never see again!

Unfortunately I must stand back and be more level headed when examining, truly, what is the point? My casual minded self concludes that it is a convenient way to talk to distant friends, view and share photos and be a part of like minded people in Groups. My honest minded self observes that I waste what is my own personal valuable time reading dull emails, cursing various pointless postings and ignoring many application requests.

I will not even go into Bebo, WAYN and Friends Reunited - they are collectively my personal three most despised websites on the Internet. Badly designed, sponsor driven and the latter even requires a subscription fee. Do not waste your time.

To conclude;

I like the convenience of it all, but for all the benefits there are many let downs. Security flaws, no genuine "content" at all and many pointless visits. Let me not appear to dislike these sites outright, I have profiles on Myspace and Facebook that I actively maintain, but that does not mean I don't think they are a waste of my time and an insult to our collective intelligence. I came to the decision lately to check Facebook just twice a week and Myspace once a month. My reasoning; anybody whom I genuinely needed to be contacted by had my personal email address and/or telephone number. Anything of great importance can and will reach me. I even took the liberty of turning off email notifications, reducing my spam and various pointless visits to these sites only to discover an ad filled newsletter or that I had another Fluffy Dog Application request. I suggest you do the same.

Ultimately these websites are tools for communication to be used at a time that should be dictated by you. A shovel is also a tool, I only use mine when I need to dig a hole. I don't pick it up every 30 minutes, dig a little more of the hole and then put it back into the shed for later.


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