Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Are iFriends worth the trouble?

I hate MySpace.

There, I've said it. It's ugly, even with the redesign. And what's more it's yesterday's news.

I know that I am old, and late to the game. But I have long wondered about the actual value of many social networking sites: MySpace, Facebook, even LinkedIn, the business-focused equivalent, or most recently, Twitter. Recently, I opened a Facebook account, and I was surprised to see just how many people I knew that were on that site. But other than sending the occassional "hello" by writing on their wall or sending a proprietary FB mail message, I am just not sure how I or they are benefiting.

If there is interesting stuff happening in either my personal or professional life, it is on my blog (I have a personal blog for close friends and family). I have a hosted Web site with subdomains and all that, but find that most people visit Web sites regularly only if they are frequently updated; hence, the blog-focused site. If people want to interact with me, they can easily do it via the comments or forums on the blog, or e-mail, if they want a more personalized interaction. Or, heaven forfend, an actual face-to-face conversation over coffee.

I know how to build Web sites that look and function better than Facebook (at least the stuff I need), so I'm not sure what the real utility of social network sites is other than this: to introduce myself to otherwise complete strangers, i..e, a friend-of-a-friend. I guess this is helpful if you want to hook up with some hot guy/girl you spotted in the Photos section of one of your friends' pages, or to get a job. LinkedIn is probably best at this, though it feels kinda cynical, knowing that the main reason someone pings you out of the blue is to hit you up for a job (or vice-versa).

The connections on these sites tend to be extremely superficial. This may be good, from a Tipping Point perspective. Gladwell emphasizes the power of the "loose connection" when it comes to spreading ideas (memes). They usually devolve into a competition for "iFriends." Such activity does not scale.

These sites distract me from doing the important creative work that I is my main job. Creativity takes time. Long, uninterrupted blocks of time, which is the complete antithesis of Internet social communication. IM, e-mail, SMS, Twittering, and mini-posting are all what I call fidget talk, something you can do between thinking blocks, but not a way to have meaningful discussion.

Merlin Mann of 43Folders has an excellent 3-part article which discusses this at length with other artsits:

The power of connecting with people in an authentic way (no, not in that cheesy, half-assed, internet “friends” way) falls apart at the point where its resource consumption curtails your ability to keep making new stuff. [I]t’s be a little like the Beatles skipping the writing and recording of Rubber Soul in order to catch up on 1964’s fan mail.

Put plainer, my sense is that western culture would be a damn sight poorer today if John Lennon had been forced to carry a goddamn BlackBerry.

So please forgive me if I am not a good Facebooker or Twitterer (er?). If you haven't heard from me, it is because I am working on my next book, screenplay, or film.

Erm, as soon as I publish this blog post...

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