Social Networking Cartoons

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Ok I’m biased. I got a good conversation and a free meal out of somebody I hooked up with via Linked In so I’m a believer. I’ve been bribed and my opinion is now obviously suspect.

That said, I think that a lot of people who are railing against these sites are missing the point. I find that ironic since so many of them are actually experts on the pattern I see unfolding here.

The pattern: systems come along that are a cartoon of what an expert knows, in this case an expert at social networking, and they on the one hand drive the experts crazy and on the other hand they empower hordes of amateurs to start playing – like a children’s game – in the field.

We saw this with desk top publishing which enabled an army of church newsletters that were all so hugly that professional graphic designers wept. I remember going to one MacWorld many years ago and describing it as an alien blood bath.

We saw this with drum machines that enabled no end of bogus things. That MacWorld was painful on different sensory channel.

I would argue that the presentation software did this too. There I think the network effect caused a lot of extinction of presentation skills; since these days people demand a power-point and it’s a lousy framework for many variations on good story telling. In the case of powerpoint the standard it set killed.

Some fields, when attacked by these amateur empowering cartoons, have a literature of “ for dummies” books standing by that assures that when the amateurs get curious and go down to the library they can read up on: graphic design, drumming, story telling. I’m a little concerned that the social network field may not have this stuff written down, increasing the chance that the amateurs will have to rediscover it all from scratch.

In the happy versions of this pattern the field is invogorated by the influx of fresh blood. The experts end up happy because suddenly a huge audience appears that cares about what they care about. The ivory tower may not be quite so high anymore; but the hill it stands on becomes a mountain.

So much of the design problems people work on in semantic net design, product design, protcol design sessions is about how finely drawn a cartoon they are going to standardize on. One fear is that the cartoon will be so stark it will cut people and they will bleed. One fear is that if the standard takes, it has powerful network effects (or worse if it’s bundled with something else that does) all more sophisticated models will become second class citizens. Or worse the diversity of models will go extinct.

The current generation of this social networking stuff sure is a cartoon! It’s quite clear that what’s going on in over at friendster is game playing than sophisticated social networking.

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