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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The "Social web" - does anyone actually want it?

Is this another example of The Emperor's New Clothes?

I've lost count of the number of pitches I've heard recently along the lines of "a single client to manage all your social network connections", or "a feed of updates via homescreen widgets" and so on.

I've also often been bombarded with the hideous phrase "social web", which I'm starting to think is utterly cringe-worthy, and ties in with a lot of nonsense talked about "social graph" and the farcical notion that you might be able to link together all your various communications channels.

I am genuinely unsure why anyone would want to link their various social networks or contact lists / directories, or tie together their calling and messaging patterns.

Personally, I work incredibly hard to make sure that I keep Facebook and LinkedIn almost totally exclusive. I'm happy that my Skype friend list has minimal overlap with Yahoo contacts. (Sidenote: on average Skype users have<10 contacts, but they're very "intimate").

Like most people, I'm happy with multi-tasking and compartmentalising my communications channels. I don't meet or talk to people who find they have a problem with fragmented social networks or phonebooks. And I certainly don't want *anyone* to be able to derive collated intelligence from across all of my different ways of interacting with friends, clients, acquaintances and so on. Fragmentation is safer and more comfortable.

I suspect that the only people that only really want this are aggregators and/or operators slightly irked by being usurped by Facebook et al. Plus some of the "social media connectivity freaks", who are generally just those in the social media industry itself, or its immediate neighbours like PR and politics and entertainment.

I reckon there's a near-100% overlap with the type of people people who think Twitter is important, ie a very loud and very small group who like shouting at each other repeatedly via 100 different media. The same group that sit in conferences obsessed with back-channels and Macs with Tweet-deck or whatever else they're playing with this week.

But I've seen no evidence that normal people identify with the types of problem that the "social web" attempts to cure. It's possible I'm projecting my own prejudices here, but I don't think so.

Edit: One specific problem will be that of de-duplication of messages. I already have 50%+ of personal emails being Facebook notifications, as well as the little notification icons on Facebook.com itself. So if I also had them replicated to my phone's homescreen, I'd be getting them in triplicate. Wonderful. (And no, I wouldn't turn off the email notifications as I want them on my PC as well as phones - yes, phones *plural*)

1 comment:

Jane Montgomery said...

"Social web" may be the next "web 2.0" (or "multimedia", come to think of it); a sign that whatever else that follows probably isn't worth hearing.

I think the problem stems from the notion that all we want is total interconnection, with no barriers among me and a guy in Swaziland and and the head of the World Bank.
What they fail to realize is that we compartmentalize by choice, whether it's a matter of social niceties or personal sanity. If you try to talk to me about SMS delivery over CS fallback while I'm on the dance floor I'm going to kill you with a battle axe, and I don't imagine anyone would blame me.

Again it seems like the potential of a thing is being conflated with its value, as though just because it could be used for x, y and z will automatically change the way we do x, y, and z. Most products are only successful because they assist (rather than alter) the things we're already doing.

Tangentially, the only real surprise here is that it's taken so long.