I continue to dip in and out of the current crop of social networking.. umm.. websites … applications? … ummm webapps.. or however the hell they are collectively known (I’m desperately trying NOT to use the “Web 2.0” tag here).
None of them have particularly stuck with me, at least not yet, and they all share one common theme. They all have their own little quirks and frustrations. One of which seems to be a common amongst most of them, although it’s demonstrated in different forms. I guess it might just be me, being the common point here, but ultimately my annoyance boils down to one thing, over and over again.
I don’t know who anyone is.
And yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition. Get over it.
I have a tendency to sign up to most ‘new’ things, even if it’s just to have a nosey around.. ohh ok, it’s purely so that I can snag the username “snowgoon”. Still. Sad, isn’t it.
However the annoyance comes when you start using these sites, and start getting other people “adding” you, or requesting that you add them to your network. Which, considering these sites are built for just such social networking, makes sense. But there is an inherent problem, and I’m sure by now you’ve all guessed what it is.. that’s right. I may know you from a blog, but that doesn’t mean I know your real name, and sometimes it’s vice versa (as in, I know the name but don’t recognise the ‘nickname’).
Considering these applications (Facebook, Twitter etc etc) are all almost entirely focussed on leveraging online communities, they all seem to miss two basic assumptions.
Assumption 1: I might not know the name, or nickname, of the person who wants to add me as their friend.
Suggestion: As well as the nickname, provide the real name of the person, and possibly a URL if they have provided one. Chances are I’ll recognise one of them.
I realise that finding the sweet spot for this approach is tricky, too much information and people will just get pissed off, too little and it’s useless. But I think providing a “little too much” information is better than providing “not quite enough”.
But it might just be me.
Assumption 2: The level of friendship seems a little odd.
Flickr, I think, gets this right. There you can have contacts, contacts who are friends, and contacts who are family. Ultimately that means I can have a long list of contacts, with subsets of those being friends and family. Most of the people who read this blog and who have a Flickr account are listed in my Flickr account as a contact.
Now, you could easily argue that Flickr’s contact listing options are a bit too minimalistic. But maybe that’s a good thing…
Compare this to Facebook which bombards you with choices, but still misses one main aspect. One aspect which seems stunningly obvious. One aspect which means I can’t see me using it all that often.
Apparently I can’t have ‘online friends’. Which means that, dearest reader, whilst I can add you as a generic contact in Facebook, I can’t specifically say that you are a “blog friend” or “online contact” etc etc. Apparently our relationship doesn’t matter unless it has been made physical in some way (ohh errr). If I used to work with you, if I met you at a party, if we had a shagged, they are all covered in the default options. OK, maybe not the last one.
And this is my problem with these sites. They don’t seem to value the relationships that can be built online. I consider several people —in fact now that I think about it, it’s more like 20… or more—whom I have never met but have swapped emails, IMs, and blog comments with, my friends. The obvious caveats apply, but ultimately I value the relationships I’ve built online.
Forgive me if the current batch of social networking websites don’t quite float my boat, but they just don’t share my values.
Now, if I could rate my contacts using a simple star system, well that’d be much better.
So, is it just me? Do you draw a distinct line between online and “real” friends? Or, like me, do you think it’s possible to have, and maintain, both?