In a recent post I talked about what I perceive to be the technical future of social networking. Coincidentally, around the same time as my post, a news storm began surrounding a new programming project called Diaspora, where four guys from NYU have been able to raise ~$20K to fund a, “code sprint,” this summer to build what they call a distributed social network. It is in fact almost exactly what I called for in my own blog post, it is what others have been predicting besides myself, and I think based on the fact that they raised the money in less than two weeks, everyone in the social tech scene seems very happy to at least give these guys a shot.
This clamor for change and the resulting potential technical implementation remind me a lot of other trends we see in society. In this case, the evolution of social networking generally seems to model the evolution of Big Media products and specifically the evolution of video gaming. How so? Let’s see if I can convince you. And then hopefully, with a model under our belts, we can better predict the future of social networking. Up front, one of the glitches of the analogy (and no analogy is ever perfect) is that video gaming in some respects is adopting technical components of social networking. A sort of recursive system?
When social networking began, it started off with small websites that had cult followings and no one was quite sure what it was meant to be, this being the same for almost every new and different product or service. At this stage, I consider social networks to be like arcades at the beginning of the video game revolution. No one was quite sure what they were nor why individuals were wasting their time there. But eventually these networks grew, as did the arcades. Where we stand today is at the golden age of the monolithic social network just as we had a golden age of arcade gaming. The infrastructure is expensive to provide entertainment for the masses and thus large businesses must provide it, similar to arcade gaming where each cabinet would cost upwards of thousands of dollars, and thus large companies had to provide the entertainment.
Over time however, the technology and the design patterns of social networking have come to the surface. “Friending,” “following,” “liking,” “interests,” and “profiles,” are all becoming common place. With the abstraction of the supposedly unique qualities of social networking we have an increasing distribution of them. Social-based niche sites such as LinkedIn and Last.fm are arising, utilizing social principals but to complete different tasks than simply socialize. This if akin to the distribution of arcade cabinets and pinball machines to establishments aside from video game arcades themselves. Other types of businesses have realized the value added, the fact that regular people are enjoying this new-fangled concept, and though the infrastructure is still a tad pricey to implement, the results make the investment worthwhile.
Now we come to the day when people are clamoring to be able to, “play from home.” It is the masses that will drive the movement. They have had their taste of social networking, they have played pinball at the bar and they want more. But to go to a site like Facebook or MySpace, to go to the arcade itself, to have to conform to some other organization’s or corporation’s standards can be a detriment to the experience. Private, home access is the desired method the ultimate experience. Atari helped bring video games into the home where they flourished, far surpassing the monolithic arcade model and in fact killing it. Will the same happen with due to Diaspora? Will the social-networking diaspora model the video game diaspora? How many times do I get to use the word diaspora?
If it is the case, the social companies don’t necessarily have anything to fear. Just as Atari and Sega reinvented themselves (several times) to stay afloat, the Facebooks and Myspaces of the world can do just that. I personally have nothing against Facebook as a company, or against its founders. I just don’t like the privacy model and it may become too much for me to take. If Facebook were to provide a product that better suited my needs, I would gladly consider it. Until then, we have the kids taking a chance, and the people funding them. It will be interesting to see where it all goes.
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