Arjun Basu published some interesting observations on “The Social” where he wonders if the ever-growing number of social sites has finally reached the point where it’s gone seriously overboard,
At what point does all of this become too much? I guess that’s the question being asked, especially on the eve of Google+ going from invitation only to open to all. How social do we want or need to be? What’s the tipping point? Why are all these spaces separate from each other? Shouldn’t I have some master social page and then post and chose where I want to post it? Is the internet heading back to the day of the different gated communities all trying to blow each other up? I mean, isn’t Google big enough already?
I tend to think of these social network sites as different hangouts, not to be confused with G+ “hangouts.” People used to (and still do!) go to physical places to meet with others: the town square, the local cafe or bar, the library, McDonalds, the mall. SNS are just an extension of that.
In the past, nobody ever thought of saying, “Gosh, I wish all my friends would hang out at the library so I could see them all at the same time.” We just took it for granted that we saw some of our friends at the library, some at McDonalds and some at church. Sometimes our habits would change; we’d spend more time at the library if we knew we could see some people we really liked there, or we’d stop going to McDonalds if we didn’t enjoy the crowd there anymore.
So why do so many people seem to think we should have one big SNS solution “to rule them all” where all our friends will hang out? I confess that at first, I had thought about that too. However, I’m not sure it makes sense. Each person will decide on their SNS depending on many factors such as the features it has, i.e. what they can do with it and how easy it is to use, do they like the design and the philosophy of the company behind it. This is analogous to deciding you want to hang out in the library because you can also find and read books and periodicals there, in church because you also worship there, at McDonalds because you’re addicted to Chicken Nuggets, or whatever. Some people won’t hang out in church because they don’t agree with it, or at McDonalds because its not chic and they don’t like the food.
I think what we need is not a single social network where we can find all our friends but a good way to share across networks for those times when we want to reach someone who isn’t in the place we primarily spend time. For my part, I also sometimes find myself spending time on sites I don’t particularly like just because some interesting people are there and I’d really like to hear what they’re saying. I also don’t post the same types of content on all the places I’m present; I talk about things that are relevant to particular communities on the sites where those communities are active. On some sites, like Twitter, I even have separate accounts for certain things I know will interest only a small subset of my friends.
It seems to me that G+ is trying to address those issues with the concept of circles, but I’m not so sure that circles aren’t just a technical solution to a self-created technical problem. Do they really address the human social context of what is going on here? I also think that except for social network junkies, we also need to give up the idea that we have to be present everywhere. Lots of people I know are not on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, or on any social network for that matter. That doesn’t prevent me from keeping up with them too.
Of course we will adapt the technology to suit our needs, and it also true that our needs will change as technology allows us to do things that weren’t possible before. However, these changes will occur over time, not all at once. If you want to be present on all these social networks, it’s because you choose to be. You don’t have to. Choose the ones that are right for you and just don’t worry about the other ones. That is, unless someone you really want to notice you happens to be hanging out there…