Friday, June 30, 2006

The future of social networking

Check out this delightful little commentary by a 35 year old geek who doesn't "get" Myspace. I like this bit:

I'm looking at MySpace and I'm a fumbling old colonel struggling to comprehend his nephew's digital watch.
I do see where the fellow's coming from. I kind of hate Myspace, myself (the flash ads drive me insane). This is why I deleted my original account last year. But...everybody's on Myspace. To not participate in Myspace, as garish and annoying as this site is, is to effectively shut oneself out of an environment that is becoming an increasingly important way for people to connect with each other. All the Myspace media coverage over the past year has painted a picture of parents in their 40s and 50s who aren't just mystified by Myspace -- they feel threatened by it. There's nothing really new or interesting about this: teenagers have always wanted to develop their identities independently (to some degree) of their parents, and parents of teenagers have always wrestled with how to best let their progeny do this without irreparably damaging themselves in the process.

So Myspace is the gender gap wedge du jour. I don't think this will last long. Cultivating a "digital identity" is becoming a crucial part of maintaining a happy, successful life in the real world (look at LinkedIn, for example). Social networking sites are here to stay, and more and more people, including the currently suspicious parents, will be joining the bandwagon. There will be social networking sites that cater to them. We'll see a proliferation over the next few years of such sites. This will get pretty confusing, trying to track who's on which sites (for some people, this confusion is already a reality).

This confusion will eventually be fixed by a "grand interoperability" between all sites. A tool or service of some sort will make things easier: you'll be able to have one digital identity, or avatar, and access everything through that. People will still inhabit different digital domains that cater to their interests: there will be a Myspace for kids and a Theirspace for grownups. But disparate groups will be able to connect through public avatars...something you can quickly update and that will auto-populate your various social networking accounts. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.