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Can't we just be friendsters?

Kevin wrote:
> what the hell is this? a swinger's club?

Yes. But it's also great for ego surfing, apparently. It's kinda like 1992 when you would look at people's AOL profiles.

I don't know. I don't quite get it. I mean I get it, but it's one of those things that I think to myself, "There must be something I'm not getting that makes this so great". But there really isn't. It's massively huge. Addictive according to many.

It seems to be the same social phenomenon that drove chat and IM. Insecurity, vanity, shallow desperation, loneliness, fear of connecting with people in a vulnerable, direct, open, honest and meaningful way. It also seems to be an attempt by try hard hipsters to compete in a popularity contest. The irony of course is that these "neo-hipsters" are actually former outcast geeks back in their awkward teen years.

Okay, that's definitely a cynical bitter view of it. Maybe it is all about having fun, goofing around for kicks. Or just being curious enough to follow your natural instincts to learn about your fellow humans in a genuine attempt to make meaningful connections.

And let me also be the first to say that I am not above all that vain, insecure, popularity seeking try hard shallowness.

There is something about it that I find fascinating. (a) that it's so popular is fascinating and (b) reading what people have to say about my brother has cast him in a somewhat new light for me.

I also do realize that it is foreshadowing the bigger phenomenon. Which is the whole taste networks mob-ocracy, to borrow a euphemism from Howard.

Is it a flash in the pan fad that people will nostalgically cringe about tomorrow? Probably. But this is just carrying on the tradition of AOL profiles, which I'm sure had many predecessors, and this will have many a successor that's equally shallow and addictive.

Oh. And just in case you want to be my friendster, here's the link: http://www.friendster.com/user.jsp?id=69039

July 26, 2003 in behavior, emerging trends, FOAF, Life, Web/Tech | Permalink


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Jeez, Phil. I don't know why you are so quick to judge and be so, well, cynical.

You say what drives chat and IM is "Insecurity, vanity, shallow desperation, loneliness, fear of connecting with people in a vulnerable, direct, open, honest and meaningful way." What is a more open, honest way to connect with people online? A blog?

I think Friendster's reason for success is a (minor) interface improvement over geocities/AOL profiles. Yes, people seem to want to represent themselves online. After that people want to see how other people represent themselves. This is the basic social instinct: Who is out there? How are they like me? How are they not like me? That is human nature. There is nothing inherently shallow about it.

Let's say people are bored at work, they have read all the news they want to read, they want to engage in this "social" side of the internet. They can read blogs, click from blog to blog. But that's reading. Let me be cynical for a brief moment and say that when most people write about themselves, there is a thick layer of bullshit. They are presenting who they want to present. It's safe.

If you look at friendster profiles, you see many people in the right hand column say "I don't watch TV." They are of course liars. They put down music they pretend to listen to, when in fact they are cranking the latest U2 album. It has a section "About me." It's tough for most people to write about themselves and capture what is unique about them while being somewhat honest.

On the left side however you have photos. Photos of them, thumbnails of their friends. Obviously image manipulation is very common and picking a few choice photos presents a whole other kind of bullshit. But I would say it is like going to a bar. People dress up in ways that you wouldn't see them if you knocked on their door most weeknights, it's bullshit. But somewhere, in the image, in the person you see at the cafe, there is a real person.

Your knee jerk reaction is that looking at other people, being able to look at 20,40,60 of their friends thumbnails to visualize their entire social circle in life is shallow, vain or desperate, but I would say it is no more shallow than strolling down one of those lovely European blvds at dusk, just checking people out, seeing what's up.

Sure I would rather be in Europe than on Friendster and yes, the stakes are lower when you can't meet a person's eyes and have them size you up at the same moment you size them up. Yes, the apparent competition around the number of "friendsters" one comes from weakness and insecurity. But, on some level, its popularity reflects a natural, good instinct that almost every person has.

Posted by: wayne at Jul 26, 2003 8:36:12 PM

That's actually an interesting comparison you make, Wayne.

Friendster vs Blogger.

I have to disagree with you about the shallowness of bloggers and blogging. Having only tried blogging in earnest myself (writing, that is) just in the past few weeks, I'd say it requires a lot more thought and a lot more soul searching than something like Friendster.

One huge difference is that you do actually have to challenge yourself to have something meaningful to see. Of course, you don't have to write about meaningful things, but I think most people do try. Not necessarily because they have an "audience", because many really don't. Like me. I genuinely believe it is more about personal introspection, an earnest attempt to construct and contribute meaning and value in the world, first *and then* pandering and self-censorship secondly, adapting your message to appeal to your perceived audience.

My blog voice may not be my "real" voice. But I would say that if you examine a bloggers postings over time you would get a fairly representative sense of that person. With Friendster, I definitely think that you can get a quick superficial sense of a person. Their likes and dislikes do say a lot, even if they're not being honest.

That's where I think blogging goes much deeper. I would say that it's very hard to "dress up" every time you blog. You are continually thinking about and sharing your thoughts, exploring yourself in relation to the world around you. I think over time you put down your guard and start writing what you really think and feel. Even if you don't, even if you're bullshitting, I think the fact that you are full of shit will become an obvious characteristic of your blog.

Take this 'discussion' for example. On Friendster you can leave "testimonials" about your friends. Most likely you won't challenge your friends when you write about them in your "testimonial". It's a blatant ass kissing exercise. If you wanted to write something even slightly critical (like your comment to this blog entry) I'm sure you would be ostracized for it. It's a big circle jerk. A circle jerk can be fun, but it is also very superficial.

On the other hand, in a blog, it is perfectly appropriate, even encouraged, to criticize or at least challenge what somebody has written. Blogs and bloggers do raise genuine questions, many do earnestly challenge conventional thinking. I honestly believe that blogging has massively improved the quality of online content. I think that meaningful connections and important ideas are occurring on a monumental proportion like never before directly as a result of blogging. And I think it's very interesting, and no coincidence, that blogging has emerged in the wake of the dot-com collapse.

While I think Friendster has demonstrated some interesting implications in personal networking, I think blogs and platforms like FOAF will have a far greater and more meaningful impact in the long run.

Posted by: Philip Fierlinger at Jul 27, 2003 10:54:18 PM

I don't think I was presenting it as "blog vs. friendster" because one obviously takes a lot of effort and the other is just entertainment, the only effort being surfing and adding new friends. Two different things.

I thought your critique of friendster, grouping it with IM and chat, was online interaction vs. real life.

Like I said, Friendster is people watching, which I don't think is shallow any more than real life people watching. Nor is chat/hanging out with people at a cafe shooting the shit shallow. I think I made it clear that I don't consider any text on Friendster honest or meaningful, worth reading.

Blogging I don't think is like writing a journal in your own home. I would compare it to having your own forum on a bbs system or discussion board.

I certainly didn't say it is shallow. It's just if you say the rest of online social stuff is shallow and desperate, you have to group blogging in in there.

In terms of what a circle jerk is like, I'll default to your opinion, becuase I've never been in one.

Ok. I'll stop now. As Confucius says, "When commenting, remember that the blogger always gets the final word."

Posted by: wayne at Jul 30, 2003 5:03:41 AM