Episode One Hundred and Seventy Six: Not Missing Out

by danhon

0.0 Sitrep

5:17pm after having sat through what’s felt like a whole day of Google Hangouts.

1.0 Not Missing Out

One way of looking at social networks: ways of telling people things and ways of finding things out. Perhaps an artificial distinction, but maybe an interesting one as a thought experiment at least. Here’s the lazy version: a post-rationalisation of Facebook as the creation of someone who didn’t fit in at college who wanted to know more about people without actually having to talk to people. Interaction without anxiety and a much greater chance to gather information from and about people without having to talk to them. At its inception, then, a tool to find out about other people – one that didn’t have any privacy safeguards or considerations built in from the beginning, because *that wasn’t the point*.

The other way of looking at social networks – say, things like IRC or Twitter that are less identity based and more about *telling people things*, not finding out things about people. Sure, Facebook wasn’t necessarily about finding-out-about-people when the original product launched – Timeline didn’t exist, for starters, but it was a bunch of profile pages.

Ello as maybe a way of telling, and less about finding out. Or maybe the other way around. Tilde.club as a way of huddling close, a way of preserving that small Dunbar number, even in a large group of a thousand.

So, perhaps two user needs: wanting to tell, and wanting to know. A whole continuum between the two extremes, and potentially different business models between the two. And then how much of that just figures into psychology and how our social minds work, how we want to interact with the rest of a group? I would joke about Graph Search being pitched as a way to find out what to buy your “friends” for Christmas without actually having to ask them, a sort of SQLish query interface to the interior states of those you call close to you. But then that’s what this technology is doing, right? Taking squishy human beings that aren’t easily Normal-Formed into relational databases (ha, the irony) and abstracting them away and providing interfaces to them that are necessarily *less* high fidelity than the original interfaces in the first place.

We also used to talk about social *software* and not social *networks* and now it’s hard to think of the former without them automatically being the latter – where everything must scale and hockey stick all the way up to hundreds of thousands or millions or billions of users for it to be judged as “successful”. Social software is now defaulted to a networked graph, where users are nodes and we try to replicate relationship connections every single time without necessarily improving upon or greatly increasing the vocabulary of what that edge between one node and another might *mean* other than “following” or “friend” or even just “noise”. Let a thousand edges bloom and let them all mean different things.

So what sort of social software would a well-adjusted person create? The type of software created by young people, anxious about fitting in, anxious about defining and creating and trying out identity, about wanting to know more about people and not really being sure about how to navigate messy, analogue, wet-biological *stuff* – what would people with the benefit of hindsight build?

5:28pm. Time to head home.

Dan