A funny thing happened to me this morning. I witnessed a condition that I fear will become all too common in the universe of social networks.
I've seen this happen to (real world) friends and family on facebook. Their profile gets deleted, or suspended, or the facebook api isn't responding to their mobile client software and the world becomes a darker place.
Other than in the movies I've never seen someone go cold turkey off oxycodone, or heroin, but their addictive properties must be analogous to those of a centralized 'managed' social network like facebook, because I see entire tribes of people checking their cellphone or computer screen at regular intervals, and always recognize the 'update alert' motion when their device chimes. Its an immediate reaction to see who's updated their status, scribbled on a fence or comitted to a 'freindship'.
When that connection to facebook dissapears, the victim literally looks like their crack dealer has moved, left no forwarding address and the city has run dry of alternative suppliers.
For the past couple months I've been a member of a private social network. Very small userbase, 6 or so. It has an interface I really like working in and although project based, I came to treat it in the same manner as the 'facebook heads'. It had a simple 'beep' when someone had updated their status.
I didn't reaize just how much it was a part of my life, how excited I got when one of my 'buddies' updated with new goodness for me to read and explore, until the sysop took down the system.
Although the sysop is completely in his right to do this, for any reason whatsoever, it really affected me.
I've been in a funk all day. Wondering what my pals are up to. Wanting to share work I've been doing. Alas, it is no more.
So I sulked for a bit, until I realized that this is actually the best thing that could have happened.
I made me realize that even of the sysop puts the system back online, I won't re-join. I don't want to feel this pain again. Even the idea that it could happen is uncomfortable
It isn't that I can't communicate with my buddies, I know who they are and how to reach them via email, skye and other means. We could start an email list if we wanted. What I miss about this network is the context of the projects we worked on in that interface.
The problem with cetralized social networks like facebook isn't so much that you loose 'your stuff' or your 'contacts'. It's that someone else can make the decision to cut you off. I want to feel free when I'm socializing. No anvil over my head please.
This also applies to the whole 'friending' business. By requesting and receiving this form of authentication, you are immediately giving someone else the opportunity to cut you off when it suits them. A dollar please for every time I hear someone complain about being 'un-friended'. A similar "dude took my crackpipe" kind of vibe is "blocking" someone on twitter.
In my view, the beauty of social networks are about the people in your network and the context in which you communicate with each other.
I like the de-centralized 'follow' model better. RSS is of course a version of this, If you don't like what someone is saying, you can just decide to no longer listen to them. You also don't need anyone's permission to follow, and unless the entire internet goes down, there's no one to pull the plug. But it doesn't work very well with instantaneous updates, and the context of how feeds are rendered is all over the map.
The social network I want, has the update capabilities of a feedhose, the context of an outliner and the inclusion properties of the World Outline.