The Null Device

Revenge of the User

Danah Boyd's critique of Friendster and similar social software, delivered as a presentation at the recent O'Reilly digeratifest, seems quite interesting:
Friends on these sites are not close ties. In fact, they're barely weak ties! I'll explain why in a moment. Thus, anything that can be assumed about transitivity across ties is 100% lost. This only gets worse as we go down the chain. As one of my informants reminded me, why would i want to date my hairdresser's brother's drug dealer's second-cousin?
The reason that this became quickly apparent for people is because they usually signed on with one group of friends. On Friendster, it was most clearly demonstrated by the Burning Man crowd. If your Burner friends joined, you signed up and created a Burner profile. This didn't mean that you were only a Burner, but it was the image appropriate to your group of friends. You dress and act differently amongst Burner friends than you do amongst colleagues. Then the colleagues appeared. Do you shift your profile to look like them? Do you find a middle ground? Doesn't matter, really... Because your colleagues can see that all of your friends are Burners. Guilt by association.
Take this a step further. They expose the PEOPLE from each facet to each other with us as the only bridge. If the focus of our interactions between two groups were similar, we would comfortably expose them over time. If you find out that your colleague likes jazz, you might take him with you to meet your jazz-going friends. But if he hates jazz, you probably won't think to introduce him to the jazz aficionados. On Friendster, your ability to connect people because of their similarities is lost. The only similarity that matters is you. Furthermore, they get to interact through the system without you even negotiating whether or not they should meet. All of a sudden, your drunken friends are asking your boss out on a date cause she's hot. Yikes! Not only does this disempower you, remove the ability for you to connect them as need be, but it now makes you have to deal with the consequences of two different groups with two different standards of social norms.

(via bOING bOING)

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