The BBC ran an article that ties in with my post last week about Social Networking for Social Animals. Jay Fienberg posted a comment and we had a short conversation I thought I would escalate to the post-level. I really wish that blogging let you syndicate the conversations that happen around your posts. I'd like to be able to just note a few comments and dynamically add them to my Feedburner feed.
The original post was about MySpace looking for a search partner (likely Google) to find new ways to suck revenue out of their users. Aside from turning the net into one incestuous ball of revenue sucking, I felt that this was misguided because it focused too much on the web site. Focusing on usefulness to the user seemed a better strategy to me.
Trying to build a web site that will capture users when they are little kids and expecting that site to retain full relevance for them when they are adults is patently ridiculous. Even if you keep adding new bells and whistles to it, at some point you don't visit your Legos every day.
You may still love Legos, but you don't visit them every day.
This has been reinforced recently by this great article in the BBC News. This article argues that the Internet in general and the Web in particular are not the place to fully explore community. They discuss a Floridian professor named McKeen who actively stops his students from using the Internet as a resource. In a wonderfully pithy statement, they say:
...the hypertextual web is no more a machine for producing serendipity than the Dewey decimal system was.
And we all understand that. In Silicon Valley, arguably ground Zero for blogging, there are copious social events to get people out and talking. To supplant the various types of information we get on the net. Because MySpace isn't MyLife. It could be seen as My[Storage]Space, OneOfMySpaces, MySpaceForNow. MySpace is a tool.
One site is not our answer.
Integrating the Web into a healthy life, however, is. Human beings, especially American ones, love extremes. That's why we have a two party system. We just love dichotomies. They are so easy to get your head around.
However, the extreme here would be, if the Web isn't going to give us nirvana, it must be a festering dungheap. And, no, it's not that either.
Much like the Oat Bran craze of the early 90s where people went from eating no Oat Bran to eating 10 helpings of it day, we seem to have a moderation problem. The Internet is not going to solve all our problems - but the Internet is not one web site. We need to see its strengths and make the most of them.
Steven Johnson recently posted about this and said:
I'm constantly stumbling across random things online that make me think: what is the deal with that anyway? And then an hour later, I'm thinking: how did I get here? I can't tell you how many ideas that eventually made it into published books and articles of mine began with that kind of unexpected online encounter.
I believe that what companies like NewsCorp need to ultimately understand is that their "place" on the Internet is fleeting and value-less. Their integration with the Internet is invaluable.
The web is a place of randomness and a place of purpose. It is a place we go to and a place we immerse ourselves in. We just have to know how to appropriately open ourselves to the possibilities.
Having said that, no one place on the Internet is stable or static. No one place on the Internet replaces our need to have lunch with a friend. Every so often, I fly to the Bay Area, just to talk to people. We could talk via e-mail or on the phone or via blogging - but it's not the same.
Conversely, Jay lives 4 miles from me. We communicate via IM or blog comments or posting. We have lunch, dinner, and plates of Salumi meat. Electronic communication is a natural extension of our relationship.
Newscorp cannot force our relationship to happen on their web site. Angry professors like McKeen cannot force our relationship to entirely happen outside the Internet. If we have a balanced diet of communication, we will be healthy.
What follows are Jay's and my conversation stemming from this post: