Last year I wrote about the difficulty of social networking for a purpose – vis-a-vis politics and governance. I believe I have a solution to the problem presented in my essay, “What LinkedIn’s Reorganization and OFA 2.0 Means for Politech Online”. The problem in a nutshell was:
Many internet theorists speak of social networks online as a ‘map of the relationships between individuals.’ Politech thinkers and online organizers like myself, have taken these principles and used them to inform the social software we built for campaigns and political advocacy organizations with mixed success.
That’s no longer relevant. The way users relate to social networks is now more refined and purposeful. And today, in a post-Facebook world, if the purpose of your online network is definite: like ‘winning an election,’ or successful commerce, you had better NOT build an interpersonal network – Facebook is going to be the interpersonal network King for a long time. Get yourself object-oriented. As I said last year:
Social networks that are object-centered are a better match for politics online than most of what we have seen previously – which has been mostly based on an understanding of ‘social as interpersonal.’
Good social networks are NOT the most personal networks. My old adage “conversation is king” left aside the object – the subject of conversation – the meaning. It’s all about object-centered networks and actor-network models for me now.
The difference between how we design software for these two kinds of networks is vast.
Flickr got it right. Flickr makes photos into the objects of sociality on its network. YouTube similarly facilitates video clips as objects of sociality.
Basically, it’s not about encouraging discussion. It’s about owning the object of discussion.
Since quitting politics, I’ve gone to work architecting an object-centered network Advomatic built that I’m really proud of. The way it owns the object of discussion is by placing the object within a clearly branded temperament and point of view. itsasickness. Your obsession makes you interesting.
Currently, the user profile page on social networking sites is loaded with pictures of your friends. That’s because a friend-centered network is a glorified inbox.
What itsasickness.com creates is NOT friendships and easy communication – that’s been done and won by FB. The success of our site hinges on the individual’s passion for her obsessions. People don’t just connect to each other, they connect through an object, a thing they both have thoughts and feelings about. If they’re obsessed with it, they talk about it a lot with feelings of ecstasy.
In addition, the incentive for participation, the surrogate object which over-arches the user-generated obsession groups, is the potential for a bit of stardom on film.
The portion of the website which we’re still building is a WebTV show starring Alan Cumming as host. Mix Antiques Road Show with Metafilter crossed with The Gong Show plus early Carson, lace it with acid and shoot it out of a circus cannon.
One last thing: The MacArthur Foundation Report from November 2008, entitled “Living and Learning with New Media Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project” features a chapter called ‘Genres of Participation with New Media – Geeking Out.’ Geeking Out really summarizes what my favorite kind of people do on the internet.
In my opinion, Geeking Out is what makes the whole interwebs worthwhile.