As my confinement nears an end, and also as orkut has already burned up its entertainment value for me (copying and pasting from Friendster), here are my final thoughts. These were actually posted on danah boyd's blog, but might as well include them here. Although I've posted the comments here (slightly modified) as if there were a conversation, it's actually me posting to three separate threads of hers linked to below, but I've included/summarized her statements so that mine make a little more sense. If you read this, then you should probably read danah's full posts, as she's far more intelligent than me on these issues, and she's got a bigger orkut network. Also, I had to take her comments out of context in order to put mine in context.
danah:2) Are trustworthy, cool, and sexy the only ways that i might classify my friends? (Even Orkut lists a lot more in his definition of self.) And since when can i rate the people that i know based on this kind of metric
3) Explain to me why one must be a friend to be a fan of someone? The role of fan is inherently a power differential, not an equalizer. (Don't get me wrong: on Orkut, there's definitely pressure to reciprocate.) The people that i'm a fan of are not my friends; they're idols; they're people that i read on the interweb but do not know.
It is sooo weird to read which of my friends are a fan of me. Does that mean that the rest are only following social custom in linking to me? Does that mean that they don't really respect me? [Or does it mean, like it means to me, that it's too bloody weird to consider checking off that fan bit?]...
Me: The thing I don't get about the whole ratings system is that there is no reason why you shouldn't give all your friends maximum points, and you will give them high ratings, because they're your friends. It's like a bad implementation of Cory Doctorow's Whuffie -- but I'm not sure that I would want good implementation either unless that act of rating was implicit in some other action. Technorati ranking, for example, feels like a good system, even though it's one-dimensional, because my explicit action is one of linking, not rating. It also has more credibility than your # of friends, because it indicates that, not only do I know you, but I listen to what you have to say.
And fans? At first it seemed kinda of interesting, as well as appropriate for say someone like danah, or Joi, or Orkut, or anybody else that's prominent enough in a community. But for the other 99% of the people on orkut that spend their lives living below the radar, it comes across as weird, awkward, and stalker-ish: "Hi, you have a not-so-secret admirer."
danah: What i'm fundamentally frustrated with is the fact that it does not go to the next level. It's more a slight variation on the rest. Only, with more explicit ratings of friends.
me: [trim] Personally, I don't think it will become useful for me until they operate seamlessly through my homepage. My homepage already has my resume, links to all of my friend's that have homepages, and all the "about me" that I care to share. The only features that Friendster et. al seem to add a way to link to friends that don't have homepages, a bunch of empty fields to fill in, and a relatively easy-to-use interface on top of that. I'm not sure these "features" outweigh the cost of the repetitive profile and network maintenance that YASN [yet-another-social-network] incurs.
It seems to me that sites like LiveJournal are infinitely more useful as a social networking service, and provide a compelling enough set of features that I would actually visit on a daily basis. It has a notion of friends (and allows it to be asymmetric in a non-awkward way), strong communication links within your friends circle, and discussion communities.
So, I, for one, believe the "next level" will be when we
decentralize the social networks back into people's homepages, be it FOAF, LiveJournal/Xanga adding testimonials and new search features, a LiveJournal/Xanga/Friendster/TypePad/Movable Type/Tribe/Orkut/LinkedIn federation, or whatever technology comes along. Note that this lively discussion popped up here, on your homepage, not on your Orkut/Friendster/Tribe page. [ed: on second thought, decentralization seems to be the "next next level." Simply moving the social networks back onto people's personal Web space seems like a leap in itself.]
Me: I think in the context of social software:
beta = not making any money
beta = business plan, please