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Social networks driven by false ego gratification

By Andrew Pollack on 07/10/2004 at

Has anyone actually derived real value from the various commercial experiments in “social networks”?

As part of my personal field of interest – the ways people and technology combine to produce a result that is greater than either – I’m always grateful when a friend sends me an invitation to try out these new kinds of things. Thanks go to Rocky this time as he was the first to send me an invitation to “Orkut”.

Think of Orkut as ‘friendster for grownups” (credit Amy Blumenfield for that). The idea is you invite friends, they invite friends, and in a sort of exponential way your “friends of friends” network expands and overlaps with others. Toss in interest groups that you can start or join. The key then, is that you see all the people your friends list as friends, and they see yours. As you click around you see friends in common and add them to yours. The same hold true for interest groups. As you see the profiles of people listing you as friends, you see their chosen interest groups and they see yours. That attracts you to more groups and when you join a group you see the other people in that group. When you see you have several groups in common with someone you don’t know, you may become a “fan” or ultimately a “friend” and then your friends networks sort of merge.

So technically, all that works and isn’t really very hard. It’s a social relational database. What is supposed to happen next is peer networking that leads to business and/or dates or just off-line friendships. I wonder how much of that really happens. I may not be the optimal test subject, as I live in a small town more than an hour’s drive from any major high tech city, I’m married, and I’m not a 20 something coed. On the other hand, why would a young, attractive, single, person need a system like this to find a social circle? The answer, IMO, is ego.

Ego clearly drives Orkut. When you look at the site in terms of “calls to action” you clearly see a few giveaways. First, the very phrase “rate your friends” which is a link to a system of assigning your opinion of sexiness, truthfulness, coolness, and friendship. The other one is that next to every single instance of a name is a parenthetical number referencing how many “friends” they have. Ugh. As teenagers when your developmental job is to build a sense of yourself in relation to your peers these are the very things that consume your world. How many friends do I have? How many friends does she have? Am I cool? Are you cool? Are my friends the cool people? Listing these things as links and calls to action is clearly a heavy handed way to tap back into that sense of competitiveness and any lingering self doubt from secondary school aged insecurity.

So, they’ve built a system that succeeds based on targeting young high tech adults who happen to have some lingering self doubt from secondary school and are now enjoying some of the first or most successful times in their lives. It’s an obvious initial hit, but I think the payoff will be short lived. Most of us are now well past that place in our lives and it ultimately doesn’t seem to offer much value beyond that.

Your thoughts?

There are  - loading -  comments....

My own thoughts on this are...By Greyhawk68 on 07/12/2004 at 11:03 PM EDT
I dunno Andrew. I won't know how valuable Orkut is until I've used it for some
time. I know it's allowed me to connect with some Alumni from college, so
that's a good thing. And who knows, If I ever have another job hunt, it might
come in very handy.

Orkut really needs to speed up its servers for it to be useful though. It is
FAR too slow now to be of any serious use at this point.

Friend me! :-)

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