I’ve been ‘online’ since before the internet was open to normal folks. Our school computers were connected to the nearby national lab in the mid 80s. I used to dial into many a BBS in the early 90s. I remember using the first web browser, Mosaic in 1993. Then Al Gore said that everybody else should be allowed to use the internet too and it started to suck.
AOL 3.0 came out the following year and people surged online. There were tons of small start-ups (usually old BBS providers) offering cheap, no frills connections to the internet too. Lots of kids started learning HTML and creating their own web pages.
Geocities (the old Geopages) started offering free web space to build ‘online communities’. While it was possible that a geocities site wouldn’t suck, it was really rare that one wouldn’t. The typical Geocities page was a mess of big slow-loading background graphics with impossible to read text of some color with no contrast to the background over it. Then came the flashing animated gifs and pop-ups and .
Most decent sites were still on University or government servers. What was decent? Sites with content, information, links to other useful pages. What was indecent? High School kids putting their personal diary online to share rude comments about their social studies teacher, or a bit later when snippets of code began to circulate, a lame ‘guestbook’ where visitors could ‘sign in’ and leave a terse comment ostensibly for the person visited, but really more as an enticement to others to view their own page (early viral marketing).
Well, Myspace is the 2003 version of Geocities.
The personal pages are just as hack, the communications are just as shallow, a ‘place for friends’ is a misnomer. The site is not designed to foster true communication between friends, it encourages quick one liners. It’s the web version of that annoying email forward your clueless friend sends to everyone in their address book.
Myspace is a lot like the High School experience I hated. The cliques, the superficial-ness, the adolescent practical jokes, public humiliation of anyone not in the ‘cool group’ – it’s all there.
One might argue that everything on myspace are aspects of real American society being reflected online, but I think that a different design would elicit a different result.
Look at Slashdot or Digg – while all users have a ‘profile’, a user’s ‘karma’ or status in the community is a result of the reaction of the community to a user’s participation over time. If you don’t participate, you’re just another member, but if you do – others can rate you as a good guy or otherwise and this ‘rep’ develops over time. Others who read what you’ve written later on may find you to be of like mind and choose to follow your future conversations, or weight them more heavily. The conversations that develop on these kind of sites (and on topic specific personal blogs like that of my friend NonProphet) are generally deeper, and since friendship is based on the quality of communication between people – this is a major point.