I’ve been thinking lately about the real impact of social technology. The hype still far exceeds explicit impact in many aspects of society. Podcasting has largely failed to enter the promised land (Yahoo recently announced they are closing their podcast directory)…blogs are making differences in marketing, business, and some classrooms, but are still a fringe phenomenon (stats on number of blogs vary dramatically – from a low of about 35 million to a high of 70 million). Compare 70 million bloggers with 2 billion mobile phone users.
What’s popular? Tools that aren’t broadcast-based: flickr (image sharing), social networks (facebook, myspace, bebo), personal information management (del.icio.us), and collaborative tools like wikis. The initial rush of “wow, I can post my comments on the web to the world” has given way to “wow, I don’t feel like it”. It appears that people are getting more selfish (not in a bad way) in their use of technology. A tool has to go beyond “hey, cool” and contribute something useful. Collecting hundreds of friends in facebook gives way to creating a small network of people you actually want to talk to (if you’re on facebook or myspace, think about what percentage of the total number of people in your friend list you actually connect with once a week…or month. I sit at about 2%). New tools and media have a huge initial hype where we are infatuated with what they do/permit (Twitter, for example). After the novelty wears off, the real work of making the tool useful starts. It was never really about the technology, but rather what the technology enabled (two-way flow of information, personal control, and so on). The distinctive nature of tools such as blogs are already blurring into the background of many sites. Online news sites offer readers the ability to comment and interact with authors. For example, Inside Higher Education is not a blog in the traditional sense…but possesses much of the functionality of blogs. The name is fading…the functionality is retained. The impact is occurring…but it’s more indirect than many state.
With those thoughts in the background, I found this article to be an interesting exploration of social network history and changes in what many of our basic notions of being connected to each other means – Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism: “But we are only beginning to come to grips with the consequences of our use of these sites: for friendship, and for our notions of privacy, authenticity, community, and identity. As with any new technological advance, we must consider what type of behavior online social networking encourages.”