The eye looks at itself

I started writing this as a comment on this post by bjcooper, then it got long. So, here are my thoughts on “social networking” sites…

A few years ago I started complaining about how my friends never bothered to send email anymore, they just talked about stuff on LiveJournal. (Or, as they called it, “ELL-JAY.”) Then I signed up for a LiveJournal account.

This was in 2004.

A few years later I complained about the exact same thing when everybody in my group of Canadian friends seemed to start communicating exclusively through Facebook. Then I signed up for a Facebook account.

Why did the Bellingham/Seattle people all seem to go to LiveJournal first, and the Canadians all go to Facebook first? Who knows? But it’s like having a telephone or a fax machine or an email address, it’s only useful to the extent that everyone else has one too.

I have found that LiveJournal is more like having conversations at a party, where you might get into discussing some deep involved theory about the nature of art, or you might share cool stuff you read about, or you might talk about your personal life, or you might invite people to see a movie with you, or whatever. So as far as the social part of social networking goes, LiveJournal is my favorite.

Facebook is more like a class reunion. There’s a lot of “oh, so and so moved to Paris, that’s cool.” I kind of like being in touch with old friends even if all I ever do is invite them to our Halloween party and they can’t come because they live in Paris. That’s what I like about Facebook.

What I don’t like is that there’s so much of it. Too much Facebook. Too many items. I’m overwhelmed and it makes me want to hide in a corner. Do I really need to know that “So and So is contemplating dishes” or “Thus and such became a fan of cheese bread”? And, wow, all the games and things! It’s like people spend all day playing around on Facebook, like it’s some kind of videogame for adults.

(So, uh, if we’re Facebook friends and I’m ignoring your invitation or your lil’ green patch thingy or your cause or whatever, that’s why. Because I’m gibbering pathetically in the corner.)

(I do like the Superpoke! application, though. Because I think the drawings are cute.)

And yet, I kind of like Twitter, which seems very similar to the Facebook news feed, except that somehow it’s not. I don’t know what it’s for, exactly. But I kind of like it. I think it’s the way the 140 character limit makes everything seem like haiku, or fortune cookies.

I signed up for Linked In as per an invitation from a freelance client, but I have never actually used it for anything and I’m not actually sure what to use it for. Ditto Plaxo — signed up as per an invitation from a friend, and now I don’t know why.

I signed up for a MySpace page. I was supposed to join a friend’s community, I think, which somehow I failed to figure out how to do. And then I thought about putting up some kind of Goth House thing For the Kids. But I discovered that I hated everything about MySpace with a burning fiery passion and ended up killing my account in disgust.

I never go there. If I see a link and notice that it goes to a MySpace page I don’t follow it. I went there once to read a Joss Whedon comic (type “joss whedon” and “sugar shock” into Google) and I used to sometimes go to band MySpace pages, but it just never seemed to pay off relative to the annoyance factor.

I think it might be some kind of aesthetic generation gap, because trying to use MySpace filled me with the same kind of itchy, pointless, trivial rage that I feel when I see young men insouciantly sauntering down the street with their pants around their ankles.

My question then, is MySpace something that people of a certain age range will always like, or is it something that will become a marker for a particular generation? You know, ten years from now people in a certain age range will get all nostalgic about it and everyone else will be baffled?

So, anyway, I still don’t know about online networking.

It might be a good way of letting people who already know you what you’re up to, or a way of letting people who met you once at a convention party find out more about you, or a way of helping people who may never meet you become fans of your work. But I remain unconvinced that it’s actually a way to actually meet actual people.

Oh, I almost forgot: open invite to tell me about your Twitter feed. I have two. One is me, and it is The other is fiction, and it is A modern epistolary novel.


  1. I’ve actually met actual people through LiveJournal. But it’s literally a one in a hundred sort of thing. Two people, and over the course of my membership, about 200 friends and friends of friends. The two people would be my wife and . There are a few more on my friends list who I would not be surprised if I end up visiting sometime in the future, but it’s yet to happen and it wouldn’t be a tregedy if we didn’t.

    However, I’ve done business and made money because of both LJ and FaceBook. And my art is now hanging on walls in Michigan, Oregon and New Zealand.

    1. Author

      I didn’t know you met your wife through LiveJournal! How did that come about?

  2. Well, thanks for this. I keep almost signing up for Facebook, but somehow I just can’t pull the trigger. The thing that’s pushing me in that direction is that my niece, nephews, and sister are asking me, but the thing that pulls me back is a vague feeling that there’s no there there. The journal part of LiveJournal is something I understand and find appealing. I don’t really understand how Facebook works, even after hearing lots of people talk about it. Likewise Twitter, although I love your characterization!

    1. FaceBook is really good for sharing photos and planning events. Their event widget is really quite good. Also, it seems like families like to collect on it. If you’re not creeped out by the friend suggestion tool, that can be handy too for getting in touch with people on the periphery of your social circle. Which all means that FaceBook is good for business and reunions. The business part could be pretty powerful, but is limited only to those interested in guerrilla marketing.

      1. Yeah, my niece uses FaceBook to drum up photography business. I’m reminded now that another reason I’m leery of FaceBook is that my family doesn’t know about my LJ, and I’m nervous that my LJ friends would spill the beans on FaceBook. What a tangled web we weave etc.

    2. Author

      there’s no there there

      I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it does feel like Facebook is often an end in itself.

  3. I like Facebook for the class reunion aspect you mentioned, for the tagging of photos, and for the status updates.

    I really, really, really don’t like little green patches or lobbing snowballs or buying a virtual drink. I ignore all of that, in part because it’s silly and in part because it can be invasive software.

    I feel much more free to express myself on LJ because I keep it friends-locked. On Facebook, I have some people friended because I didn’t want to say no and hurt their feelings. And I have other people that I do want to be friended with, but I worry that they’re going to find out things about me they don’t like. (For instance, I have one uber-conservative friend on there. I like her, but I’m getting sick of her anti-Obama posts, and I’m considering de-friending her for that reason. But we work in the same profession, and it’s a small community — and I do actually enjoy her company on the rare occasions I see her in person.)

    1. Author

      because I didn’t want to say no and hurt their feelings

      Yeah, that’s a bit of a problem for me too. Like I have been sitting on this friend request from somebody in my graduating class who I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know, and I’m also pretty sure that even if we did know each other we didn’t get along, and I’m pretty sure that we wouldn’t get along now either, but I can’t quite bring myself to just hit “ignore.”

  4. The Internet is all about trends.

    When I first saw Myspace my reaction was horror because of its shitty design and 1990s flava. I immediately thought “this will not last”.

    Most social networking sites on the web have short, fast lifespans like mutated creatures created in a lab. The ones that will thrive, and eventually feed off the corpses of their underfed siblings, are those that will be able to adapt and change to the conditions of the lab.

    Myspace has had its day. I think it will continue in a fashion only because it managed to corner the music market, but the numbers say that Facebook is becoming the new Goliath. It is attracting new members from across all age categories. What it achieved is a certain type of critical mass that previous entities like Friendster, Orkut, and Myspace never achieved.

    It remains to be seen if it will survive. Currently, it makes money from targeted advertisements and data mining.

    I have been surprised at how much I like twitter. Part of that is that I’m isolated, and twitter gives me the illusion of standing among people and hearing snippets of their thoughts. I like its simplicity and focus. But, it will remain to be seen if it will survive. There’s talk of “monetising” Twitter. It must pay its way eventually – people are investing in it because of its numbers. The financiers think that there must be something to it because so many people are using it.

    We’re social creatures. Some of us like to do that in a non-social fashion. ;)

    I’m waiting to see what the next Internet trend will be. I’m always watching how technology evolves – the strange ways people use it to enhance their lives.

    1. Author

      Yeah, monetizing anything online is rather a problem, isn’t it?

      The Internet is a bit odd, in that there’s a million of everything, but there seems to end up being only one that matters. A million ecommerce sites, but only one

  5. My Myspace account lasted less than a month. Evil blingy crap, bad UI, too much STUFF. I hated it and avoid all Myspace pages.

    I remember you snarking about LiveJournal. Heh. I have yet to join Facebook, but I keep thinking about it. I’m not that motivated to do so, but someday I may find that reason.

    1. Author

      I remember you snarking about LiveJournal. Heh.

      Yes, I’m pathetic.

      I still mock people for going by LiveJournal handles instead of real names, but then, I mock people for a lot of things.

  6. I think that actively liking myspace has more correlation with hours of TV watched and intelligence quotient than age. Perhaps kids these days don’t do anything but watch TV (or youtube) and take pictures of themselves looking edgy, thus retarding their intellectual growth and the development of our entire society.

    It seems like most people are using it because it’s just a way to connect with other people who are on it, who are on it because other people are on it.

  7. I always thought that liking Myspace had to do with the level of extroversion/lack of alienation a person had. An extrovert who likes to keep in contact with people/whore themselves for comments will like it. An introvert with lots to say an always feels left out will probably detest it.

    Livejournal is also my favourite site. It’s had it’s day, but it also has a loyal customer base, so it will survive (hopefully!). Largely because it suits people who love to talk about anything and discuss it, something that other blog sites and networking sites fail to do.

    Facebook is cool for making contact with old friends. I’ve encountered quite a number of people and met up with a few of them, so it’s very handy in that regard. Also a good way of getting the word out on gigs.

    1. Author

      extroversion/lack of alienation

      That’s an interesting theory — that MySpace is for extroverts, LiveJournal is for introverts. It would explain why LiveJournal seems to have more WPG (writers per gallon) than other networking sites. It seems to me that writers, even social ones, are nearly always introverts.

      It would also explain why I haven’t hit anybody on this comment thread who actually likes MySpace.

      1. Re: I make it a point to

        There’s also the fact that people who prefer myspace spend more time on myspace and less on LJ (if at all) and so are less likely to see this post and write about it. Go figure.

        But yeah, I can see where you are coming from. Mywasteoftimeandspace is a lot more about building up contacts but leaving you to do what you want with them on your own while LJ is more appreciating the connections and friendships you have as you are able to read the in-depth thoughts and random mutterings your friends post.

        One thing about LJ that seperates it from all the other blog sites is the number of comments per post. Looking at independent blogs, other sites like blogspot and blogger or the myspace blogging tool, it’s clear to see that LJ posts get far more comments. And it’s all thanks to the fact that is very much a social interaction tool, a discussion forum and blog site all in one.

  8. San just started a group on Ning, where you can “make your own social network.” It’s kind of confusing (you invite people into a group, but then within that group you can friend people. Why bother?) but looks like it might be a good resource, particularly for enhancing communication within our fragmented little writing group.

  9. I make it a point to

    “not invite cow-orkers” to my livejournal or facebook account.

    1. Author

      Re: I make it a point to

      Yeah, that could be a problem.

      But I already went through that crisis once when I realized that my family would read my comics, and my fiction when it got published, and at a certain point you just can’t worry about what your Mom thinks of that sex scene in your novel, or whether she assumes every dysfunctional family is about your own childhood, or whatever.

      It gets weird on the Internet, though. Like, if you write a negative review of a story, the person who wrote it can show up and make your life miserable.

  10. You can look at just the status updates tab on Facebook. I find that to be the most useful one.

    You can block those “lil green patch” applications when you first get an invite, then you’ll never get any more invites. Unfortunately you have to do this for each application but it will stem the tide.

    I am investigating social network aggregators — programs that feed all your Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. in and out of one interface.

    1. Author

      I am investigating social network aggregators

      I’m interested in this topic too. I think the proliferation of social networking requires some kind of management system. Any program names?

  11. heh

    Guess I get to play the FB advocate (or should I say EFF-BEE?) in today’s episode – but first, some words from the meta-level:

    First off, I don’t think online social networking is about meeting new people. It may be useful for meeting people who are friends of friends, but simply from the way the language on the site describes the process (for FB at least, and I think MySpace too) I believe they are designed to help you connect/reconnect with people you already know, or are at least acquainted with.

    I’ve noticed the collection of various sub-groups of friends on various different sites. LiveJournal is where the group I think of as descended from the SFFC tends to hang out, and that might even be partly my fault. LiveJournal also has most of my writing friends. MySpace is where the people I met in California seem to congregate, Plurk is the knitters, Twitter seems pretty random at this point for my dataset. Facebook has the Canadian SF people I know (most of whom I met thru so that overlap makes sense), people I knew in high school, people I know from the church I grew up in (oh, the virtual funny looks I’ve gotten from that crowd, yet they still seem to give a damn what I’m up to), relatives, and a growing assortment of people wandering in from the other sites.

    Now, my opinion. I actually like Facebook best. Twitter and Plurk are nice, but I feed them into Facebook and like how that works better than either of them on their own. MySpace is way too loud for me, on any sense spectrum, and seems overly full of drama and txtlish. Plus the interface is ugly and clunky. LiveJournal is great when I have the time or energy to put together a longer post, but if all I’m doing is making little blurbs it seems more appropriate to throw those up on Facebook.

    I like the FB interface, I like the games, I even like some of the Send X applets/games/dodads though I prefer the ones that purport to be useful in some vague fashion (the lil green patch/blue cove/eco racer/etc.) I like the short status updates for their haiku-like quality (thanks for identifying that for me so succinctly, by the way) and their briefness, and I actually get a kick out of knowing someone likes cheese, or is brushing the cat. I like that I can comment on the ads and rate them, and that it appears to even have some effect. I like being able to become “a fan” of just about anything in the universe.

    I’m appreciative of how I can control my information and its display on my profile; I like that if you say you are in a relationship with someone it requires them to acknowledge that back rather than just saying “ok” and posting it. I’ve had good luck with blocking apps I don’t want to participate in, at the invite or later after the fact when I’ve changed my mind.

    If I have to sum up, I like FB because I’m already hanging out on line, and it’s a convenient way of keeping up with my friends who are also hanging out online – and the games are cool.

    1. Author

      Re: heh

      I’ve noticed the collection of various sub-groups of friends on various different sites.

      Yes… which sort of reinforces my idea that online networking sites are reflections of real-life networking. People join because the people they already know are there.

      Plurk is the knitters

      See, I’ve never even heard of Plurk.

      Facebook does have a very nice interface. Especially compared to MySpace. I’m curious, do you think the California people are MySpacers because of something identifiable about their culture (younger, less educated, whatever) or just because of the random “join what your friends join” thing?

      Also, I’m curious if you think there’s other lifestyle or personality factors involved in these preferences. Is Facebook extra-appealing to people who like a certain type of video game, for example?

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