Blaming the Messenger: Brand Presence in Explicitly Social Software

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The link is a little dated now, but (via the Social Customer Manifesto) I just came across Wade Roush’s Technology Review piece: Fakesters – On MySpace, you can be friends with Burger King. This is social networking? Raush notes:

What’s sad about MySpace, though, is that the large supply of fake “friends,” together with the cornucopia of ready-made songs, videos, and other marketing materials that can be directly embedded in profiles, encourages members to define themselves and their relationships almost solely in terms of media and consumption.

This can’t be all that social computing has to offer.

While I’ll agree that it’s a little sad, I’m not convinced that it has a whole lot to do with social computing. Over the past fifty years a huge amount of time, money, and effort have been dedicated to the explicit goal of getting people to define themselves and their relationships in terms of media and consumption.

The design of explicitly social software plays a meaningful part in determining how its users will interact, but for better or worse, ESS mostly gives back what users put into it. If mySpace users didn’t want to be associated with that creepy-ass BK King guy, he would be alone and friendless; the fact, then, that a quick search of mySpace finds at least fifteen competing versions of the King, with thousands of “friends” between them, seems to say more about the human end of the equation than the software end. [And note that I only checked the first few pages of search results.]

Roush points to LinkedIn, Flickr, and Meetup as ESS with “missions” or “high ideals,” and that’s a key observation. All three are objective-focused systems: you manage your business contact network, manage photographs (your own and others’), or you manage social events. If you want to do something different on one of these platforms…well, you don’t. mySpace, in contrast, is objective-free: you aren’t expected to do anything in particular. (Sure, accumulating lots of friends might be considered an implicit goal on mySpace, but really just in the same sense in which that’s a goal in the offline world.)

mySpace shows what people do when you give them a social forum and nothing specific to do. And one of the things that people do, apparently, is make friends with corporate mascots. Fucked up? Sure, but I don’t see how that’s something that we can blame on mySpace.

Two Posts for the Price of One:
%s/mySpace/Second Life/g
In light of recent events and press interested readers should reread this post, substituting “Second Life” anywhere that “mySpace” appears above.