Social Networking – We’re missing the point.

Social networking as it stands is missing a very essential component – some type of social contract. Right now, there isn’t a good way in digital communication/interaction/networking to know whether someone got the message. Sure, you can see if they reply, ‘like’, ‘retweet’ or otherwise indicate they got it – and email has read receipts which call back in the background. Even at that, though, someone can open or glance at a message without actually reading or paying attention to it.

From real life, the allegory for Facebook is a huge dorm of people (gigantic, really). Everyone has a door into their room, and the door can have pictures, news articles, amusing comics, etc. as well as a white board where visitors can leave notes. In real life, you can tell when someone is there and generally see why. When someone looks at something and you’re there, you can comment back, open up a channel of communication, and actually interact. (“Oh yeah, that’s when I went to Costa Rica for J-term and we hiked in the Cloud Forest” or “you think that’s good, check this one out” –> pulls up xkcd for today).

Right now, our doors are all shut, and we have towels along the bottom so they’re soundproof. This means we only interact with the world when we step outside. When we do, everything happened in the past and it hits us all at once – more of a chore than fun experience. Everything’s tape delayed. We already have discovery (news feed, activity feed, messages, email notifications) but there’s no way to jump into someone’s stream as it happens.

Examples:

  • I see a few friends checking out the Spotify track I’m listening to and we start up a Turntable room
  • I see my friend’s pictures from the 5k, he notices I’m there and gloats about his time
  • I glance through a college classmate’s wedding photos and they strike up a conversation

Ultimately, there’s no way to hang a sign on your door indicating that you’re open for engagement and interested. Everyone dumps everything they can out on their door but then shuts it again without seeing what the response is. I’m not talking about a violation of privacy or anything like that – you can make it entirely optional on both sides. If you don’t want the spam of knowing when people are digesting your social timeline, that’s fine. If you’re snooping on someone’s page and don’t want to reveal yourself, you can hide your actions too. But I imagine most of the time people won’t care that so-and-so knows they’re there – and most of the time it will be a good thing.

Right now, we’re missing the point. We’re all linked up. Some of us are even talking – but the words are all surface-level and it could be so much better.

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