Sunday, August 27, 2006

"I find that A) tremendously comforting that we're so close and B) like Chinese water torture that we're so close."

Back around 1996 or so - the end of the Internet Stone Age - I became mildly addicted to a site called sixdegrees.com. Sixdegrees did one thing and one thing only: it showed connections between people. It was all text, with no photos or profiles or anything like that. Very simply, you typed in someone's email address and indicated how you knew him (friend, coworker, family, etc.). Your friend got an email asking him to confirm, and if he did, you were linked. The site would then show all your connections. I was fascinated by it. I often looked up someone I knew, and discovered they were on the site and we were already connected through three or four different paths. The first degree on my end of each of those paths would be unique, and I knew for a fact that those people had never met each other. Six degrees indeed.

With no services beyond entertaining procrastinating college students to offer, Sixdegrees.com folded in a year or two. But when Friendster came along using the same networking idea it didn't take me long to get hooked on that too. It's a fantastic way to while away the hours temping, and since I'm constantly working with new people, I always have new people to stalk search for. Plus, having lots of "friends" gives me an amazing feeling of validation. Really, it's like the perfect website for me.

But now Friendster's not cool any more. Well, I don't think it was ever cool, which makes it all the more baffling that MySpace has become the website. Why??? It's like the worst web design I've ever seen. I mean, ugly aside, which I guess is a matter of taste, I find the navigation counter-intuitive (Why isn't there a search box on every page like on Friendster? Why does it take so many clicks and endless page loads to add a friend?), the number of fictional profiles, profiles for TV shows and movies, and fake friend requests I get drives me nuts, and it's fucking slow. I guess I'm a web traditionalist, but I just don't want my networking site to play music or video at me. That's what YouTube is for. It also makes it harder to browse at work safely.

Oh yeah, and speaking of work, because MySpace asks and displays my sexual orientation (one of the few features I actually like, 'cause Friendster can be annoyingly vague on the subject), I get ads on the site for gay dating services full of shirtless, groping boys. Of course I'm a fan of shirtless, groping boys, but it's not exactly office-appropriate. And since they also ask for and display my relationship status, what's with all the dating ads anyway?

So, um, yeah, I've come to resent MySpace a little bit, because I'm hooked on the Friendster, and while it remains a pretty vibrant site (they've added most of the same extra features as MySpace, but in my opinion they've done it much more elegantly) people don't seem to be joining it like they used to. And I'm definitely a joiner, so I felt like I had to get on MySpace to stay... relevant? cool? validated? connected? All of the above, I suppose.

But wait! The Youth of America have proven themselves as fickle as ever, and there's already a new networking site making the rounds. As the name implies, Facebook is college-oriented, and I discovered it through my young friends at Undisclosed Location Summer Theater last year. It's got a very simple, attractive design, and lots of fun features for networking and playing. My favorite element is photo tagging – like all of these sites you can upload photos to an album, but Facebook lets you "tag" the photo to indicate who's in it. If those people are your "friends," the photo shows up in their profile too (you can remove tags of yourself if you don't like them). I mean, that's just cool. I also like that you get to tell it how you know someone (which the other person must confirm, of course), and there are many options including the tongue-in-cheek (I hope!) "We hooked up and it was _____. It went down in ____."

I gather that some of these kids just live on Facebook. You can update your "status," which most of my friends seem to use for jokes, or for general statements, but the defaults include "at work," "at a party," and "at the library," as if you're supposed to change it every time you go somewhere (I guess this isn't all that different from my other friends under 25 who leave their instant messenger on 24/7, with absurdly personal away messages, but that's another post).

So here's the problem. Well, two problems. One, I have very little to do right now, so I've gotten a little hooked on validating my self-worth by having lots of online friends in general, and Facebook in particular. Two, Facebook is, as I said, geared towards college students. They've added high schools and companies too, but to join you have to have a network, and an email address that matches that network. (There are geographical networks too, but you can only get into those after you've joined with another one.) I have an alumni address from my college, which is how I was able to join (and in fact how I got on in the first place, 'cause some of my interns last year harassed me about it), but my contemporaries are few and far between (my college class, 1997, has 12 people on Facebook; the class of 2001 has 71, and 2006 has over 500) and almost my entire network consists of people from the summer job. Like I needed another online addiction and something else to make me feel old! The sad thing is, I think it's be best of these sites.

So, readers, I beg of you: If you have a .edu address or your company is on the list, please join Facebook and help me feel popular enjoy this time-wasting networking website!

As a side note, with all the time I've been spending on FaceFriendSpace, I've outed myself as a blogger by putting Judgment Call in my profiles. I mean, really, everyone and his mother has a blog these days, it's hardly something that needs to be kept secret at work anymore. I don't plan to change the way I write – I'll still be vague about jobs and coworkers – but maybe some new people will click over here. (And hopefully the first post they see will be something less boring and geeky than this one!)

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