With the increasing prevalence of social technologies more and more of our daily life is becoming part of an online community. Increasingly spending leisure time at the computer is no longer a “geeks only” activity and what we’re seeing is the transition of what people would regularly do through another, less public, medium onto online sources viewable for almost anyone who would want to see them. What is truly surprising is how people willingly share some of this information, until you consider the origins of these social applications.
Take a social group (friends, colleagues, etc) what are some of the main activities that such a group might carry out? Going out to places, sharing experiences about recent events, chatting about topics and so on. In essence social networking tools have just enabled a greater audience to use the Internet as a more convenient place for them to gather, and as such they will use it as they would say a table in a coffee shop, sharing experiences and the like. This is the two sided coin of exhibitionism and voyeurism, we all want to share our lives with other people and we’re also intersted in learning about others.
Sites like Twitter and MySpace take it one step further. Instead of it being focused directly on a circle of friends it’s more about your own personal space on the Internet that you can just happen to share with your friends (and let everyone else know who your friends are). These sites are more suited to people who’s personality tends towards the exhibitionist in them, as it’s basically an open invitation for anyone to come in and have a look at their life. They’re also a boon for the more voyeuristic types as well, since they can get a glimpse of someone’s life without them knowing about it.
It’s this strange combination of unleashing two sides of a (usually) socially taboo coin that drew a lot of people to these sites in the first place. We all know someone who has 300+ friends on Facebook and know full well that at least half of them are just on their to bump up their friends count. However this is exactly what would attract them to the site, since they now have a captive audience of 300+ who will get all their status updates and delightful quiz requests. On the other side there are those who want to see what people they used to know are getting up to, sometimes out of a slightly twisted desire to see if they’re doing better then them (basically a real time high school reunion, with all the lovely embarrassment/embellishments that come with it).
Personally I got into this whole social networking thing for two reasons. The first was that a lot of my friends were on it and were using it increasingly to organise events and get togethers. This got my foot in the door so to speak, and I stayed as it became a great tool to keep in touch with my friends in far off lands. The second was after I discovered LinkedIn, as I began to use social networking professionally. Although I do question the benefits of doing so currently.
In essence these online social networking sites are just another playground for groups of people to do things that they would normally do, just through a different medium. Whatever attracted them to these sites originally existed in the real world first and it’s no surprise that these sites have brought their real world problems along with them.