This morning at grindspaces Anil Dash gave a talk titled “#Rethink the Network”. The talk followed a metaphor about about highways and the interesting things which can occur at and how societies and industries are built up around the intersections of highways. Anil’s premise is today’s online network in general and the big social networks specifically have largely eliminated these types intersections from the web.
According to Anil these intersections are imitated in the worst way by the web of today because internet denizens get the least appealing parts of the things happening at intersections, the angry flash mobs, without the great things – the serendipitous meetings of people and ideas. The loss of serendipity stems in part by how easy it has become to share things socially, tweeting or liking a story are such frictionless acts they require little investment by the person doing the tweeting or liking.
In addition to removing the friction from sharing, and thus the investment and commitment of the sharer, these social networks also inhibit an individual’s ability to misbehave or stand apart. Everyone’s branding is the same on Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and this makes it difficult to like someone’s style in these places. Everyone’s got the same look. Anil called this Captive Atria, calling something a public space but applying a strict set of rules to how this public space can be utilized.
Some of Anil’s message resonates strongly with me, specifically the brief bit at the end about owning your presence on the web. More and more lately I’ve been identifying people by Twitter rather than by their web sites and that isn’t appropriate. Not everyone sees their Twitter page as their home on the web, in fact I don’t see it as my home on the web either. But it is probably the best place to start looking for a way to communicate with me.
It was also interesting to have Anil point out the values projected by the creators of the big social networks. I am typical of the audience or at least similar in path to some of the founders of these companies and so I don’t run into what have clearly been identified by the founders as edge cases. The fact is they aren’t edge cases though. It is perfectly reasonable to have two jobs simultaneously and to have not completed a college degree and the networks calling those things oddities projects values onto the consumers of their data the same way conference having only privileged white male speakers projects values on the attendees.
I’m glad there are people like Anil calling for more open networks online and calling out the value judgements software creators are projecting onto their consumers. Hopefully observations such as these will help improve products for us all.