An article on Read, Write, Web tells us what most pundits already know about social networking, that is but the latest way to dumb down creative activity on the Internet. Essentially the Internet has become one big television set in which people who think they are finding new and innovative ways to communicate are really finding even dumber ways in which to express themselves. Advances in social media may be good for those few that are advancing their promotional and marketing efforts to position their own brand or those of their own businesses, but at the end of the day the average person is just watching television in a new way.
Take sites that are not specifically branded as social networking sites but sites that do have some social networking functions built into them, such as YouTube, Yahoo Answers or Yahoo Buzz. If you are lucky, you can find new ways to express yourself and generate some extra cash but if you are one of the millions of drones that surf through random videos, questions, and articles, it is just another form of entertainment. The problem with social networking sites is that they do not foster creativity and innovation. This is one of the reasons why people are excited about Tumblr. That is a site that offers the best of Twitter and the best of a traditional blogging platform and puts it all under one roof.
You could see the writing on the wall when MySpace, which, even if through convoluted means by allowing entirely too much creativity in individual users profiles, took a back seat to Facebook, which required you to sign in using your real name. When you are using your real name you tend to be more conservative and creativity takes a back seat. You create homogeneous profiles that are for the benefit of everyone, including employers and anyone else that could use the profile against you. Profiles become boring and are then about the usage of a lot of pictures, tagging people, and other rhetoric that would be essential in day to day conversation but should be of concern for anyone online. You tend to get into a rut because you do not have as many followers as the next person.
The issue of how many followers a person has is the biggest issue that holds people back on social networks. People who do not have a lot of followers are free to be themselves. People that have too many followers have a lot of turnover because their profiles are on auto-pilot and they are doing everything they can to get more followers while neglecting true genuine communication. This is very different from the ways in which people built up a reputation through regular blogs. There is the perception that blogs have to be innovative to compete, whereas social networking profiles are built up over time through actions that at best can be seen as formulaic. It can become difficult to create a unique identity on a site like Facebook because what works for one audience does not work for another. One can create new groups, but people inevitably see all of the different groups you participate and find a way to judge you from there. Also, because you use your real name Facebook ties you into your past in ways that are not healthy for one to engage in while online.
The Internet should be about your future, not your past. Twitter could be even more detrimental to innovation than Facebook though. On Twitter you add your own background, but that is about it. You can have different profiles, but there is still a stigma against having a handful of followers. People are at their best when they are only following between 100 and 500 people. Any more than 500 and they may be selling out somehow, in which people are abusing their profile for the goods and services they are offering and any less than 100 and they may begin to feel like a looser because they do not have more people following them. Myself personally I have had over 3,000 followers for a week. I get a lot of new followers, but I loose a lot of followers as well. I still get more than I loose but I can see how my profile has become a revolving door. Social networking is a good tool to have but people have to realize how they can make the best of social media to get ahead, be able to express themselves fully without inhibition and maintain their own sanity. It is all a lot easier said than done …