I've just returned from a wildly infuriating lunch with a bunch of frothy-mouthed social media 2.0 evangelists. I will refrain from naming any of the people or companies involved in this, other than to say that one of them is a pretty darn big name which apparently differentiates itself from its rivals based on the fact that it's "all about people".
And it's rivals are about what, marsupials? It's this kind of thing that exemplifies the problem with this social media malarkey (and yes, I realise that ZDNet.co.uk is a social networking site of sorts, but I like to think we avoid the sheer daftness and triviality of things like Twitter). All the people at this lunch were either hacks like me or people representing business in one form or another. All there for the benjamins, yet to listen to them you'd think it was a cult gathering. I'm used to people tossing around nonsense-words like "leverage" and even "bio-break", but today things hit a new low with a discussion about "lifestreams" ("lives", you mean?) and how they need to be analysed or data-mined or what-have-you. It was like having lunch with people who'd been temporarily beamed over from a parallel dimension.
A lot of it is a serious case of Emperor's New Clothes, and oddly reminiscent of the absurdities that were bandied around in the last big bubble, before the dotcom crash. It's not just the stupid names (see here and here for recently blogged examples), but also the complete and utter vagueness of what this stuff is all for. With our site, it makes sense - everyone knows what we're here for and here to discuss. Excellent. But Twitter? Oh, said one person at this lunch importantly, what a wonderful thing it is to receive a Twitter from someone you sort-of-know saying "I've had a baby!". Sure, I said, but that's a pretty small percentage of what you get. "I've had a sandwich", maybe, or "Popping out for a newspaper". Who the heck cares?!
Same goes for most of the information you get blasted with on Facebook. Sure, it's nice to hook up with old friends, but the amount of self-important trivia that gets conveyed is way out of proportion to what most people with a real-world social life want to know. Surely if these people were really such close friends, you wouldn't have to tell them all this stuff in the first place? Or have I missed something here?
Blogging was/is a different kettle of fish. Before blogging, not many people (relatively speaking) got to publish their thoughts and knowledge, because the publication process was a fairly closed shop. Now everyone can do it and make it an interactive thing to boot - that's what I call a revolution. Social networking is for the most part no more (and usually far less) liberating than stepping out your front door and making some real friends. Y'know, people you get together with face-to-face. It doesn't let you do something that you couldn't do before, not in the same way blogging does.
And I haven't even started on the problems of online identity and reputation (one? many?), and how kids today are growing up with a very odd idea of what privacy should entail.
You'll have to excuse me. I gave up smoking yesterday, which might explain the ranty nature of this post - but I stand by my sentiments. Anyway, you can probably see why I'm never overly popular at these lunches...