Towards the Social Event Horizon

This is the second weekend I’ve been puttering about the house in both the physical and virtual senses, clearing up clutter in both realities and trying to avoid getting caught up on minutiae (did I install that Office update? where did I put the dust cloth? should I download those photos from the camera now or later tonight?).

And boy, it feels good. Nestling on the couch with a book beside me and Handel’s flute concertos as musical counterpoint to these luminous Autumn mornings, most of the dreariness of the past week has shed away like moulting feathers.

In the meantime, I’ve been mulling the current craziness on the Web. In case you’ve been living under a rock, most of the bold, innovative and utterly mad neo-economics theorists are circling Facebook and other social networking sites in droves, squawking madly about the “unlimited business potential” tied up in them – or some other such inanities, soon to be out in book form for their own continued self-inflation in both real estate and egoistical terms.

Beneath them, rather less high on fumes but still somewhat too impassioned for taste, the privacy and security advocates hawk their own wares and snipe at everyone who even pretends to believe social networking is changing the world (faith can at least move virtual mountains, it seems). Rather reminiscent of the futility of tossing stones to carrion birds overhead, their squawking has so far failed to make an impression, mostly because the whole thing is as insubstantial as the pheromone trails inside an anthill.

And speaking of anthills, that is exactly what social networking sites remind me these days, business-wise. Just as an anthill is the result of (literally) compounded efforts from individual insects whose overall activities are orchestrated by internal patterns, a social networking site is built by individuals in a multitude of little transactions, the virtual equivalent of pasting together pebbles with ant spit.

But people aren’t ants, and since they do not have ant queens’ innate abilities to control their population (what with most of it actually being exogenous to their sites), companies try to make them as appealing as possible to users by adding more and more features. And since it is impossible for any single site to come up with a steady stream of surefire winners when it comes to increasing stickiness, Facebook and the like have of late come up with the notion of outsourcing their own sites’ stickiness by “opening up” to external applications.

Not to be outdone, Google decided to ‘pull a Microsoft’ and deliver an SDK for that kind of thing. Although I can’t really be bothered by anything related to Web 2.0 these days, the irony of watching Google go the “embrace & extend” route was enough to have me do a little research on the strategical implications, and I’d say they have the right idea – as far as their own business model is concerned, of course.

The whole thing, however, is entirely too fluffy and insubstantial to last long on its own, so I await further developments with interest.

Not that I think they will be world-shattering, mind you. Most of what I see in social networking these days is fickleness, and there is little future in trying to harness that as a business tool.

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