Monday, September 01, 2008

Connect The Friend Dots

Blogger just rolled out the Blogger Followers feature for blogs. Basically, since Blogger / Blogpost is owned by Google, it's Google's version of LiveJournal's Friends list, but without the access control. (LJ allows a writer to write posts that are only readable by people the blogger has added to his Friends list, or subsets thereof). Now, Google is the owner of a really large number of user identities, their GMail accounts. These account identities then get used for everything in the Google network: logins for Blogger, for Google Calendar. Picassa, Checkout, pretty much every Google property. And now Google is making a social network out of the subset that blogs on Google, and will extend it. Google is also extending this feature to something they call Google Friend Connect. (<- Watch the video on that page to see how Google's 'Open Social' project is supposed to pan out. It looks like us social-webbers will have to deal with idiotic amounts of invites and updates.)

WordPress is doing the same. WordPress has a flavor called WordPress MU, it is a software package that a group installs so as to allow multiple people from one organization to blog on one server they own. The parent company of WordPress bought BuddyPress, a set of WP plug-ins that also create social networking between blogs. Unfortunately, BuddyPress seems to be repeating a usability mistake of LiveJournal by also naming their networking feature 'Friends'. By using the word 'Friends' instead of say 'Followers' or 'Interested' or 'Grakslafghr', the designer of this social networking feature creates expectations for what this relationship means, and with that label it means something else than 'I am reading your blog'. Drama on LiveJournal about who friended and unfriended whom, who didn't get friended back, which filter the friend is on, complete with introspective angsty posts and biting comments, is actually a major genre all in itself. And all this anxiety could totally have been avoided by using another label without this emotional baggage of friendship. But no, here it comes. With an added module called "The Wire" so you can leave little status updates and quips to your friends network.

So, we have Google socializing blogs which they plan to extend into a system where every time you leave a comment on a Guacamole blog it ends up creating a status update on Facebook -- no, really, it is in the video -- and WordPress rolling out Friends drama, with a little bit of luck to the whole WordPress site of blogs as well. Is this what anyone wants? Right now I am following some people's lives through one-line status updates on Facebook and Twitter, and with a little luck they'll expand on it in their blogs. I myself try to synchronize those to be a little coherent, but how much does everyone need to be updated? Twitter gets a bad rep, but now Facebook and Orkut will be just as bad if Friends Connect and Blogger Followers takes off.

Humans like to be together. They like to know. They like to gossip and have things to talk about, and tell people how they actually are. But we are not all equally curious about each-other, and somehow these tools and feeds that publish where we go and who we visit and where we comment assume we are. People will have to learn to edit what they allow to become public on these status feeds and comment lines not just to maintain their privacy, but mostly to not become utter bores. We'll need to learn to self-edit, create our own omnibus highlights of our online lives (and thus end up even more open to accusations of, like a reality show, being manipulative than we already are choosing what to post). The global blogging experience so far is not encouraging me to think we collectively have any idea how to do that.