Current social media platforms are failing their users
The below is an email reaction that I had to this blog post by Danah Boyd (a researcher at Microsoft Research New England) which was sent around the office.
This blog’s been sitting in drafts for 3 months and so it’s about time I posted it seeing as I seem to be making the same point at every SM event I attend these days and really, I’ve just got to stop. The point I’ve realised that I was trying to make all these months ago when I first drafted this blog is that the current crop of social media platforms do not adequately reflect the way we socialise offline oh and that information decay is an essential part of the social experience.
It’s an excellent article so give it a read and then, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my take on it all, if it inspires any.
Some teens are using Facebook in a very different way from me – are these habits familiar to you guys?
The girls’ actions aren’t familiar to me but I think the article and observations make for some pretty compelling reading.
The discussion about “online profiles as digital bodies that are left behind to do work while the agent themselves is absent” has always been an interesting one and has always seemed to put the digital world at odds with the “real” one. I’ve always thought that the creation of an online presence is, in a way, akin to cloning. We create a new profile and just like that, an incomplete but functional clone of the user is created! We remain best friends with this digital clone (they tell us everything that goes on, help us stay social and do nice and naughty things on our behalf) but we certainly don’t think that we own them and we don’t really consider them to be a part of us or our real life. This position is reinforced and expressed in the way we even call things that we do offline things going on in the “Real” world or in “Real” life. If our digital clone was really a part of us then the things we do through it online should also be expressed as real but for the majority of us… they simply aren’t. These clones are quite literally our Avatars.
What I think is particularly interesting about the girls’ behaviours is that they clearly have no difficulty in acting the same way online as they do offline. If there’s too much drama in class/the mall/the park, you simply leave and come back later. Their presence online isn’t treated as a detached part of themselves, instead it moves with them. When the user goes AFK so does the presence. They are inseparably one and the same.
As to why this difference in behaviours might exist, I imagine that when you look at people (like you and I) who have had to learn and teach others how to use the web then it’s likely that we’ll be interacting with the tools in a very literal way. Login means login to a session and dump a cookie on my PC. Create account means create account on someone else’s machine which they will own. We see the web as a tool, as a series of tubes and consoles and as inherently artificial and it’s this perception that allows us to swiftly abandon any expectations we might have about the way human interactions in this artificial world should work. Cloning small parts of ourselves and letting them run amuck is suddenly accepted as a totally normal and almost fundamental part of this new world and nobody questions it!
When however you take the technical learning elements out of the equation and approach social networking online in the same manner as you would offline; when you treat your online presence as an actual extension of the self (and not as a clone) then it’s logical that the same rules that you already know about interacting with other people should still apply. You should be able to come and go as you please, you should be able to say something stupid and for it to exist only as a memory just moments later. It can logically be assumed by the new user that, as in the “real” world, your presence and statements should be temporal in nature and not immortal.
Well we’ve got a whole generation (or 2 now) of web users who don’t need to know or don’t even care about sessions, cookies and the literal meaning of the web based functions in front of them and so I must wonder whether it’s logical to assume then that these new users (and the ones yet to come) will be treating the web in a much more human way. That they’ll be applying the known rules from the “real” world to their online behaviours and interactions – instead of having to learn a whole new way of dealing with the people around them.
So what does this mean? Well I’m not really sure and this reply has taken up way too much of my time today already, but if someone doesn’t develop a log out button that allows you to decide how long you want to persist in an area once you’re gone then the web will be a poorer place for it…