So… I’m no social scientist (just a lowly entrepreneur), no expert (just a talented amateur), but I would like to rant a little about a couple of things I have observed. One of these is that social software, social networking, web 2.0, whatever you want to call it, has not fundamentally changed what it means to be human (certainly not any more than written language, smoke signals, or the telephone). Dunbar’s number, for example, holds true, whether you are going back to neolithic villages, Roman army legions, Hutterite settlements, or MMORG guilds/tribes. What social networking applications like Flickr, LinkedIn, or MySpace can do is give us tools to perform better some of the natural social grooming behaviors we’ve evolved over the millenia. For example, Gossip and celebrity have always been with us, and in fact perform a vital social function. Now, though, internet-based applications give us powerful new tools to discover, manage, and distribute gossip about our friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and celebrities.
So what’s my point? My point is that perhaps MySpace beat Friendster (as an example) not just because of the vagaries of cool-seeking among the younger set, but also because it was better optimized for the kinds of social grooming that people naturally want to do for the class of social relationships being represented there. Teenaged boys always took note of passing females, and MySpace is well-optimized for this type of superficial and fleeting relationship. What’s new is that MySpace allows one to search, browse, sort, filter, and “bookmark”, which happens to dovetail nicely with a primitive desire to keep track of potential mates.
There’s nothing new under the sun.