Social Network Ghost Towns, part I
Recently there has been a lot of chatter about how Google Plus is a ghost town. This started me thinking about all the other social networks that don't have the media exposure that Google is able to provide. How many of them would think ghost towns would be an improvement. At least ghost towns have ghosts.
Just a disclaimer, this entire discussion is based on my own skewed perspective. I can only talk about social networks from my own limited social capacity (which is possibly stunted compared to most other people.
I joined a number of social networking sites alone. I usually haven't invited anyone to join these sites with me. Occasionally, I would ask Natalie, but mostly she won't join unless other people join with her. It took almost 3 years to convince her to join Facebook, and that was more due to everyone else who joined, not me. Given that, it is really quite possible that any site only looks like a ghost town, mostly because I'm judging the entire site from my own dark back alley on the edge of town.
This suggests that my experience with any social networking site might not representative. And that might not be the fault of any given website.
And I'm not going to cover all of them in one post.
The first up is DailyBooth.
DailyBooth is a social network where people post a daily picture of themselves everyday. Think of it like an international photobooth, only driven by everyone's webcam and mobile camera. I found out about this site from TheOatmeal comic Ten Thinks You Need To Stop Tweeting About. I'll leave evaluating the wisdom of starting to use a site from a "don't do that" cartoon an exercise for whomever reads this.
DailyBooth is very much a youth site. The average user appears be in high school or college age. The people on it are either doing what I do--posting pictures everyday--or doing fashion things or just trolling, usually using stock pictures.
For a while I used DailyBooth to serve the daily pictures on the home page of SysMango. It was faster than using Flickr, and didn't have the occasional performance issues that the Flickr badge has. I stopped using it for that because of the trolls.
I'm about twice the age of the average DailyBooth user. And some of the comments that pictures I post on the site feel like I'm being baited. It's not a ghost town by any means, it feels a bit like MySpace without the awful layouts.
I had originally expected to find that there were other people, about my age, doing the daily picture thing. I've talked about why I take and post the picture most days before. Some days (ok, months) it is the only new content I post to the site, as I've been less and less motivated to even post Twitter-style status updates (the only other regular new content on the front page).
Part of me thinks (and has thought) it would be a good to stop using that site completely. I don't follow other users. Most of the comments I do get are not exactly flattering. More and more it does feel similar to how MySpace felt when I stopped using it. Sometimes, I think I'm just being baited to be creepy. Sorry not what I'm looking for. And it would simplify things, as I don't know if there is a public API. There is/was an Android app, but I use my PC webcam for the daily photo.
But the site is not a ghost town. It's more like the Internet equivalent of a kiddie pool. I don't know if I will keep using it. From the perspective of my own view of the site, it is a ghost town. There is a public feed, but it is only of limited use, unless one is into people watching. And by people, I mean tweens and teens.
Another site I use (mostly via the soon-to-die Ping.fm) is Plurk.
I don't remember how I discovered Plurk. I do know it was before someone associated with Microsoft in China decided to steal parts of their site (wiki) . I did remember linking the left-to-right presentation and not the top down from other networking sites.
Plurk is interesting, and it has a API. The problem is it IS a ghost town.
Right now, I have 79 "fans" on Plurk (async relationship model), but when I checked, I don't think that none one of them appears to have logged into the site one time in 2012. I guess that's the definition of a ghost town. At least on Google Plus there are product pages.
I don't really understand Plurk. No one who follows me there actually knows me. Some are local, but I don't think any are actually interested in me (mostly because none have been on the site in 2012). The problem is that Plurk uses a point system gamify site activity. One of the activities that gets one points is friending people. So it would seem reasonable to think that people are following just to get points, not because they find anyone interesting.
Plurk is interesting, but it's kind of a dead end right now. I had been posting a copy of the daily photo there (OK, even I get caught up in gamification every now and then) . But once Ping.fm goes away, I don't know if there is enough personal engagement to bring keep me coming back to do updates.
Trying to explore Plurk's community makes me think it is more targeted for asian users. There also appears to be a significant number of Second Life focused accounts. No one I actually know uses the site. No one I would even say I follow (say via Twitter or G+) uses the site. So this also looks like a good candiate for deleting my account.
A third site is Formspring. This is a social question asking site. The site provides an anonymous way for people to post questions and you get to answer them. When a question is answered, it can post to other social networks (Twitter and Facebook, I believe) with a link to the question and answer.
I've had Formspring on SysMango for a while now, and I've had a total of one question asked. There are a few people I know who also have accounts on the site, but there isn't any activity. And the questions that are posted, most seem to be more trolling than meaning attempts at discource. But that's the Internet for you.
There is an e-mail every week or so from Fromspring, which is an attempt at increasing engagement by asking a general question and providing an update to the questions answered by one's social network. This is fine, but as there has been NO activity by my social network, the only thing in the e-mail is generic question and a listing of everyone I've choosen to follow.
Formspring is a niche tool. I'm sure there are people who have periods of heavy use, but that is not my experience. It's usefulness relies on leveraging other platforms, other social networks, to draw people to the site. But anonymously posting questions does tend to make the qeustions less useful and approach trolling. Being an alternative channel to another social network isn't really doing enough to support my continued use of the site.
Thinking about the Formspring use case, the social aspect is really alreayd covered in every other social network I've ever used. We can already ask questions everywhere. There are a number of people I follow who already do Q&A sessions via Twitter.
Formspring's platform does limit the conversation to questions, but the traffic looks like social jibberish, and not social knowledge capture. Add to that the limited (to nonexisant) activity of the small social network I have there, and Formspring looks like a ghost town.
The question then becomes should I continue to leave the Formspring question widget in the sidebar of SysMango.com, or should I just terminate my account.
These three sites all come off as social network ghost towns. If Google Plus is a ghost town, then these sites are bombed out villages where only a few foundations remain to tell you what was once there.
At different points in time, I have used at least 50 different social networking sites. Some were designed as social network. Some sites added in social networking capabilities later (I've seen this with a lot of forums). Others were tools that could be leveraged by other social networks.
Reviewing the sites I have used--even just these three--has left me to tihnk a bit about the quality of the tools and platforms in the social networking space. This post has started me thinking about what creates value for the users of a social network, verus the value the tools and platforms create for comapanies brining them to the market.
If Facebook's IPO is a dud, and they are the 500-pound gorilla of social networks, and Google Plus is viewed as not being a compelling enough alternative--yet another in a string of failed social networking experiments from Google--what can smaller players do to differentiate themselves and actually be a full blown social platform seperate from other tools?
Again, I tend to not move with a big groups. I spend a fair amount of my social networking attention filtering and curating the feeds into what I see as interesting and important.
I'll cover more social network platforms and tools in later posts. Assuming anyone reads this post, what do you think about these three sites--Plurk, Formspring & DailyBooth? What am I missing about these social network ghost towns?