Thursday, March 23, 2006

Social Networking - Back to the future

Social networking is one of the big "next things" that is attracting VC money and user interest. Sites like MySpace, LinkedIn, and Friendster have had huge growth, and there are more than 200 social networking sites now operating according to Wikipedia's article on the subject.

What strikes me though is that these web-based sites have not drawn on lessons from the past. Early social networks were created when Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) were put up by individuals and clubs, allowing forums and file sharing. These systems were either single subject, or organized into topical forums.

In the commercial world Compuserve was very successful with its targeted forums moderated by people with knowledge and passion to keep things lively and interesting.

Now we have Web 2.0, which seems to start from the presumption that nothing existed in the past. I say that, because all the old lessons learned seem to be ignored while the same mistakes are made all over again. Put it down to the arrogance of youth, or more likely, the lack of any history to consult. Unless you lived it, you don't know about it.

Any BBS operator could tell you that moderation (editing and dispute resolution) were necessary to maintain a healthy community. The current sites tendency to disclaim responsibility for content allow unhealthy things to take place - stalking, grooming, and luring of kids by predators for instance.

It seems the site operators want the profits of content provision with the overheads of bare telecom provision. A nice game if you can pull it off, but the resulting harm is generating calls for increasingly strict regulation.

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