Poked! Go away!

20 Jun 2008

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The world has moved to the Twitterverse. Has anyone told Facebook?

It’s effectively spam by proxy. You know that, don’t you? This morning, while checking through my Facebook notifications, I received a photograph that was obviously part of some sequence. To see what happens next I was told to hit ‘forward’. Out of curiosity I obliged and before I could see what happens next, I had to forward said picture onto about 10 or 20 other ‘friends.’

So it’s opt-in spam. I can see the commerce potential here. It’s beautiful – advertisers know the viral rollout because 20 other similar kinds of people from a particular demographic, who either work together, went to college together or are just too polite not to be ‘friends’, spam each other voluntarily. It’s win-win for Facebook.

And that’s another thing. The ‘friends’ thing. In the physical world, real friendships are rare and require work and effort to sustain and nourish. On Facebook, for example, everyone who sends me a ‘friend request’, even if I only met them once at a party or handed them my business card – is a friend. I don’t even talk to half of these people regularly, but as the numbers climb (I’m at No 87!) there is a certain satisfaction to be gained.

And then there’s my Friend Wheel – a multi-coloured thing with veins and sinews extending to link up everyone I know and everybody else who knows someone else I know – confused? Don’t be. It’s fine. It’s another nice thing to add in with features like aquariums where you feed your fish, Scrabble and quizzes on flirting, priorities in life and movies.

But the Friend Wheel – instead of being affirming – made me realise how lopsided my life looked in terms of how many work contacts make up a busy crescent shape on one side, while people in my personal life huddle in another corner. Sad.

But what really gets me is the strange friend requests I receive from middle-aged women in New York, blokes with Latin-sounding names and the occasional acquaintance from an earlier life who wants to know what I’m doing now. He does know I scored his sister in 1998, doesn’t he?

I’m over the whole Zombie and Vampire thing and I’ll decide myself what music I want to listen to while washing the dishes, thanks very much.

I’ve also survived the Super Poking where pigs, sheep and glasses of tequila have been howitzered my way and, indeed, I’ve sent more than my fair share of beers to notable mates.

The question now is where will Facebook go next with this? It’s exactly a year and a half since my world was blitzed with flying sheep and hitherto closet Scrabble geeks. I only log in every couple of days now, having long shook off any semblance of addiction. I’ve heard a redesign is in the works but what will be new?

I fear a backlash is underway and Facebook needs to move fast if it wants to maintain momentum to inspire investors like Microsoft, which has plunged a whopping US$240m into the company.

The rise of Facebook also gave rise to third-party software developers throwing all kinds of widgets and applications up there, which on the whole have been intensely annoying. Unsurprisingly, the most popular applications have been gambling games like Texas hold’em. I believe some kind of rewards system should be put in place for Facebook applications, with votes by users for those developers who are creating clever, useful stuff.

With so many social networking sites to choose from – LinkedIn, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr – I’m actually prepared to admit that social networking is evolving to more clever stuff anyway. Firstly, no real mortal capable of earning a living has the time to write blogs, constantly post and throw sheep or cows at each other. Or do they?

Twitter, for example, is emerging as an addictive force that transcends actual websites in favour of mobile technology and the veracity and frequency with which advocates post updates in 10 or so words is fascinating to watch.

“I’m still waiting for my train”, “I’m watching paint dry”, “I’m having breakfast”. No really, its compelling stuff. It just depends on the context. Apart from the whingers complaining about typos in my stories (I know who you are, you sad little man), there are some humorous and touching exchanges. I think my most thought-provoking contribution to Twitterland so far has been ‘morning twitterers’. I was very disappointed when a meaningful question about what the best blogging platform to use merited just one reply from my ‘followers’.

I was standing at the Firefox 3.0 launch party at last week’s Irish Open Source Technology conference in Dublin admiring the various states of ‘geek chic’ on parade, ranging from the exchange Moo Cards to people strutting like peacocks in red fedoras, when a dude standing next to me with a gigantic mobile phone yelped excitedly: “I’m Twittering now, I’m Twittering now!!!”

As I had to beat a hasty retreat back to the country where I was required for a dinner engagement, subsequent reports on the goings-on among the technological fashionistas revealed just how the Twitter world is evolving and how ‘old school’ social networks like Facebook need to move on.

Twittervision, for example, shows you people posting ‘tweets’ on a map of the world  and people at the Firefox party sent digital images instantaneously out to the Twitterverse using an application called TwittPic.

The world has moved on, has anyone poked Facebook to let them know?

By John Kennedy

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com