Social Network Overload

What happens if I don’t accept my friend’s request to join a new, niche social network? What if I know they fully expect me, of all people, to join? What if I’m tired of joining these services I know will become forgotten in mere months? Certainly I am guilty of serial joining, having accounts at...well, let’s try to count:
  1. MySpace
  2. Facebook
  3. Scribd
  4. YouTube
  5. LinkedIn
  6. Digg
  7. Del.icio.us
  8. Technorati
  9. Livejournal
  10. Blogger
  11. Wordpress
  12. Tumblr
  13. IconBuffet
  14. Flickr
  15. Friendster
  16. Geni
  17. Twitter
  18. Mog
  19. Jaiku
  20. Ebay
  21. Amazon
  22. Xanga
  23. Okay, this list is getting too long. I could do this for hours. Exit list.
So, I’ve joined a ton of sites. I know there are a lot of little ones I’ve signed up for that, for the life of me, I can’t recall. Like a lot of bloggers (tech ones, to be sure), I am an early adopter, and I’m not ashamed of it. My philosophy is more along the lines of, “Sounds cool, I’ll give it a try” than “I want to wait and see how it does before jumping on the bandwagon.” And for the most part this doesn’t get me into trouble. Most sites these days require very little as far as commitment goes, and you don’t often need more than an email address to get started. Nice of them to make it so simple to sign up, but often they fail to provide any compelling reason to return regularly. All the names sound the same, too, so I tend to forget what they are.

If anything is true about the way in which I use these networking sites, it is that I very rarely use the vast majority of them. Often, I won’t even get a full profile up before abandoning it forever. I might forget my username (please let me use my email address). And I very rarely will “Invite your whole freaking address book” thing because that is not cool. But I like to check them out, at least. See what the deal is. Cool enough, but I don’t have the time, interest, or desire to become an active user of most of these things.

From that list above, there are only a couple sites I visit daily. A couple of the services (I’m thinking Tumblr, and del.icio.us) I haven’t really visited since signing up. Once I configured my Tumblr account, I left it alone to run. I only use del.icio.us to bookmark sites and articles (which I will check from time to time) - and I haven’t used it in the social respect, ever. I don’t look there for content.

Some sites, especially a lot of the new ones, are very niche, very narrowly focused. They tend to be about one thing. And they’re obviously designed to appeal to people really into that one thing. The problem is that they still, for the most part, operate in exactly the same way as all these other sites. Most of these new sites offer very little value if you don’t spend hours configuring your account. YouTube is great because there is a ton of content to check out even if you haven’t made a profile, even if you never make a profile. Digg is the same way. These services let you do a ton by default, and by joining you make the choice to contribute more in order to gain more. True, these sites started the same way - with nothing - but now that they are established, a new site has to work twice as hard to bring some unique content to the table and give me a compelling reason to return.

Too many of the new guys make you do too much. That’s fine if what you ultimately offer is really awesome, but if it’s something like, for example, what books my friends are reading, that’s just not worth it. Especially if you don’t give me a ton of options for adding my own books. Why force me to search for them one at a time when I might already have a database set up at home, or a text list, or use Delicious Library, or have an Amazon account? Why not build on top of these other services to let those who do use them have an easier time? Why not make it possible to grab the lists I’ve already written from my Facebook or MySpace profiles? Make it easy on us, please. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of brand new social networks vying for our attention, many of which are about the same thing yours is, and we’ll gravitate towards the ones that offer the best effort-to-value ratio.

I’m not saying to include everything, to become inclusive beyond a reasonable level, to allow syncing with every service - but pick some good ones, because there are a lot. The services that recognize this need for interoperability and communication are the ones that will succeed. Let us embed our YouTube videos, let us import our contacts and our interests and lists. Let us include our Twitter status. Let us add some news feeds, or republish our blog with no effort whatsoever. It’s not that you need to do more, you just have to do better, be more open. The more MySpace restricts embedding content from outside networks, the more they will alienate their users, who are not so young or na├»ve that they can’t see the real reason for these bans, which is making money. MySpace is dying a slow death because they’re not thinking of their users when they make these changes. Pretty soon, they’ll start to migrate to networks that let them do whatever they want and won’t remove the stuff they spent hours perfecting because of business disputes.

Lead the way with a service that allows users to bring together and manage all of these networks, all of this information. Help us manage the overload and help us do something useful with it.

If you don’t, Google will. And you’ll be forgotten.

For the record, I did join the network my friend invited me to yesterday. And I did start adding and rating books.

But I can’t remember what it’s called.