The Noble Savage. Social Network Sites Display The True Goodness Of Web 2.0

Today's article picks up on some of the noise being created about social networking (SN) sites. A quick scan of the Hitwise data indicates that MySpace, Bebo and FaceParty are clawing an incredible number of hits per day and NMA last week had an interesting piece by Heather Hopkins (typically aimed at advertisers) which detailed some of the differences between the sites in terms of their audience reach. MySpace is popular with the music-oriented and represents a wider age demographic, Bebo focuses on the school, college and undergraduate communities and FaceParty is a bit of a mix between the two. Towards the end of the article, Heather picks up on a particular characteristic of these sites' users, that they tend to be multi-channel and multi-media aware. Elsewhere I have read and heard about the tendency of SN users to be fantastic brand advocates, taking brand items and 'hacking' or customising them to fit within their creative space.

And so we reach my point. But before I get to that, a bit of historical parallelism. Let's consider a bit of 18th Century sentimentalism. Working from ideas first espoused in literature (eg. Dryden's "The Conquest of Granada" (1672) or Rousseau's Emile (1762) ) and developing out of circumstances and media hype surrounding the voyages of Cpt. James Cook, a culture of primitivism took hold. The essence of this was personified by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific and Americas who, in the minds of the Christianised world, represented an Edenic humankind, unencumbered by civilisation - the Noble Savage. Their simple behaviour, carefree manners and proximity to the fabric of nature - the very essence of life set them apart from their corrupted European colonisers.

To me, SN sites are populated by today's Noble Savages. Unencumbered by the 'rules' and self-regulation of web design and development, the teachings/preachings of Tognazzini, Nielsen and the corporate homepage, these SN pages are simplistic, innocent (c.f. below), disdainful of ostentatious luxury. They demonstrate a natural awareness of the technology of the web - apparently without much if any formal education and just because it's executed without much sense of order it is more often than not, perceived as inferior. It's not a parallelism without it's flaws, of course it would be wrong to say that every person with a MySpace page is an Omai, a Man Friday or Chingachgook. There is imorality to be seen, there is bullying and selfishness; even today as I flicked through someone else's ghastly Daily Mail I read a contrived piece about grooming on MySpace.

In addition, much of MySpace - perhaps in keeping with its recent purchase by Rupert Murdoch - is increasingly being hijacked by corporate brands, music publishers and so on with the express reason to sell. Just as in the 20th Century my perception of the exisitence of the true Noble (Web) Savage is becoming ever more flimsy and could be seen as bordering on the patronising. But dig deep enough and you'll find it. The intelligent blog-links, the vodcasts, the del.icio.us linkings, Folksonomies, Flickr postings etc. etc. They may not be the easiest sites to use (though I'd wager that a teen/tween would navigate them at a phenominal level of efficiency) but they're doing things and using things that those of us on cultured sites have some way to go before deploying.

The fact is that, in MySpace's defence, the design doesn't matter. People who know me will often here me refer to FriendsReunited as an ugly site that works. It, like MySpace, works in-spite of it's looks simply because it does the job it set out to do - connect people. If everyone in your class is on Bebo, you will be too. If you want to find an ex-school-friend you'll go to FriendsReunited, to hell with the interface. The kids that use SN sites have all the time in the world, they'll wade through the black text on grey backdrop because it might link somewhere, they'll put up with the blinking animated gif because their favourite song is playing on the page... Joshua Porter explains this well and his post attracted some intelligent comments too.

Of course, I'd love to explore some more by setting up my own MySpace/Bebo/FaceParty pages but frankly I know i'd get no social-linking and I'd fret about the interface. In the same way that Captain Cook probably knew when he was out of his depth I'm not prepared to go on there and get into any hot water...

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Famous at last? ... Simply blog about the Beeb.

I read an interesting article recently (but I can't remember where) which highlighted key ways to get your blog noticed. I've tried a few, extensive contextual links, out-links to other blogs, recent topics, salacious content and inviting comment via mailing lists. In the past two days it seems to be paying off, first there's a link from Digital Media Minute to my pieces on SEO vs Usability which is extensively accessed and now the BBC have picked up on my review of the Governors meeting last week, there's quite a lot of traffic inbound from an intranet blog. I can't see it of course so no idea what it says so I'm hoping it's pleasant and isn't too critical of the grammar and typo problems which litter the article (re-reading posts is a sure-fire way to expose your own inadequacies...).

Anyway, coupled with a fleeting appearance on BBC Look East on the 18.30 bulletin the day after and suddenly I feel exposed. In a good way. Weirdly, and without wishing to blow smoke up Auntie's proverbial, it's made me even more aware of the Beeb's quality output. Last night I sat and watched a profound "
Who Do You Think You Are?" with David Baddiel and (being a fan of his work since he slated Sittingbourne) I watched the interview he had with Mark Lawson on BBC4. A genuinely insightful and thoughtful piece, so diffrent to Parkinsons piece of brief, intense sycophancy. Made a change from my previous intention to watch "Love Island", "Big Brother" etc.


A Distinctly Average Day, And All The Better For It

It’s days like today that you forget when it’s suddenly January 16th and icy cold. It’s days like today that seem so distant when you’re walking toward the station at 19:30 and you’ve got to go to the supermarket when you get home. It’s days like today that at the age of 49 wincing as you climb the stairs at work to sit in the same desk you’ve sat in for 15 years are a world away.

Today wasn’t remarkable at all. A hot sunny day in Ipswich, a lazy morning in the park and an afternoon of geeky surfing on a shady balcony trying to avoid some left-over work for tomorrow. Top Gear on the TV, some pasta and a bottle of Grolsch as I listen to a bit of Madeline Peyroux and set about my blog. A day where everything thing in the world was just so. Where I was entirely myself and my fiancĂ©e and I were entirely content. A day when I didn’t feel unfit, old, aching, tired too hot or too cold, a day when nothing would trouble me. In a lifetime I wonder how many days like this we have.

Either way, today was one of them. So I thought I’d record it for permanent posterity.