Bubble Foundry

Going Dark, or The Fading Appeal of Living Online

by Peter.

My first posts to this blog focused somewhat narrowly on some principles of web design but recently I find myself advising people just as much on the ‘why’ of websites as the ‘how’. Therefore this blog’s focus will broaden a bit, and I will also be posting about where I see the web is going. The post below was originally published on my personal blog.

The power isn’t about to be cut, but consider this:

It’s funny to observe all the tech crowd going ga-ga over Facebook this past six months, with everyone swarming to get on Facebook – Facebook as the new black and all that. It reminds me of when everyone at the UofC went on Facebook but that was what, four years ago? Now I barely use Facebook, maybe logging in once a week to see if anything interesting is happening, which invariable is not. Now, maybe this is just a college vs working life divide, as people’s lives are very different. But I don’t think so, as lots of the people going nuts over Facebook recently have been out of college for some time. Rather, I think it’s the novelty factor. Once you’ve connected with your friends, family, and whoever else you want to track (and yes, I think track is the right word), then you just end up dipping into Facebook occasionally to check some information. That’s what I do: I wonder, what’s Katie up to, check her profile and then don’t use the site again for a week. For me it’s become mainly a way to lookup friends’ contact info, almost just a de facto online address book– Plaxo for non-obsessive-address-book-organizers.

However, I don’t think this is just Facebook and is instead part of a wider trend. At some point you just don’t need all these sites. My Beachhead group of friends are some of the most wired people I know, yet of the six of us I have probably the largest internet presence and I don’t really blog that much or have a significant website. Tommy works at Google but only has a few pages online about his hobby projects that really only we know about. Max just deleted his long-running Live Journal account and his personal site on Beachhead, though he’s no luddite either – he works at Coghead. Steph runs a thriving Puzzle Pirates business and works at Zazzle, but I don’t think she has any sort of personal website or blog. The same is true for Jeremy and Amarnath.

And I don’t think we’re alone. In the end I think most people will find that maintaining an active presence (which is difference from having accounts in all the sites and services) isn’t worth the trouble. I think the people that find they really need to build and maintain an active online presence are the ones doing things in content, who are publishing their own content. Call it global microbrands or whatever, but I think it boils do to a pretty traditional idea: experts need an audience but, while the everyone else likes their 15 minutes of fame, they’re content with just those 15 minutes.

Addendum: So what does this all mean? Being a big believer in trusting users, the goal is to create sites for users that deliver what they desire and just that – it’s wrong to force users more things upon user than what they want. Part of that may mean that many social networks are used for small subsets of people’s total social interaction, not the all-encompassing social medium that many networks aspire to. There is emergence behaviour in every system, including websites, and successful sites, and businesses, embrace this.