Clay Shirky once said that social nets are like parties. When they are small, they are really great, when they get big and crowded, they cease to be useful. Again I can’t find that post, or I’d link to it.
Clay’s right. But a huge social net that’s made up of millions of smaller social nets is likely to be even more useful than anything that we currently have.
This got me thinking, which, I know, is a dangerous thing.
Say the web is one big party. Like Clay says, a party with too many people is no fun. But this party is being held in an enormous warehouse with lots of nooks and crannies. So naturally, groups of people break off into their own niches.
Some people stay with their friends (MySpace, Facebook, Friendster.com, Second Life). Others stick with family (Famster), coworkers (LinkedIn), or even church group (MyChurch). People like to feel like they belong somewhere, and people with similar interests tend to cluster together. Thus you have cliques (Wikipedia, Flickr, Digg, Yelp, YouTube, Last.fm, Kaboodle, Dogster, Fanpop, Gather, FanNation, LibraryThing, Rupture, and on and on and on).
But people don’t stay within a particular group all the time though. They travel between several cliques, sometimes adopting different persona with each one. That’s okay though, because they still have their own identity; it’s just their outward behavior and language that changes (OpenID, PeopleAggregator).
Sometimes people want to share their life story and crave an audience (Twitter, Blogger, Xanga, LiveJournal). That can be difficult because this is one loud party; but you’re bound to find a few single people at the bar if you look hard enough.
Other times, people need a little alone-time and privacy, away from everyone at the party. This can be both easy and hard. It’s easy when you want to just leave the party (log off). It’s hard when you’ve been at the party for a while, had lots of conversations, then are trying to hide. If someone wants to find you, they will (Google, Technorati, Wink). At this party, everything you’ve said can last forever.
It’s also easy just to sit back and people-watch at this party (Google Reader, FeedBurner, My Yahoo!, Netvibes, Bloglines). There’s a lot to see and your eyes may glaze over after a few hours. But you’ll also see some really wacky and fun sights.
Then what happens when bullies start to get abusive? It’s tough to police this party; it’s so big that almost anything goes. Fortunately, some kind souls are trying to help (EFF, Creative Commons). Much luck to them. There are lots of predators at this party. I hope they don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
And there you have it. The web as one big party. It’s a fantastic one that’s growing everyday. This warehouse is infinite, save for our imaginations. So come in and have some fun. Just don’t drink too much; the hang-over is killer.