Flickr: All the Social Networking I Need
A long time ago, I used to work at a company that specialized in social networking, although they wouldn't say it like that. But there's been all this talk of social networking being a staple of the web 2.0 world, and I believe that it's true... in a way. In order to spawn one of the believed pillars of 2.0, user-generated content, one needs community. However, as I've gone along on my own for the past month or so, my views have changed on how complex social networking is and should be.
Let me bring it to you from Facebook's old standpoint, or at least the one I remember. There was always the discussion of structured data, its causes being something I referred to when I was talking about ClaimID and LinkedIn:
One of the things I valued greatly was [...] [the idea] of information flow. While I won't go into depth of what that means, I'll pick out the part that went, "people like to provide and share information about them that's relevant." Of course it's paraphrased, but I hope you get the idea. Let's use myself as an example.
So people wanting to share relevant information with each other leads to the creation of structured data. Makes sense right? But then let's bring you back to reality. There are some limiting factors when it comes to providing data about yourself. If I asked you to tell me about yourself, would you be able to write lists upon paragraphs of information about you? Unless you're one of those individuals that has mastered the art of the autobiography, then you probably would hit a few blanks. Hell, when I was asked what Avalonstar is and what I do at WebVisions, all I could come up with was, "uh.." Sometimes you can't come up with the words, or maybe your explanation would be over the head of the people you're talking to.
Now, translate that to say, a profile. You might not remember everything about yourself when you're filling out a profile or you might not even care to divulge that information. So then, the social networking service has already started to fail you, because you're not providing the required data to get the most of your experience. So you have: name, gender, birthdate - sure that's easy enough. Then come fields like: favorite books, favorite movies, and the ominous about me box - yea, don't have enough time for that. Or, I could lie about it.
What makes Flickr so different? Dare I mention the old cliche, "a picture's worth a thousand words"? Oh wait, just did. Well, let me put it this way, ever since I got a camera and started using Flickr more, it has become an important part of my daily routine. To divulge for a minute, it's very hard to assimilate new things into my routine and the last service to successfully do that was Quicksilver. All those web 2.0 "we'll make your life easier" services? Google Calendar? Nope, doesn't happen.
Back to the subject at hand, Flickr is the best social networking tool out there, because frankly, people love to take pictures and capture memories in a visual manner rather than a written manner. For example, I would have loved to take a hundred pictures at WebVisions and post them up as my wrap up with little or no textual backup. You would have eventually discovered the context and would have been able to see what I was doing or experiencing (and hopefully get a good laugh out of it). As far as my work is concerned, I can show you my work as opposed to describing it.
Sure, one could say that Flickr is the social networking service for people who are too lazy to type, but then I'd talk about tags and descriptions which would send that "one" off to a corner crying. Let me give you another example. I wasn't able to make it up to the city to see Business 2.0's goodbye party for my friend Om, but Scott Beale of Laughing Squid was there (and is usually at any party). Through his pictures, I could get a sense of what went on and get views of the party that no written post could ever describe - unless it included pictures. I learn what people's loves are through Flickr. Would you have known that I was a rotary freak if I never posted about it? If she never posted about it, would you have known that Lea Alcantara went on a trip to Johnson Lake? I even find out about new programs and services through Flickr (usually thanks to Chris Messina)!
It's not just social networking for me, it's my way to keep up with the world forgotten - and it's doing a better job than any other social networking service out there.
I don't think I've been able to come to a nice and complete final point like I usually do, but I think you probably got the picture by now. Forget about filling out and reading endless profiles, if you need to know straight-away what's going on in your friend's lives, make sure they have Flickr. Oh and make sure to tell Paul to thank Caterina and the rest of the crew. ;)