This rant is simply about how sucky the whole social-networking scene is. This is nothing to do with free software apart from the fact that they do use lot of free software while making such sites.
Most of FOSS professionals or professionals from the IT landscape have quite a bit of social-networking sites. The idea simply being if you are A and you have a friend B who has a friend C you can easily make friends with C . One can read Benkler’s ‘Wealth of Networks’ or “The Long Tail’ and books like those to get an idea what the basic is all about. As far as ideas go, its great, its implementation which is sucky. I am going to take 3 sites which need to do some stuff and they could be way better.
a. Linkedin.com :- This is one of the suckiest sites I see. The latency on this site is insane. I do not know why there is need of so much latency. Something in their implementation is way horrible. The site is hosted in US and I have been too many sites in the US (specifically North America) which are rendered in my browser from within a minute to 3 minutes. This site I just have to curse.
b. hi5.com :- This is another of those sites which is a mee-too thing. It seriously lacks a sense of direction. From the site you don’t really come to know whether it wants to make itself a serious, business-oriented social-networking site (like linkedin.com) or a dating and more generic social-outlook site (like facebook.com) . In the end one is just left confused. It needs to find its own identity.
c.Facebook.comn :- The darling of everybody. The good points of it are the site loads up fast, the privacy infrastructure has improved much better (in part due to all bashing they received at various social media forums) and generally is good.
Where it fails though is its USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Facebook has two basic USP’s one is the dating scene and the other are apps and both have serious problems. The dating apps. have been rumored to have false identities and those that are there, there is no incentive for either party to itneract with others. Apart from some virtual points there is just not enough motivation. The problem is also that the points can only be redeemed within that specific app. only. If you want to people to be motivated, it would be nice to be able to redeem points anywhere within the facebook ecosystem. That would make for far richer and far complex interactions (if one looks at it as some sort of gaming concept). One of the other interesting things which hasn’t been tried is p2p virtual calling (chat just doesn’t cut it anymore ) . I’m sure there would be number of more suggestions from people in improving the service.
The other big grouse is that there is no rating of applications to know which are good or bad. While rating on user experience should have leverage, in a hosted environment its the developers of the ecosystem who can take shots on the code being used within the system. So they should also call shots on telling apps. developers on how secure and lean their code is . They would well do to be transparent about it with the public as well .
One of the biggest grouse is though an application I love . There are few books apps. such as Visual Bookshelf . Its a great app. but there is one singular problem. I don’t hang around facebook much. I would have loved to have many more ways to interact with it. One way could be to add books remotely, either by an SMS or by having some kind of Firefox add-on . Also it would be so nice if there was a way to display all my wanted books on my site. There could also be possibilities to have geocaching although they would have limited audience in India but would be nice addition.
d. Digg.com :- While this one is not a social-networking site, its based from the same idea, the same root . The suckiness is exemplary here as well. They could have done well to have copied the work done by yahoo as far as categorization goes (too few categories) and used tags (like wordpress does) . The problem with digg everytime is that under what category should I put the article and many a times I have to make some lame choice.
Of the three social-networking sites mentioned above, facebook is a bit bearable atm, the rest of the two god only knows. The other thing which bothers me is that the data is locked in all these networks. For e.g. you meet somebody on either of these social networks, say linkedin.com , now as its a web-service you can never depend on it. I have to either invite him to some other social-network as a backup or initiate contact with him/her so there is an e-mail contact as well. The unsurity factor (whether its technical/technological or business cycle of the site itself ) makes it more bothersome.
There is also another problem. If I do invite him to some other social-networking site it has to follow the similar taste. I cannot invite my linkedin.com to facebook and vice-versa for the following reason
A. I do not want either for them or for myself to know of their dating habits or whatever else they do in their social life or way of living when we are work contacts. Clear separation .
B. Finding sites which have similar tone of service and service guarantees are hard.
So whle social-networking have definitely given more opportunities to people, they still have lot of bugs to work though. I could have covered quite a few more of the issues but the problems are that the real-world implementations leave much to be desired.
Commments, suggestions and feedback appreciated.