Friday, June 22, 2007

Of Orkut and statistics

Its a stale topic by now, I presume (like most others that I write on). The social networking craze that has bitten our generation has already been laughed on, mulled over and then taken seriously a year ago. Pundits are now focusing on the next level, its merging with user-defined content (Google interfacing its Blogger, Youtube with Orkut, and Facebook allowing users to create small third-party apps like SuperPoke that run on the Facebook platform). But my fascination with the phenomenon still remains. What did these do right that MSN/ Yahoo messengers didn't? How have these changed the way we behave, and appear to others? Here are my thoughts.

Let's start with the obvious. Like any other new application, Orkut/ Facebook/ MySpace (henceforth referred to as SN, phew!) initally work on the novelty factor, that's especially important for our generation. We want to be cool, to be seen doing the latest things. So when SN came calling, we jumped on. But we stayed on, surely because it offered us something we didn't have before- a virtual presence. MSN gave us a chance to keep in touch with friends, but SN also gave us identities. The reticent, offbeat ones among us got a chance to express themselves in a unique way. And yet, there was reliability in those identities (not Orkut, but others are pretty strict with fake profiles)- so the stories of the guy next door falling in love with a 19-yr old Russian chick on Msn, who actually turned out to be a bored middle-aged housewife in Bhillai, soon were a thing of the past (no, that didn't turn out to be me in the end).

But now that I think of it, theres probably more to it. I think SN worked because it was made for an important trait that we possess nowadays- busi-ness. We dont sit and stare- we ipod and surf. And SN is an efficient way to keep in touch with everyone- reply to scraps/ wall posts at your own leisure, or let everyone know at once that you are travelling next week. And I suspect that the entire profile photo thing gives us a virtual feeling of being close to our friends and being in touch with them. A lot of SN does work on visual imagery- again something that the earlier messengers lacked.

More interesting than the cause of this phenomenon is its effect- SN will prove to be a boom for advertisers and scientists studying word-of-mouth and other social phenomena. Isnt it fascinating- just looking at how 2 random people are known to each other (6 degrees of seperation) has become so much easier!- what's your friends network for? How often you speak to friends, how do cool ideas get passed on, how do the latest movie reviews get exchanged? the answer is in your scrapbook/ wall, pal. Advertisers surely are rubbing their hands in glee.

SN is going to change the way we understand social dynamics by providing itself as a tool for a novel purpose- the quantification of human social behavior. And wait, it might still get you the love of your life :)