Thursday, May 14, 2009

What are Social Networks Good For? How about Saving the Internet

Twitter is inanity, 140 characters at a time. Facebook is the world's most engaging and least profitable website, spending millions of dollars a minute so that people can bore each other with baby pictures. MySpace, already written off by the digital elite, is the lowest common denominator of online interaction, the cheesy strip mall of social experiences.

These are not necessarily my opinion- I'm condensing common criticisms, a distillation of the chatter these brands elicit on the web. However, I have recently begun to think that this activity, so far mostly untapped by frustrated marketers who are looking for a linear return on their ad spending, is what will ultimately redeem the interactive medium and fulfill the promise of this new platform.

Here's why: Trust is at the heart of all successful human transactions.

In an environment of password phishing, Nigerian scammers, Craigslist killers, and doing it for the lulz, we're going to need a way to measure our trust in those we interact with online.

Social networking sites, tools, and services bring a level of transparency, familiarity, and insight to those we choose to interact with. Thanks to his Twitter feed, I know know more about Rainn Wilson's family than I do the family two doors down on my actual street.

Facebook's worldwide membership numbers are approaching the total US population. Twitter's growth keeps accelerating, and LinkedIn has settled comfortably into the professional social networking space. I foresee a time when the average user will refuse to accept email or interact with an online entity that is not socially connected to them somehow, however tenuously, through the 'web of trust' they've constructed on these networks.

Who knows... if I make some friends in Nigeria, maybe I will actually encounter a deposed prince who needs my help in recovering his millions...