Social Networking Websites Don’t Democratize

I’ve been thinking about the comment that Louise left on this post. I realized that I didn’t consider social networking into my answer because I don’t feel that it is a democratizing force online. For me, this issue of democratization is wrapped around power and access and social networking websites do neither.

It all starts with content. On the web, content is analogous to real estate in the real world. The more content you own (and the higher the quality) gives you more power to throw around on the web because it shows expertise and drives an audience. It’s the reason why everyone reads Russell Davies’ blog and not mine. Social networking websites, I feel, don’t encourage the creation of content, rather they encourage you to categorize yourself based on content you consume like those favorites lists and so on.

Since there is little content on social networking sites, it’s closed off to search bugs from Google- though it may also be due to IT magic. However the point is that Google is the gateway for information and if content from SNS websites can’t be retrieved then it’s useless. This is the information age and power is partly derived from having open access to information.

And lastly, the point of SNS websites is not to make new friends, but to keep in touch with the ones you already have. We did a survey at R/GA once to measure behaviors on Myspace and Facebook and we found that making new friends was ranked near the bottom when we asked what they usually do on those websites. The way we use these websites infers that SNS websites don’t necessarily have the reach and influence to be a democratizing force all on its own. However, that doesn’t mean we can change that behavior so that we can use it to garner power.

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