Rohan Jayasekera's thoughts on the evolving use of computers -- and the resulting effects

Occasional thoughts by Rohan Jayasekera of Toronto, Canada.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Welcome to Web 2.0; wanna be my friend?

Unless you’re a complete hermit, you occasionally have to deal with strangers who want to befriend you for one reason only: so they can make money. Multi-level marketing is one source of that, but it’s been going on so long that you’ve likely developed an “is this multi-level marketing?” analyzer in your brain that starts up at the slightest hint and won’t stop until the question’s been answered to its satisfaction.

“Networking” is a more recent one, and unfortunately deciding between the good and the bad is often not so easy. In modern societies connections are much more fluid than in the past, and now that the era of the “permanent job” is ending, networking becomes an essential requirement for making a living. So networking isn’t so easily tuned out. (I’ve been a huge fan of Tom Peters for over 20 years, and it shook me to the core when I heard him say that everyone needed two skills and one of them was networking. I don’t even remember what the other one was, because it was something I decided I had and consequently didn’t need to worry about — but I knew that networking wasn’t my strong suit.)

Enter Web 2.0 and its “social networking”. In any social network, whether it’s a small interest group of people who like to knit scarves in the shape of a brontosaurus (“all brontosauruses are thin at one end, much much thicker in the middle, and then thin again at the far end”), or a huge ocean of pseudo-friendship like MySpace, the cost of reaching out to a fellow member is low. There have always been “joiners” who join every club they can find so they can meet more potential customers for insurance policies or whatever, but when meeting people requires actually going to a meeting it limits the amount of such activity. Online, reaching out promiscuously has little cost, and doing it in some quantity, perhaps even with a bit of personalization, is a trivial matter. Interest in email, a medium that’s largely meant to be person-to-person, is declining thanks partly to all the spam, and social networks similarly risk pollution levels that make the environment inhospitable. Women are at the forefront of this because of all the friend requests from men.

(I realize that there are many people who want as many online “friends” as they can get (“thanks for the add”). I’m not talking about them. I also think that their interest is a temporary phenomenon that will largely disappear once the novelty wears off and people realize that collecting 2000 “friends” is too easy to be worth any bragging rights.)

This post was prompted by a friend request I received from a fellow member of a social network who was looking to promote his new Web 2.0 venture. Not intrinsically a bad thing, but:
- he provided almost no information about what the product will do (“it has to be experienced”);
- all I can do now is to sign up to be included when the “alpha” starts up in future;
- he’s almost certainly never launched a product before (for instance, I’d be joining a beta, not an alpha); and
- it’s called Hypesphere. When hype is considered a good thing, count me out.

He’s not trying to get at my money, but he is trying to get at my time, and I only have so much. Request deleted.