Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Social Networking Goes Mainstream

That's a paraphrase from some pinhead; as though social networking were the Web's dirty little secret.

Social networking is inherent to the Web, in general. Sure, there are sites (The Weirding is one) which are not necessarily inherently social by nature; many exist purely to provide information. But most, including The Weirding, were developed with social features in mind. Our own forums boards have been closed due to rampant spamming and no activity, but forums boards have been on their way out for years, thanks to chatrooms and (now) social networking.

Still, social networking has been as mainstream as the Web gets since at least about 2005, so that little quote is kinda stupid. Like Facebook and MySpace are some underground movement for the haute monde of the Web...

But the quote was in response to Google's announcement that they are going to offer "third-party" social networking, so any site can include a snippet of code which will allow users of their new Friend Connect function to share favorites and discuss them, etc. And though Google is, by any stretch of the imagination, a monopoly run amok, Friend Connect is a perfectly acceptable advancement of their search engine.

You have to understand that Web 2.0 was supposed to be about encouraging and supporting "porting." Porting is simply a term that means aggregating information from several sites and sources into one, generalized area, or portal. Yahoo! is the premiere portal and has been since around 1998; Google is, and always has been, a search engine - and now a monopoly.

Technically, it would be perfect form for Yahoo! to include Google search as one of its functions, since the former is a portal and most people use Google for search. Likewise, Yahoo! offers a Facebook module (very similar to other sites' "apps," modules are rarely actual functions in and of themselves, but port other sites' functions to the user's page) because it is one of the premiere social networking sites.

Under My Yahoo!, one can collect RSS feeds from blogs and sites which offer them, so they can read entries without leaving their user page; include their Facebook module to see if they have any mail, or activity on their profile; pick and choose news feeds, weather reports, horoscopes, TV listings, and more; send all his mail to his Yahoo! address and see it in a preview box; and much more. This is what a portal is and is supposed to be: an aggregate, allowing a user to collect all his personal profiles and information into one, convenient place/page - a personalized webpage allowing him access to all of the many sites and functions he uses across the Web.

Friend Connect is yet another of Google's ploys to move into the portal arena without actually doing so, yet I have no problem with Google "porting" itself into a portal; I have a problem with Google buying up the Web and becoming a single-source for everything. That Google offers IM is great; that Google offers its own IM is a monopolizing tactic. That Google offers video search is wonderful; that Google owns YouTube is not (you can substitute blog/Blogger in this one, too). You feel me? But Friend Connect - at least ostensibly - is nothing like any of this.

Friend Connect will allow we webmasters to copy and paste some JavaScript to our pages which will then allow other users/visitors access to a series of social networking functions - including galleries, invitations, message "walls," and more - without ever leaving the site. Actually, this is more Web 2.0 than portals, since we all want visitors to stay on the site itself rather than only visiting when changes have been made, and I commend Google for their bold step away from the Darkside.

But Friend Connect is far from innovative; similar functions and applications have been available for years. One such had a name like "StickyNotes" or something and went all the way back to at least Win98, if not 95. An EXE program each user installed on their own computer, it allowed users to leave notes behind on a website for others with the program installed to find when they visited. Recently, Trailfire offered much the same through a browser add-on. Still, Friend Connect is boosted by the Google brand-name - or is it?

There is no question that Google is a monopoly, regardless of what anyone else says; it neatly checks every box beside each criterion. There is no question that Google's business practices are decidedly Evil: self-serving to the point that they oppress and harm others and Google cares not, so long as it prospers. The question then is whether or not Friend Connect will be boycotted by those of us who despise Google's oppressive monopoly.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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