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Facebook Metaphors: New Spatialism

I often compare Facebook to a large and impersonal shopping mall, with a lot of noise and the cloying stink of Cinnabon and cheap candles getting deep into your sinuses. Others use other metaphors, and ex-Facebooker Dave Morin is probably influenced by the value of his stock portfolio when he recently compared Facebook to a town:

Jessica Roy,  Former Facebook Social Design Evangelist Says Facebook Model Is ‘Self-Serving, Egocentric’ via Betabeat

The discussion started with this prompt:

[by Dave Morin, the founder of Path] Facebook has built the cities, they’ve built the town squares, and they’re more of a general social network, he said. Path, on the other hand, is more like the home, as if adding each friend is filling out your dinner table.

On Twitter, Mike Karnjanaprakorn–CEO and cofounder of Skillshare–added, “If Facebook built the cities and Path is building the houses, Skillshare is building the schools.”

Mr. Miller started a discussion about this approach to design on Branch, and Mr. Morin and Mr. Karnjanaprakorn both weighed in.

“The Internet is like the Wild Wild West. But over time, you can see certain infrastructures being put in place. AOL created the roads, Facebook created the Town Square, PayPal created the bank, Twitter created the newspaper, Path is creating the home, and Skillshare is creating the school,” said Mr. Karnjanaprakorn. “We still need a sheriff.”

Mr. Morin agreed. “I think Mike hit the metaphor on the head,” he said.

But then another voice chimed in. It was the voice of Mr. Fisher, whose former title at Facebook was “Social Design Evangelist.”

“On the contrary, Facebook is NOT a town square,” he wrote. “In fact there’s little sense of community at all. It’s centered on individuals and their friends which is a very self-serving, egocentric model that does little to help people actually work together, as would a town.”

Da-yum. That’s definitely a burn coming from someone a source says wrote Facebook’s social design guidelines.

It appears Mr. Fisher is building his own version of a town square, which is probably why he doesn’t like the idea of Facebook overtaking that moniker very much. His LinkedIn lists him as the founder of Townsquared, Inc., a ”social platform that helps organizations grow niche communities.”

I am interested to learn more about Townsquared, certainly, but this seems to be nothing more than entrepreneurs caught up in metaphorical chinese checkers; all of them are trying to jump over Facebook to some better, warmer, more productive social matrix, at least conceptually.

The mall metaphor works for me because I dislike malls and spend as little time in them as possible. But malls somehow seem to be filled with people, looking in the windows, checking each other out, trying on cheap shoes, and eating bad pizza. Or maybe the suburban sprawl metaphor (from 2009):

Facebook Is The New Suburbia by Hugh McLeod

New Spatialism:  Reclaiming Social Space In Web Media via stoweboyd.com

Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

As usual, when the techies start talking about online shared space, they lose their way because that haven’t actually studied urbanism, nor anthropology.

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    And not one person talks about the real problem.
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