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Calling Bullshit On Potluck

Everyone is talking about Potluck. I may be going out on a limb, but I call bullshit.

Nick Bilton, Sharing a Potluck of Links, Not Food

A new Web site called Potluck, by the New York-based start-up Branch, began this week, with the hope of simplifying both link-sharing and the chatter around those URLs.

Potluck, the Web site, works much like a real potluck, where a number of people bring dishes to a dinner party and everyone gets to sample them all. But instead of salads and casseroles, people share links with their friends, or friends of friends, and they can discuss why they like or dislike the offering.

Josh Miller, co-founder of Branch and Potluck, said one of the biggest challenges online was still meeting people you didn’t know but trusted enough to talk to.

“Today’s teens use social networks and only talk to people they know, which seems so silly,” he said. ”If you start a Potluck room, and a conversation about a link, everyone in there may not know each other. But like a dinner party, they trust each other because you said they were invited.”

Mr. Miller said he believed that the next big trend of the Web would be creating sites where you could “interact with cool people that you don’t know, or don’t know that well.”

I am unsold. 

90% of what I find interesting on Tumblr and Twitter comes from people sharing links, and I have a real investment in those cascades, because I curate my curators.

Why? I don’t think I have an unmet need to interact with random unknown people. After all, Josh Miller is not screening out the uncool, so after the surge of the glitterati it will be simply random people, even if they are the next door neighbor of somehow I vaguely know. My real need is to gather information that is critical to my ongoing research practice, ie living on earth in the present day. And as a side effect of that, I have been meeting really cool people already, in the normal course of events. They are my Twitter contacts, or the folks I follow on Tumblr.

Potluck has it backward.

My needs are much more intentional. I don’t want to wander around in a more-or-less random subset of the web, with the opportunity to chat about what I am looking at. I didn’t use Chatroullette, either, for not-too-dissimilar reasons (oh, and the penises).

And the stuff showing up on my Potluck is already trending toward bland rather than awesome:

image

I could care less about the Arctic Monkeys. Dachshund puppies? C-3PO rapping?

Everyone who runs a commenting system ends up killing themselves or shooting up a post office. - Andrew McLaughlin

90% of what I find interesting on Tumblr and Twitter comes from people sharing links, and I have a real investment in those cascades, because I curate my curators. In some cases that leads to conversation, but how much time can I spend conversing with people everyday about dachshund puppies, anyway?

Josh is obsessed with commenting systems, but he should remember what Andrew McLaughlin said, after taking over as CEO at the new Digg:

Everyone who runs a commenting system ends up killing themselves or shooting up a post office.

It’s probably no accident that I really dislike potluck dinners. There are usually way too many side dishes, never enough meat, and the food is generally way too cold.

Tumblr Edges Out Facebook With Teenagers

Gary Tan surveyed a bunch of teenagers about social network use, and manages to spend the whole article talking about Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, even when Tumblr caputures the largest use across the board:

Garry Tan, Tenth Grade Tech Trends: My survey data says says rumors of Facebook demise exaggerated, but Snapchat and Instagram real

I surveyed 1,038 people in two groups — those aged 13-18 (546 responses) and 19-25 (492 responses) and asked which services they used regularly (defined by several hours per week or more, multiple answers OK). 

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I find the growing adoption of Tumblr over Facebook and Twitter a really fascinating development. Since Tan didn’t ask much about what the kids are actually doing on these services we don’t know if Tumblr use is for ‘photos only’ and principally for hipster middle schoolers passing along other’s posts as Josh Miller’s teenage sister said recently.

Another proof in the works that Facebook is the new AOL. You’ll start hearing the stories about why Facebook should start buying media companies or a TV network, next.

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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