I was recently asked why I created this blog and what I hoped to gain out of it. This really got me thinking and I’d like to explain my thoughts with a post.
Before, I get into the specifics of this blog, I think it would be beneficial to take a very brief look back on the history of the internet and how we got to this point. It is hard to imagine that the internet is only just over a decade old but has changed so much. I’d say the internet really went mainstream around 1996 and before long AOL had taken over a great portion of how people would connect.
In 1996 we would all log in and visit random websites but really were searching in the dark. We would type in a term, get a bunch of pages and just click away with abandon. Then along came AOL which put everything in one particular spot which we could use as our starting point. I think it really became popular due to the “chat room” functions and allowing people to start communicating with each other.
It looked something like this:
This worked well for a few years but as connectivity became easier, AOL lost it’s edge. Then came the portals such as Yahoo which offered the same thing but more bells and whistles.
Lycos, Google, AOL, Geocities and so on fought for market share and then the dotcom crash happened and the internet really had no new super interesting new applications for a while. Then Google takes off but we still had no great way to communicate with each other.
At this time I created a new static website but again, there was very limited functionality for people to interact. It was also very cumbersome to continually try to update static links. So, I switched to Movable Type which made things easier but still there was not much interaction with the readers except for a comment or two here and there.
The first website I can really think of that allowed people to connect after the chatrooms would probably be classmates.com. You could look up your old friends but it was still not very interactive and all you could do was read their information.
Then came Myspace. At first, people were a bit reluctant to put their personal information and pictures online but in time it started to take off. Just when it was reaching it’s peak the whole Facebook phenomenon happens and over a period of about three years it seems like everyone is on it.
This brings us to today and the current issue is the privacy settings engulfing Facebook at the moment. If we think back, it wasn’t long ago that people were mistrustful of the Facebook as a whole and not sure if they should put pictures and personal information up or not. Now, FB is trying to bring together many other aspects of the web into their fold and the privacy issue starts up again.
Now, for the interesting part of this post, where will the internet go next?
If we look at what Facebook is at it’s essence, it is simply a way for friends/acquaintances/family and so on to connect with each other. That is why most people signed up and the way they want Facebook to remain. Yet, the internet is ever changing so now we have businesses wanting to use Facebook for commercial reasons, applications to be able to expand their usage and even companies trying to understand more about their employees.
Yet, it would seem the users are more comfortable with keeping the circle of “friends” kind of tight and for Facebook to remain true to it’s original intentions. To skirt around this Facebook created “Facebook connect” which you can see on the left sidebar of this blog. The purpose is to pull in other aspects of the web into the FB “hub.” Some people don’t mind this at all and some take issue with it as they do not trust the dreaded “third party” monster.
But, if we look at what people are doing on Facebook, many are sharing articles, expressing their opinions and trying to use it for more than just a simple “hello, how are ya,” to their friends. It would seem that many users want it both ways but to always retain their privacy but also pull outside information into their closed Facebook network. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out but it is my bet that the internet will start marching towards more of a blog type “starting point” for individual users instead of centering everything simply around a network of friends. This network is just a small part in what can be done in the internet so that begs the question, what among all the applications of the internet use as an acceptable launching point for users?
Further, the framework of FB isn’t very conducive to building a complete profile that one might want to create due to it’s spartan, controlled design and the fact that things we post will eventually disappear into the void as time goes on. The comments we post to friends, articles we share and things we write ultimately go away!
Again, FB at it’s essence is just a way for people to keep in general contact with each other. Yet, we all have other interests we would like to develop but FB is just not the best platform in which to do so for reasons mentioned.
This is where I think blogs can play a major role. It allows people to be more expressive without the fear of clashing with their own “real life” friends. There also may be things that you would want to allow anyone to read which is not possible in FB as the network is closed among friends.
In the case of this blog, my interests lie in international experiences, cultural studies and world news. I realized that I had a major network of international people that thought along the same lines and many of which were expressing these opinions in a limited way through FB. They would post some topic, garner a few comments and then it would soon disappear. The FB format just isn’t suited to developing ones interests the way a blog can.
Now if we look at a blog, it’s strong point is that it can bring together people to discuss and communicate on a certain interest but lacks the general social network that is very easy in FB. We now have Google Friends and FB connect but Google Connect isn’t very popular and people are perhaps afraid of connecting with their very personal and private FB accounts. There has to be a happy medium somewhere.
My thought with this blog was to first, pull together my international friends who like to write and give them a forum to do so. Then add the social network functionalities and see what happens. As this blog is on the internet and not closed in any way, (it is not constrained by the FB parameters) it could eventually attract more people who find this subject matter to their liking.
So what is happening is this:
1. People have their social network on FB
2. With blogs we are starting to be able to connect a close network (FB) with a certain interest (blog)
3. Other websites, businesses are also jumping on the FB connect idea with limited success.
So the question is, will the user “starting point” remain Facebook or will it eventually shift to something else? In other words, is FB the center of gravity around which every other aspect of the web revolves or will something else come along and pull FB out of it’s orbit?
One interesting site that combines blogs and social networks is Ning . This is a very cool idea but as of yet I don’t think it is very popular. Also, it has been rumored that they will start charging a fee for the service in July which is anathema to many internet users. Yet, I am able to add this blog to the service and should Ning take off in popularity this would be a very good solution.
In closing, the reason I created this blog was simply to bring together “international people” and give them a very easy forum to express and share their opinions, cultural experiences, takes on international news all from their own unique perspectives. Currently, FB just isn’t suited to the task and it remains to be seen if another service will gain the popularity FB has. In either case, I’m sure whatever solution does emerge, I’ll be able to link this blog and continue building a community of smart, interesting, international people and this excites me.