A Brief, Incomplete History of my tryst with Social Networking (On the web)


So Krishashok reminisces about Orkut here. And sends me into flashbacks of the time when online social networking was just making its way into our lives. And of when we folks turned full-on addicts. And when I stepped away from it all.

I’ve been meaning to write about how social networking has evolved and how not all of it has been good, but there’s always been something lacking, something intangible I’ve found hard to articulate. This post sort of opens it all up for me.

Orkut hit NITK by the end of my first year. Bond was the first to succumb. Her accounts of Orkut seemed rather shady at first… it seemed like everything your mother had warned you against. But then, the cornerstone of any social networking site kicked in, and as more and more of my offline social network made its way to Orkut, I succumbed too.

Then we all went through a period of addiction. Posting on innumerable ‘Communities’. Creating innumerable communities on everything lame, deep and everything in between. Discovering new people, new connections. Scrapchats. We had never seen the likes of those before.

Soon we realized it was wayy too cluttered there. All the Toms, Ricks and Harrys we’d added in the initial heady rush were still our ‘Friends’ two years hence. And we couldn’t just ‘delete’ them, that would be rude. And spammers seemed to have taken over every single community. Our ‘Messages’ inbox couldn’t be more spammy. We needed a fresh start.

Facebook.

It was elite. It was cleaner. Not many people were on it, just your crowd.

I would have gotten addicted to Facebook the same way as I’d gotten addicted to Orkut but for one reason. Cisco’s Ironport, so nicely installed by our Sysadmin, Mr. PG Mohanan. A couple of months of no Orkut and no Facebook and I discovered I didn’t need those to go on living. Phew, thank heavens.

And then coming back to Orkut while apping… it was surreal. The communities were all dead, so were the profiles. People judging me by my juvenile three-four-year-old profile and communities made me feel I’d really really changed over the years.

But then, Facebook wasn’t that great either. It was full of weird games and quizzes. And much, much more cluttered than Orkut. I couldn’t quite figure how to fit it into my life. I don’t log on much. And I don’t feel the difference.

To be frank, Orkut was a great ride while it lasted. Yes. This is coming from a girl. And this is even including all the lovsip-frandsip requests anyone who marked their gender as ‘Female’ get.

I’ll tell you why.

It was open. It was free. It was wild. There were no barriers. No holds barred. You could be whatever you wanted. Unapologetically. You could always find your sort of crowd. You could belong while unbelonging. Really. That’s not just a cheesy line.

Everyone’s profile was there for everyone to see. So were their testimonials. It was really great to find out that the guy who partnered me in Physics lab had the same taste in hard rock as I did. While I previously would have thought twice or thrice before asking someone when their birthday was, now it was just public information waiting to be consumed. And OMG, my roommate was deeply influenced by the same books as me. And wow! I’m not the only one who thinks Dan Brown sucks?

Hmph, you might say, you can find out all this info if only you spent more time with these people face to face than being glued to your stupid laptop. But no, the world does not work that way. We all have our inhibitions. I don’t go around telling everyone what my favourite books are, oh hell, I don’t wear a placard advertising my likes and dislikes. I would tell if asked, but then who asks cheesy questions like ‘What sort of music do you listen to?’?

This mutual sharing of data sort of breaks some of the ice. And all the flaming you do on communities actually seems to build a weird sort of camaraderie. You know all the naysaying is not serious, because, hell, it’s online for godsake. And all of you are tied together by, well, belonging to the same ‘community’, some sort of a shared experience. It would be extremely normal in Orkut era to say “Oh yeah, you’re the Troll from that community, right? Glad to meet you, hi”.

And then privacy wasn’t our concern back then. Caveat Emptor held. Those losers who put out their addresses and phone numbers in public deserved every bit of what was coming to them. Orkut made no pretensions about privacy, and we didn’t have any delusional sense of security there.You were being watched, you were being judged, and you knew it. You didn’t put up any pics of yourself doing stupid things as far as you could. You deleted some very telling scraps. It was ‘privacy’ by cleaning up after yourself.

And the communities! People really let their hair down. And it was incredibly public. That made people more articulate, for some reason. Maybe because Orkut was text-heavy. Story-building contests. Long, long flaming threads. You could sink hours just browsing through them all.

Nothing I say can cover the awesomeness of browsing through a zillion profiles, unencumbered by privacy issues. It was some sort of people-watching, no malicious intent, no intrusiveness. The occasional frandsip request did happen, but what the hell. Random scraps from random strangers did happen too, but hey, that was part of the charm.

In short, it wasn’t anything like the real world. All your social norms and rules went out of the window here. And that’s what made it so wonderful. You met people. You got an idea of a world unlike the bubble you inhabited. No matter how swinging your lifestyle, you do tend to have a limited worldview, and a few established social norms and etiquette, that’s what makes your social life manageable.

And obviously we had no idea of what we had until we totally lost it. Along came Facebook, with its new-fangled privacy settings which you could use to cut out anyone who didn’t belong in your bubble. There was no more serendipity, no more randomness. All your social norms came back in, and for some reason that’s supposed to be a good thing. I mean, I found myself wondering if commenting on someone’s wall post would be appropriate since the crowd that had commented before me weren’t ‘my’ crowd. How WTF is that?

The medium is not text-heavy anymore. For some reason, that makes d’bags of perfectly wonderful people. When previously bad grammar would be laughed off Orkut as it was the sign of a frandsip-seeker, it seems to thrive on Facebook. For some reason, ‘Sameeeee!!!!11’ is acceptable.  That, to put it mildly, doesn’t go down well with a spelling Nazi like me.

And the lack of any thought behind all the words thrown there. Sure, there are folks have remarkably wonderful Walls, but they are a minority. Talking of walls, those come up again between people. There’s no ice-breaker, no wonderfully quirky profile that makes you add someone. So, well, Facebook is just like your real world, only more insular because there are no parties. And you find friends using some really useless algorithm, not serendipity.

The whole quirky edgy human aspect seems gone, totally gone, in the sanitized saccharine social networking site that is Facebook.

But then, there seems to be hope.

Twitter.

I like the place quite some. For one thing, you aren’t obliged to ‘follow’ people just because they are your ‘friend’ via some other medium, like, say, real life. It’s text-heavy, which means that you needn’t follow the ones who can’t spell if you don’t like that sort of thing. And Twitter is not yet, atleast in my circles, the sort of place where you simply must follow all your friends. It’s a pure meritocracy. You follow folks based on how interesting you find them. And on whether their pace of tweeting suits your pace of reading – I simply don’t follow folks who tweet copiously, like @mental_floss or @cracked. And again, there’s the headiness of no walls. Sagarika Ghose and Chetan Bhagat are brought down by some random Indian grad student, that’s the wonderfulness of this medium. And finding folks who you think similar to, developing a regular community. And for some reason a Tweetup doesn’t sound as creepy as meeting someone you know from Facebook or Orkut.

You find folks to follow using their social capital or whatever it is that comes of being retweeted by a zillion others. That’s the sort of meritocracy we’re talking about.

People for some reason seem more honest on Twitter. And weirdly that doesn’t seem to come in the way of privacy or anything. Maybe it’s just that there’s too much noise out there to be judging people… if you don’t like someone, you just stop following them, you don’t troll them… you have a better crowd to follow, always.

There’s also a predilection to more positive, happy, funny stuff on Twitter. That makes it a lot more enjoyable than a network where all you have is personal, social updates. There seems to be a bias in favour of humour on Twitter, more than on other sites. That the humour is personal only makes it a lot more dearer to the heart.

To sum up, Twitter>Orkut>Facebook. And I have absolutely no clue about the other sites, though I’ve heard a lot of good things about Friendfeed.

This is all by no means the complete picture. Probably people find Facebookers more articulate, and their Twitter network is full of updates about what everyone had for breakfast, I have no idea. At the end of the day, all social networking is about finding your niche. For that reason there are no rules out here, only patterns to infer from, and even those change all the time. The very nature of people is so diverse that whatever rules you infer, there will be a sizeable number of exceptions, enough to form the crowd on yet another social networking site. No one size fits all here. So if you find Zorpia the best place, I wouldn’t really disagree.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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3 Responses to A Brief, Incomplete History of my tryst with Social Networking (On the web)

  1. sg says:

    am i being referred to? 😉

    my call: orkut – 1st love but stained (read spammed)
    facebook – more sophisticated (read cleaner), fenced due to privacy policies and networked approach
    twitter – be yourself, source of info/current affairs/jokes etc etc
    not high on networking, atleast not two-way
    others – either too tacky or just zoned (not in terms of area) replicas

    btw thanks for bringing back memories, i might have grown out of it but “having been there, done that” always makes me smile!

    • wanderlust says:

      yes, it’s you who’s mentioned 🙂
      and you _can_ network on twitter, but of course not like you can on LinkedIn.

      it seems like it was a whole different life, this whole orkutting craze, glad that it happened, glad that it’s over

  2. S says:

    After all this, did you delete your Twitter account?

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