What “Never Ending Friending” Means

Ever since NewsCorp put out that self-aggrandizing study on how MySpace is the best place ever to buy advertising, I’ve been thinking about what it means. The study was designed to double monthly advertising revenue from $30m to $60 and so much of the methodology is about brand identification and how well MySpacers react to banner ads versus flash ads etc. However, buried in the company’s Press Release and tucked away in the study itself are a few gems that I think further one of my theories about how Millennials need and use Social Networks.

Take this quote for example from the PR:

”MySpace has thrived as a global community driven by self expression, discovery and connection of now more than 100 million people around the world who use it each month,” said Chris DeWolfe, CEO of MySpace. “Users are empowered to create and share, build and maintain relationships and in the process have created an entirely new medium that is deeply integrated into their everyday lives. Smart marketers know how to… meow meow meow [buy ads].

But did you catch that? I gotta say, that’s pretty true, Chris DeWolfe. Users are empowered to create and share, build and maintain relationships and in the process have created an entirely new medium that is deeply integrated into their everyday lives.

But why…

Not everybody on MySpace writes a blog or uploads pictures. Ditto on Facebook. In fact, much of the new functionality isn’t even taken full advantage of. About 17% of people who use YouTube upload video to the site so no, not nearly everyone goes to “create and share”, a great deal of them go to be a voyeur and spy on LonelyGirl15 or giggle as a Czech wedding devolves into a catfight. But a vast overwhelming majority of users do make personal contact to some other individual.

The social scientists in the room have told me that I need to investigate the impetus for this behavior and recognize that human behavior needs are universal. We are tribal. We travel in packs. We are social. Telephone usage wasn’t a new behavior for our species, it was a easier mode communication for a world where individuals and homesteaders were pushing the edges of the town square out beyond the rings of farmlands. The loneliness that this isolation brought had been answered just earlier with the “tent revivals” of the the Second Great Awakening – essentially, the technology was serving a vital need that other things previously served.

In this post over here, I explore how Chinese netizens are filling ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘MirII’ because, as Chinese social scientists believe, these games are not of gore but of wits and team-building and winnable battles – these games give the teenagers something society, and especially the rigorous test-based schools do not: freedom.

The post I link to above gets all big and heady and builds to a Lessig-like crescendo about how the internet makes real some of the thought experiments by Locke and Montesquieu about ‘strong relationships’ (SocNets) actualizing ‘infinite history’ and ‘shared consciousness’ (Google).

But the point is that in America now, young Netizens are filling social networks. Why? What are they escaping from? What are they replacing online that is missing in their lives?

For American youth, I would suggest we’re desperately in need of lasting relationships.

Look again at some of the Fox Interactive Media study findings.

The first question examines the effect of social networking on alternative media consumption. Social networking leads us away from a solitary activity like video games and TV, but it makes us engage more with social technologies such as a cell phone.

Yes, social games like sports games and Halo2 on networked consoles are social but this study suggests that social gaming makes up less than half of hours per week gaming.

This next image from the MySpace study lays out how we are more interested in engaging in social experiences in our time wasting than non-social experiences. We’re social beings, and the technologies we use allow this engagement.

Also, radio is dead meat.

Marketers and campaigns should take away from the report the enormous value of social engagement. Technology that allows us to interact with each other, and especially social networking sites enable social serendipity (from an old MIT report {2004} that was way ahead of the curve). If you want your campaign to ever translate into a physical action in the real world, such as voting or working on a campaign as a field volunteer, a virtual-to-field hook is needed to transition social engagement onto the streets for when the candidate or the Union needs to pull the trigger on some action.

Anyway, my hypothesis is out there: Americans are going online to build lasting relationships and strong social networks because this vital thing to our species was starving and being killed.

For facebook especially, it seems to me that the website serves to alleviate the common undergrad or high school senior anxieties of disconnection from circles of friends.

I think danah boyd wrote some time ago about the loners versus networked teens in relation to identity production and identity retention. What I took away from her essay was that the driving teenage anxiety might be fear of being disconnected.

I also heard about a study that stemmed from a class of child actors who in class were asked to create an alternate personality and deliver monologues as the character – and nearly every child moved themselves to tears with stories about imagining themselves being orphans. All of that underscores that we are social creatures and we are a pack species.

Again, I suspect also that cubicle job life, exurban home life, each kid in the family having a car, etc. is making us more isolated than we want to actually be. Everything from single-sized food items to iPods are driving us away from the pack for the sake of increased profit.

Before the days when every house had a printer or digital cameras even, you had to go to a PhotoMat or a Kinkos and, god forbid, interact with people. Our media is driving us to be alone.

Informational overload is also making it impossible to keep track of your life. Plus, the most important thing to keep track of is your friends. Ironically though, our media is driving us to be alone. We are therefore turning to new media to reconnect and stay in touch with our pack.

It is no wonder then that the most loved websites on the planet, be they for entertainment, news, advocacy or politics are multi-channel community websites. Websites that empower emergent systems of decision making, positive feedback loops, and community sharing are vital and highly trafficked. I’m thrilled that Advomatic builds them.