On OAC Facebook, Keith Hart points us to Diego Basch's blog "Social Networks Implode Quickly" and asks if its conclusions apply to OAC? Here I will briefly summarize the argument and offer a few thoughts along the way.
Basch begins with the following points:
1) Metcalfe’s law. A social network increases its value faster than linearly as the number of users grow. Obviously it goes both ways. This is different from a content site: the content in Geocities or Tripod continued to be useful to individuals for a long time after authors stopped updating it.
2) “Coolness” factor. If your cool friends stop using Friendster or Myspace, you don’t want to use them either. It’s ok to lurk, but not to be seen doing anything. On the other hand, your Google searches may take you to content sites that nobody updates anymore. You can visit a Tripod page. No one needs to know.
But what is OAC? A social network or a content network? I'd say both—but not equally.
The content is variable in quality, but some is very good, indeed.I am not surprised that people continue to visit and sign up for the site. We have an attic full of all sorts of interesting stuff, as well as a lot of junk—a fun place to rummage around in.
As a social network, however, OAC is very weak. Why? Basch makes two more interesting points.
Concerning Twitter, he writes,
It doesn’t contain cultural artifacts with long-term value such as the lyrics to the Mr. Ed Theme. This means that if users stop tweeting, traffic will likely implode. Also, the barrier to exit Twitter is very low. Most of us don’t have that many followers, and we could easily “tweet” on Facebook, LinkedIn, app.net, etc.
Concerning Facebook, he writes,
It’s harder to leave because your friends and family are there. You could replace many of the people you follow on Twitter by a different set, and still get most of the same value. However, your friends and family are unique.
If I am right about OAC content, we have accumulated a midden of anthropological stuff in which cultural artifacts with long-term value lurk. But the barrier to exit from OAC is, alas, low. The ties that hold us together are (I borrow Max Gluckman's terminology) "thin." When I think of my friends and family on Facebook, I see immediately what Basch is talking about. These are almost all people I know in other contexts besides Facebook. Besides family, there are people who belong to our sports club in Yokohama, the chorus I sing in, the professional associations in Japan whose meetings I attend, members of Democrats Abroad, a political organization in which I was once very active. How many of us on OAC will ever meet face-to-face, sing or share a meal, organize a rally or take a walk together? I find myself wondering if there are enough members of OAC in the greater Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area to sustain a Meetup, like the one my wife and I will attend next week in Tokyo for those who enjoy Scottish country dancing.
I find myself wondering why I am still active on OAC? I enjoy anthropology. I enjoy writing about it. I enjoy being read. And, yes, I have met some wonderfully interesting people here. But there are other places where I can do these things. And I must admit that I find it discouraging to visit OAC and find that every day for the last week, the most recent blogs are, except for one, blogs that I have written. Talking to myself is not the point. Could it be time to move on?