Tomorrow MySpace opens up its platform to developers. While MySpace have inferred that they’ve learnt from Facebook’s mistakes, in that their platform will be more resilient to spamming issues, I still can’t think of a single useful or interesting application (either for MySpace or Facebook).
Maybe it’s just that the whole social network app-development isn’t mature yet. Or maybe it’s because the current crop of social networking sites are just pointless and inane, so any application built on them is doomed to be pointless and inane as well.
I’m sure this isn’t just because I’m an anti-social bastard, but it seems like the big social networks have absolutely no purpose to an individual user. The signal-to-noise ratio is ridiculous – it’s just marketers (whether they be bands or brands) hitting you incessantly with really bad marketing. It reminds me so much of UseNet in the late 1990s it hurts. It’s like being forced to listen to Barry Scott shouting at you about the benefits of Cillit Bang, on a continuous loop.
You see, social networking shouldn’t be the raison d’être of a site. It’s a feature. Add social networking to a site that already has a purpose and you might add value to that site.
One site that got it right is deviantART. To explain briefly, deviantART is an art site where you can create an account and upload your artwork/poetry (or just browse through other people’s artwork). You can organise your gallery with a brief profile and an updatable journal – so far so unexpected. The reason it works, though, is that the social networking is just a feature, albeit an important one.
You can browse round other people’s artwork and add pieces you like to your favourites. You can also leave a comment underneath someone’s piece of artwork (or on their profile). If you’re really impressed by someone’s art then you can watch them. Watching someone is like adding them as a friend in any other social networking site, but it has a purpose beyond popularity contests. Whenever someone you’re watching uploads some new artwork then you get alerted via a thumbnail preview of it.
In addition to this, there’s the expected discussion forum, chat application, etc. – but it all makes sense because it has a purpose. I’ve been a member of deviantART since November 2002 – you can see my gallery here – and there’s the difference: you’re not just looking at a page listing my likes & dislikes and how many zombies/pirates I’ve killed, you’re looking at a profile which is firmly centred around something – in this case, a gallery of artwork.
The very fact that I’ve been active on deviantART for over five years says a lot about its ability to retain my goldfish-like attention. The fact that last year I upgraded to a paid subscription (£15.18 per year, which allows you more customisable features and no adverts – and I’ll definitely be renewing that subscription) speaks volumes.
Now, if deviantART opened up its platform to application developers then that would be interesting – because once you have a platform with a purpose, then you can build something exciting and worthwhile.