Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Human Botnets I

So in addition to tidying up sevensixfive.net, I've been spending winter break so far joining and messing around with social networking sites. I'm a little late to the party, but there are a few things worth pointing out. First the obvious: if Friendster is an overdressed and slightly pretentious college student, Myspace is a messy, awkward high schooler. Most of the people I know on Myspace, I first met when I was 16 (at Calvert High), most of the people I know on Friendster are other graduate students. Myspace makes it easier for users to post pictures and talk trash on each other's profiles, so reading someone's page is like being dropped into the middle of 10 different simultaneous conversations. The delays in posting give you just enough time to think up the perfect comeback and keep it rolling, it's like a slow motion party. Myspace is more fun.

But there's also something here that I want to follow up on, and this is a rough sketch of an idea that will hopefully be filled in later with a larger research project. The thesis is this: that there's something about the interlinked nature of social phenomena like weblogging, photosharing, tagged bookmarking, and networking that encourages a certain kind of behaviour. And that it is this behaviour that makes these community sites really attractive to entities like Yahoo! (bought del.icio.us in fall '05, bought flickr in spring '05), and Fox News Corporation (bought Myspace in August '05). Media companies aren't interested in these things just because they're popular, what's being bought and sold here is not just the traffic, it's the community itself. It's not the individual users of the sites, but the connections between them that are important. Those interconnections tend to encourage the users to behave like unknowing stealth marketers, hyping *stuff* in ways that are subtle and not-so-subtle, and this might not entirely be under our own awareness or control. In effect, we're behaving like Human Botnets, passing along little media viruses that are sometimes deliberately constructed to be distributed in these channels.

Human Botnets II
Human Botnets III
Human Botnets IV
Human Botnets V

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