People keep asking me “What went wrong with Friendster? Why is MySpace any different?” Although i’ve danced around this issue in every talk i’ve given, i guess i’ve never addressed the question directly. So i sat down to do so tonite. I meant to write a short blog post, but a full-length essay came out. Rather than make you read this essay in blog form (or via your RSS reader), i partitioned it off to a printable webpage. If you are building social technologies or online communities, please read this. I think it’s really important to understand the history of these sites, how users engaged with them, how the architects engaged with users, and how design decisions had social consequences. Hopefully, my essay can help with this.
I do want to highlight a section towards the end because i think that it’s quite problematic that folks aren’t thinking about the repercussions of the moral panic around MySpace.
If MySpace falters in the next 1-2 years, it will be because of this moral panic. Before all of you competitors get motivated to exacerbate the moral panic, think again. If the moral panic succeeds:
- Youth will lose (even more) freedom of speech. How far will the curtailment of the First Amendment go?
- All users will lose the safety and opportunities of pseudonymity, particularly around political speech and particularly internationally.
- Internet companies will be required to confirm the real life identity of all users. At their own cost.
- International growth on social communities will be massively curtailed because it is much harder to confirm non-US populations.
- Internet companies will lose the protections of common carrier which will have ramifications in all sorts of directions.
- Internet companies will see a massive increase in subpoenas and will be forced to turn over data on their users which will in turn destroy the trust relationship between companies and users.
- There will be a much greater barrier for new communities to form and for startups to build out new social environments.
- International companies will be far better positioned to create new social technologies because they won’t have to abide by American laws even if American citizens use their technology (assuming the servers are hosted outside of the US). Unless, of course, we decide to block sites on a nation-wide basis….