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Are Social Networks Diverging Culturally?

One thing that makes social networking a unique and unpredictable topic within the tech world is that, in a more direct way than other computing products, they reflect the influence of their users. The infrastructure and design behind them maybe draws a certain type of user more than others to begin with, but they quickly develop a culture or cultures of their own.

To take a now-outdated example, LiveJournal, structured as it was around the metaphor of a diary, became associated culturally with a certain mode of discourse. People spilled their emotional feelings, perhaps to excess, and LiveJournal became caricatured, fairly or not, as a haven for oversharing, rumor-mongering emo teenage girls.

The recent explosion of interest in Pinterest, if you’ll pardon the rhyme, has been more gendered still, with the front page at any given time resembling a women’s magazine. Whether this reflects something about the “pinboard” format or is merely a historical coincidence of crowd behavior is hard to untangle. On the other end of the spectrum, Reddit, Digg, and especially Slashdot cater to a primarily male audience of hardcore technology enthusiasts. LinkedIn is obviously the most gender-neutral, with a notable lack of personality that is quintessentially corporate: everyone needs a job.

The most successful social networking sites, Twitter and (especially) Facebook, have created the perception that they are each a permanent phenomenon with universal appeal. But is this so? We saw this anxiety play out in a big way surrounding the Facebook IPO: not only concerns about the company’s advertising model, and thus revenue stream, but this idea of, will the crowd move on, as it did with Myspace?

There is a certain element that social networking sites will always share in common with other social phenomena like fashion, parties, trends, which don’t stand still but move with the

Facebook has gone, in my short lifetime, from a substitute dorm-room where we could all reminisce about last night’s vodka shots, to a vast, family-friendly site that attempts to encompass all potential users from child to grandma, and thereby has risked alienating the original early adopters, students, who flocked there from Friendster and Myspace.

Twitter has picked up some of the slack in this regard. Its content and users noticeably hipper, snarkier, and more “plugged-in” than Facebook. Anecdotally speaking, many of the most trend-setting people I know have long ago dropped square old Facebook for snappy, fast-paced Twitter.

For those of us who think strategically about such things, it’s important to monitor the intangible differences of flavor that have cropped up within the cornucopia of social networking options. Most normal people simply do not have the time to make a sustained commitment to 17 different social sites at once, and so as they choose what “scene” attracts them, we’re bound to see this evolution continue.

This is a guest post by Aniya Wells. Aniya Wells is one of the most passionate writers you’ll ever meet. Though her writing interests run the gamut—from personal finance to health to current events and more—her primary interest is modern higher education. She serves as a reliable online degree guide for students considering taking advantage of the conveniences inherent in distance learning. Don’t hesitate to contact Aniya for questions or comments at aniyawells@gmail.com.

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