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To take a now-outdated example, LiveJournal, structured as it was around the metaphor of a diary, became associated culturally with a certain mode of discourse.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.

Change as an engineer

For the longest time I thought that change is for the good, why would anyone make a big deal of change. Being in an industry where people work for years and years, I would always think of the “Oldies” as some sort of mental blockers in accepting that their landscape is changing. Their reluctance to accept new technology etc is something that we all know of but even people, they would be very skeptical to accept even new people.

On the contrary, they also know that, if we all resisted change all the time, we as designers of course would not be able to improve and advance technology.  Change is, without question, inevitably necessary to evolve our products, procedures, efficiency etc. If the guys making the first car would have never changed or evolved we would have amazing gas guzzlers that would provide 1 km per gallon and would cost a few hundred thousand, wait the American cars still do that. :)

Working in a similar landscape I realized that we engineers go through rigorous scientific process when making decisions.  We rely on experiment, trial, hard data, user experience, cost analysis, potential and future benefit, and product efficiency to evaluate new tools, products, and design flows.  As one can imagine, this often takes a hefty chunk of time and effort.  We engineers decide to put in the time and effort now, and plan on using the eventual choice for many recurring projects.  It is a significant investment for both the engineer and the company to evaluate and make these difficult choices.  The motivation for change must be painfully obvious and very compelling else the inclination towards it is not even there.

Like they say necessity is the mother of all invention, we believe that laziness is the key to all efficiency. Quite frankly. I can state maybe 2 examples to show this. One being my computer, where the shortcuts, look and feel, customization of menus, bookmarks etc are meant to maximize my computer using experience. And when I say that I mean get all my stuff with the minimum effort. Even the routine excel files that I use are all with formulas, etc to ensure that I am able to provide the required reports etc with minimal effort. Maybe that is why most of us DO NOT like anyone to fiddle around with our computers. Even the place where I used to live as a bachelor was a small 8sqm studio which was made up to accommodate most of my whims and fancies at that time. It was also an efficiency masterpiece to be able to enjoy all of my stuff with minimal effort. Again what might seem as laziness to a lot of people is definitely the efficiency of the process.

I also do believe that engineers do embrace change, but it takes  a lot for them to do so. Like it is aptly put there should be painfully obvious to make the change.

Engineers should embrace change if it provides an immediate opportunity to increase their own personal skill sets.   This applies to learning new software, new programming languages, new management techniques, and of course new design methods. In the industrial world, new products and materials can provide unforeseen improvements to high-tech designs.

The long-term gains available should be embraced by the engineer, given appropriate runway and deadlines.  This is where upper-management normally misses the boat. When all is said and done, the goal is to make money.

The Management’s mantra to lower costs is not entirely evil; it should be everyone’s goal to help the bottom line.  Again, the key is balance.  If there is a significantly cheaper option available, whether it be software, tools, or parts, it should be evaluated in detail by the company’s best engineers.  It is up to them to determine the technical capabilities of the new toy.

And these things are something that I am now getting to see while slowly moving up the corporate ladder. I wonder would it have made a difference if someone had spoken to me during my college days I mean made it more management type discussion then I might have adapted accordingly. Well that Is something of a discussion that needs to be taken another time. For the time being it is clear we as engineers are as stubborn as a donkey on some issues. And yes I am admitting it, finally.