Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

There Goes the Virtual Neighbourhood

The medieval walled town of Carcassonne, France. Image: ©2009 Julie Galante/This non-American Life.  Reproduced with kind permission.

The internet is a fickle mistress.  Virtual real estate that is hot property one minute becomes an online ghost town the next.  Communities on the Web are impossibly new, but they already operate like walled medieval villages, with their internal rules, pecking orders, varying systems of etiquette and collective psychologies.  They follow life cycles that seem to last about 5-7 years, and those periods of online vitality are getting shorter all the timeThe Chronicle for Higher Education recently reported on university computing administrators who are mulling over the drop in popularity of Second Life.   Not long ago after its establishment in 2003, Second Life became the virtual interactive suite, where people were setting up shops, having affairs, and, in the case of the administrators, building virtual campuses.  Besides the fact that the administrators' target audience - potential undergraduate recruits - congregate elsewhere online, part of what's soured the administrators' opinion is that Linden Lab has upped its rents.  From the Chronicle report: "Anaheim, Calif.—Officials at one discussion session here at the Educause conference yesterday spent an hour debating whether or not they should relocate their campuses—taking all the buildings, quads, and people and carefully moving them elsewhere. The focus of the session was virtual worlds, and the academics were discussing whether to take their virtual campuses out of Second Life in protest, after the company that runs the online environment announced the end of a generous education discount."  Second Life's main competitor at the moment is Utherverse (homepage here), which was launched in 2010.

The satirical blog Stuff White People Like, which makes fun of trendy North American Caucasian urbanites, talked about fashionable virtual neighbourhoods when users migrated from MySpace to Facebook in the mid-2000s.  From the SWPL entry on Facebook:
"it is important to remember that the 'where' is often as important as the 'who' when it comes to social networking. As noted in earlier posts, white people are obsessed with being in the right neighborhood and the Internet is no exception. In the early days, white people joined a social networking service called Friendster where they could connect with old friends and make new ones. Eventually, white people started to notice more and more of their friends on MySpace, so they closed their Friendster accounts and migrated to the new service. It was like living in a neighborhood that was pretty good but kind of far away, so you might have to miss out on a few parties. Needless to say, this was unacceptable.

For a brief period of time, MySpace was the site where everyone kept their profile and managed their friendships. But soon, the service began to attract fake profiles, the wrong kind of white people, and struggling musicians. In real world terms, these three developments would be equivalent to a check cashing store, a TGIFridays, and a housing project. All which strike fear in the hearts of white people.

White people were nervous but had nowhere else to go. Then Facebook came along and offered advanced privacy settings, closed networks, and a clean interface. In respective real world terms, these features are analogous to an apartment or house with a security system/doorman, an alumni dinner, and a homeowners association that protects the aesthetics of the neighborhood. In spite of these advances, some white people still clung to their old MySpace accounts. That was until they learned that Facebook started, like so many things beloved by white people, at Harvard. Within a matter of months, MySpace had gone from a virtual utopia to Digital Detroit, where only minorities and indie bands remain. If you plan on befriending white people, it is essential that you join them in the digital suburbs and open a Facebook account immediately."
That was then (2008), this is now.  The Facebook cracks began to show began when Twitter launched in 2006, but Twitter hasn't proven to be an acceptable substitute.  Then there were complaints about Facebook being a massive tool for harvesting information and violating privacy (which is all it ever was). For the first time since its launch in 2004, Facebook's popularity has begun to slip.  The Facebook movie, The Social Network, released at the beginning of October, hints at the possible back-stabbing that went on at Harvard during the site's development and founding.  Recently, a report popped up on the Web (for example, here) that Zynga, the maker of Farmville and Mafia Wars games aps on Facebook, is worth $5 Billion and by 2015, Zynga will be worth $10 Billion; on Twitter, @Swadeshine aka Wade A. Iganamort wrote: "How come I'm not reading anything about criminal & civil theft charges for Zynga?"  Now with critical reports spreading (like this one and this one) there's a growing feeling that Facebook isn't as desirable a location as it used to be, and many of its users are huddled together like a herd of heifers in a thunderstorm, waiting to bolt for the gate the minute it opens.  You can almost smell the edginess in the virtual air.  The members are twitchy but have nowhere to go.  Even the ones that are oblivious to all this and are happily wallowing in Facebook socializing will get twitchy when they notice that some of their friends close their accounts or leave them inactive in favour of some new internet location.  Will Facebook's new foray into e-mail messaging quell these attacks of nerves?  Google, the main rival, has come up with the alternatives Orkut and Google Buzz, but neither has reached the full attention of the bulk of Facebook users - yet.  Another competitor, Diaspora, released a beta preview in September 2010, and launched in October 2010, although it doesn't have its sea legs yet. Diaspora was set up by NYU students and claims to prioritize privacy.

See all my posts on Real Estate.

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