Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Tribe.net (my main social networking service) have started something called "The Tribe 25". Twenty five people you "should" get to know.

I was curious about this move to the cult of celebrity so started a discussion on Social Software Intellectuals

Today, I got my ideas together, responding to good replies by Scribe, Angel and Ami-Sun:


I don't think Tribe 25 is "lame" exactly.

I think it's "interesting", sociologically. And I think Scribe is totally on the money on this one.

Any sort of market, including a link-economy on YASNS, has a certain kind of centralizing / accumulating tendency (the "pareto" or "power law" effect)

And, to a certain extent, such concentrations of wealth create a kind of potential difference which can drive the behaviour of the system. If the rich are allowed to accumulate wealth, they start to spend it and stimulate other economic activity.

Now, net-net I believe this is an illusion. It's only because we see so much energy concentrated in one place that we think that it's been "created" by the central hub. (The entrepreneur has "created" wealth rather than just brought it into one place.) In fact, it was there all along, but diffuse, and the centralization has just made it more visible.

Nevertheless, centralization changes the landscape dramatically. If wealth is centralized in one place, it's easier for certain *other* agents to tap. Easier to sell luxuary goods to the rich. Maybe there are secondary effects. Does an unequal society with high-spending super-rich actually consume more than a thrifty, more equal distribution? Maybe.

Now my bet, is that Tribe think they'll "create" a certain kind of energy by creating central hubs of fame. A few months ago I got the idea that celebrity gossip mags, and "reality" shows like Big Brother were actually a kind of vicarious social networking. You don't social network yourself, but you become obsessed by watching the spectacle of social networking habits of others (who's in bed with who? Who's at a party with who?)

As the notion of wealth shifts from *having* capital (and owning stuff which flaunts this) to having social connections, and flaunting those, there's a new discourse of power.

This is also in-line with the prediction in the under-rated book "Netocracy" ( http://www.epinions.com/Netocracy_The_New_Power_Elite_and_Life_After_Capitalism_by_Alexander_Bard_and_by_Jan_Soderqvist ) which suggests a social split into an elite of networkers and a "consumtariat" of losers. Here's the money quote :

"The rules will change, but the constant underlying message of the curators to their net citizens will be simple and unambiguous: you can never be good enough at communicating, you can never let yourself rest, you must constantly be ready to jump, constantly be ready to learn new things. Thus a new set of masters will seize power ..." page 191

We all know social links are the key to wealth, power, success etc. in the netocratic age. For a brief moment, YASNS sold us the illusion that getting social links was going to be really *easy* : a quick message and immediete link gratification.

Now we know better. Turns out, most of these links are worth next to nothing. Some are valuable enough that the whole game is worth-while, but there's always the sneaking suspicion that we might find better or be doing more with our networking.

Now, tribe offer us a simulation of succesful networking. Here are some "celebrities" who've got their networking "working" (at least they've captured attention from Tribe) They offer a whole set of aspirational images : that maybe, if we only work our "profiles" better, we too might get that boost from the Tribe publicity machine. Or maybe if we were only a bit "cooler". Or if only we could get connected to the right people.

So, the genuine quest for social links, gets turned into a vicarious watching of other "stars", trying to learn how to emulate their behavior. And maybe soon we're all just playing "Fantasy Tribe", spending our time watching other people's social networking success.

Not saying it's happening yet. Maybe its all just a cheap publicity experiment. (I just noticed that, actually, today the Tribe 25 ads seem to have disappeared from the right-hand gutter.)

But it might be the herald of a new order within YASNS.

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