Jun 23, 2007

Your Brand Is Not My Friend: Web 2.0 Unmasked - Part 1

NOTE: As most of you are likely coming to this post from Google search, links from other blog posts or my own lackluster PR efforts, I wanted to point out that "Your Brand Is Not My Friend" was originally written in June 2007. That's ancient history in web terms and so some of the ideas and notions expressed herein may seem outdated. (e.g. Facebook's rise and broad acceptance and Twitter's rapid growth all happened after this series was written.) That said, the main idea, that brands are not our friends, still holds true as do many of the other thoughts and notions. As for the rest, you can view it as a snapshot of history.

--Alan Wolk, July 2009

Part 1 of 3

When I was 27, I would have loved a site like MySpace or Facebook. I was single and childless, had a large group of similarly single and childless friends both from school and from advertising, and I actually cared what bands most of them listened to, what they’d done the night before, who they were sleeping with and what wacky pictures they’d recently taken.

Today, nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m married with kids, spend most of my leisure time at Little League games and PTA socials and have zero idea what music most of my friends actually listen to and don’t really need the details of their sex lives. As it is, my schedule is so tight I barely have time to keep up with them via the occasional email or phone call, let alone update a website.

Yet to listen to all the self-appointed Web 2.0 gurus, this is the wave of the future, it’s a matter of years before every single American- nay every single denizen of the planet- has a MySpace site and that hanging out on MySpace will replace watching television and anyone who disagrees with them is a fucking Luddite.


Only there’s one thing they keep forgetting: The whole world is not made up of people EXACTLY LIKE THEM. Let’s look at who your average 2.0 Guru is: a 20 or 30something graduate of a better-than-average college. Probably from an upper-middle-class background to begin with. Their high-pressure job doesn’t give them a whole lot of time to just hang out and socialize and even if it did, their friends and family are spread out across the US, if not the globe. Which is why MySpace and Facebook and even Second Life are perfect for them. There aren’t real live people living nearby they can connect with, so they connect with their old friends, virtually, online.

Who’s the other hard core user of these sites? Teenagers. My nieces and nephews (nieces, in particular) love these sites because they share a lot of the same traits as the gurus: They are overscheduled with the sorts of extra-curriculars they need to get into college, so less time just hanging out than they’d like. They love connecting in large groups. And living with their parents limits the amount of private time they have to socialize. So spending the hours they’re supposed to be asleep gossiping with each other on Facebook is perfect for them. And will be until they leave adolescence and the very extended version thereof that’s endemic to the American upper middle class.

But overall, I’m reminded of nothing more than the CB radio craze of the mid-1970s. Lots of people spent the better part of a year or two gabbing on them, making new friends, inventing a whole language (for those of you who missed it, that’s where things like “10-4, good buddy” and referring to police as “smokies” comes from.) And then just as quickly, it faded away. People got bored, they developed new interests, moved on, etc. Which is what’s already happening with Web 2.0: Adpulp just ran a story on how the “hip” geeks are moving on to Facebook now that MySpace is just “too popular.” And I will guarantee you that when the hardcore Facebook user gets married, has kids and moves to the burbs, his Facebook (or the successor thereof) account will fall by the wayside. If it hasn’t already, because, let’s face it, there are only a small percentage of us who actually enjoy socializing with large groups of people, either online or off.

Which brings me to my final point: most people aren’t living in a city they weren’t brought up in, thousands of miles from their closest friends. They’re living with spouses and children who actually get offended if they spend a few hours online, which is a solitary activity, rather than joining the rest of the family watching “American Idol.” Which mindless though it may be, is still a group activity.

So they’re not busy updating their Facebook site. Because their friends don’t really change. They tend to stay put after a certain point. And live locally. Which means they don’t care about their second cousin’s new buddy from work. Or that his kid is starring in the school play. They’ll find all that out at Christmas when they get around to exchanging emails. The friends they care about all live locally. And they don’t need to get online to find out what’s up with them.

Most people aren’t writing blogs either. Or reading them. Mostly because most people don’t like to write. Or read, for that matter. Especially things that aren’t escapist fiction. I’d even go as far as to say that most people find people who write blogs to be a bit full of themselves, and for the most part they wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

Tomorrow(ish), I’ll post Part 2 of this, which, now that we’ve established the less-than-universal allure of Web 2.0 will be all about the folly of relying on it to reach all but a very limited audience.

Part 2
Part 3
June 2008 Update (via Adweek)
The SXSW Video (July 2009)

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