Facebook Fatigue and other trends for 2008

In this week's Phoenix, ace Red Sox amigo Mike Miliard looks into his crystal ball for 2008:

Hey geeks: all that online talk (nine billion Google hits and counting) notwithstanding, “Web 3.0” won’t be happening any time soon. And even if the anticipated advance to the next technological level was imminent, the growing consensus is that any blogger using that awful neologism should have his broadband connection yanked from the wall with extreme prejudice.

Regardless, just as it has every year of its existence, the Internet will change in 2008 — growing and evolving in its complexity and convenience, its reach and its risk. The most recent big leap, of course, came three or four years ago, with the introduction of new-generation Web services that facilitated interactivity and multimedia using wikis, podcasts, social networks, photo-sharing, online mapping, video/mp3 blogging, syndication, and more.

What can we expect next? There’s now nebulous chatter about another quantum advance of computing power. The looming evolution/revolution has been described in terms both practical (simply leveraging “Web 2.0” technology for newer, advanced service and content) and fantastical (an Internet, quoth the New York Times, that may learn to “reason in a human fashion”).

Mike senses Facebook Fatigue:

I’ve been friended. I’ve been poked. I’ve had my Super Wall scrawled upon. I’ve been bitten by zombies and invited to bite others (thereby, presumably, turning them into zombies, as well). I’ve been invited to locate world capitals on a global map-quiz game, and to join something called “Six Degrees of Separation — the Experiment.” I’ve been notified when friends use the friend finder to become friends with people I’m not friends with. I’ve been notified when friends send messages to people I don’t know.

I’m exhausted. It’s enough that I’ve got two dozen blogs to check in with every day, and a Red Sox message board to load and re-load, and an online music-discussion group to take part in — never mind three e-mail accounts to check, and, uh, actual work to do. Now I’m supposed to hew chunks from my day to engage with this endless procession of worthless Facebook applications?

First, it was Friendster. I joined in 2003, diligently filled out my personal info, and uploaded what scant digital photos existed of me at the time. Then, several months later, after Friendster had fallen out of favor, I had to do it all over again at MySpace. Then, in late 2006, Facebook opened up. Once more into the breach.

My gripe with Facebook — besides the fact that it’s the third social-networking site I’ve felt compelled to join during the past four years — isn’t so much the people I barely know flooding my inbox with friend requests. In fact, that’s a small price to pay for a site that’s helped get me in touch with a few college friends I hadn’t seen in years.

It’s more that interfacing with Facebook has begun to feel like homework. Perhaps it’s my ever-advancing age, but my eyes literally cross as I scan my profile trying to figure out WTF I’m supposed to click on next. At last count, there were more than 10,000 add-ons available on the Facebook Platform. Anecdotal evidence suggests I’m not the only one with Facebook fatigue. Yes, some have predicted the site is worth perhaps $15 billion. And Wired magazine rhapsodized recently that its “social graph” innovation may have “defined the future of the Internet.” But on, Corey Doctorow predicted that the site’s imposition of “socially obligated ‘friendships’ ” would hasten its demise. And one commenter had another prognostication: “If Facebook partners up with any more of their patently ridiculous outside applications, they will collapse under their own weight.”

And he notes the trend of e-mails from the great beyond:

On Wikipedia, there’s a page called Deceased Wikipedians, which features photos and remembrances of some of the site’s late contributors. There’s also one, ominously, called Missing Wikipedians. It lists dozens of people, known only by their screen names, who, for reasons unknown, haven’t been heard from in months. One user told me of a high-profile administrator who hadn’t posted anywhere since September, which is not like her at all. “People,” he said, “are getting very, very worried.”

As we spend ever more of our time on the Internet, the off-line pageant of life and death continues as it always has. It happens sometimes: folks you recognize from the online world only via a screen handle could die and you wouldn’t even know they were gone until you realized you hadn’t seen them proffer any Interweb wisdom in weeks. Back in 2005, one poster on a Red Sox message board headed to New Orleans to help with the Hurricane Katrina recovery. He then virtually disappeared for months. And months. And his e-brethren became concerned.

He turned out to be okay, thankfully. And we hope the Wikipedia admin will too. But in a world where friendships are forged and conducted entirely online, there is clearly a communication gap, in which those unable to log on (read: who have passed on) will leave their online friends wanting for info on their safety and well-being. Or there was such a gap, anyway, until a new wave of sites, including Letter from BeyondYouDepartedmyLastEmail, and Post Expression, were launched.

These sites, which the New York Times recently noted fill “a macabre niche in the online economy,” allow you to send “e-mails from the afterlife” (which you compose while you’re still breathing) to an address list of preselected contacts. Besides making it easy for the dearly departed to inform heirs about wills, insurance, and the like, the sites’ biggest draw may be the ability to let your online pals know why you’ll no longer be weighing in on the big games. As more and more people spend more and more time making more and more friends on more and more Web sites, expect these services to get more and more popular. As the motto for Post Expression puts it: “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

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