When Social Networking Actually Works

Last FM is fun to the times!I am no fan of social networking in the form of MySpace, Facebook, et al. Why? I’m not exactly certain. I guess I just don’t like the idea of how I interact with my friends being delegated to a website’s feature set. Or maybe it’s just that it’s too super trendy and with each of these sites being so conducive to being flavor of the month, I hate having to keep track of multiple accounts or only having access to friends who use certain sites. Whatever, etc.

social network n.
: a grouping of Internet nerds

Secondly, in defining what the term “social network” actually means, I believe the actual translation is “group of Internet nerds”. The word “network” eludes to wires and technology hooking printers up to modems and cell phones into data plans. Indeed, even the adjective “networking” carries connotations more akin to IT professionals than making friends. I mean, since when did having friends become such a daily task. It used to be, you just got together and watched football or played Nintendo or drank beer when the moment struck you. Even with all the tick boxes and third party apps and “click heres” social networks provide, I still can’t do any of the things I actually do with friends.

To make short work of my point, while the word “social” inspires glasses clinging in toasts and high fives and pickup games of soccer, “network” only brings to mind work and staying in touch with colleagues and boredom. So, if it’s all the same with you, I think I’ll keep my “social” separate from my “network” for now.

Still, there are times when I think the idea of what social networks are trying to do could have the potential of making our lives better. The closest I’ve seen anyone get to this is Last.fm. They provide all of the usual bells and whistles – a blog, private messaging, etc. – because lets face it, the day you decided that you were going to start a blog you thought “Last.fm!” and every time you want to email one of your friends you’re just dying to dig into that proprietary emailing magic.

But sharing music is what put the revolution in “digital music revolution” and I’d argue it as important to the history of modern sound and culture as Nirvana or Woodstock. Once you’re a member of Last.fm you can import all of your Gmail (and a bunch of other resources) contacts, quickly seeing who is already a member of Last.fm and what their tastes are, at a glance, so that you can begin the whole experience with your already existing friends instead of starting from scratch with strangers. In about 15 minutes I had a network twice as large as what I’d ever bothered to amass on MySpace, Friendster and Facebook combined, but instead of doing all of this just to get annoying email messages and provide random Russian amateur porn stars to make lewd comments at me, I did it to broaden my musical horizons.

Now I can see what friends are listening to and how relevant it is to my own musical tastes, both from just looking at what they listen to as well as using fancy computer algorithms to introduce me to music I may never have heard otherwise. And where I can’t see any measurable results from most social networking sites where my life has actually been improved, I can definitely say that my iPod sounds a whole lot better from sharing music with friends.

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