I should begin this post with the disclaimer that I am not a member of either of the most popular social networking sites, MySpace or Facebook. Depending upon your definition of "social networking," I am a member of Ning, Pownce, del.icio.us, Flickr, Twitter, LibraryThing, Dopplr, and probably a few others I have missed or that I have forgotten about. I use all of them with varying degrees of frequency.
Some of these sites have another purpose, but offer social networks as a bonus. For instance, I see Flickr as a place to store my photos where people can see them, point, and laugh. While I do use Flickr to literally see what my friends are doing, I do not think that is its main purpose for me. The same thing is true for LibraryThing in relation to books and del.icio.us in relation to links, but there are some tools that are trying to be competitors of Facebook and Myspace.
The two that I have tried recently are Ning and Pownce. I am ambivalent about both. Each have some issues that make them a bit irritating. They also do not do anything so special as to warrant me remembering yet another set of usernames and passwords.
I first joined Ning, not for any of the multitude of librarian groups, but for the Houston Serious Games Consortia. I signed up, briefly messed around with the settings of my page, and added information to my profile. All of that seemed straightforward. I added a couple friends and then forgot about it for a couple days until I received an invite to join another gaming group.
This is where I encountered the serious flaw of Ning. Every time you join a new group you have to make a new profile, including page background and biographical info, even though you sign in with the same user name and password. Why Ning can not figure out how to keep your information intact is completely beyond me. I was so irritated at having to reproduce the exact same thing simply to join another group, I have not been back. The only benefit I can imagine to this set up is that you could invent a new personality and look for each group you join. I do not think most people have the time for that repetition.
Pownce is another network I have recently joined and almost as quickly abandoned. When you join, you receive 6 invites. A brief advertisement on Twitter of my new found wealth soon depleted my shares. For a day we all traded invites, gleefully set up accounts, gathered friends, and then waited for something fun to happen.
And realized that Pownce is relatively useless. Though Pownce gives you the ability to send files, all of its other functionality is better served by other tools. If I want to send out a quick question, “Anyone know of a good audio editing tool on the cheap?” I will use Twitter. I think Twitter's reply and display function runs circles around Pownce. If I want the world to ponder my thoughts, I will write a blog post and I can share pictures on Flickr. The only interesting thing I thought Pownce did well was its ability to create an event and allow people to RSVP, but you can always send an Evite to serve that purpose.
It has been awhile since that day we all sprung like felines on a shiny new tool that ended up being less useful then anticipated. I am reminded why I do not have a MySpace or Facebook account. They are just not really for me. I think there are a lot of people for whom true social network tools are just not a good fit. As someone who normally loves all the shiny new toys, it is nice when I am reminded that we all have different needs and tastes in the technology we consume.
Next time you have 6 invites to something, try it out a bit and then offer the invites with your impressions of the tool. Give your friends the inside scoop on the tool before you all fling yourselves headfirst into something entirely useless. First find out if it is worth the jump.