Is Social Networking a Tragedy of the Commons?

I’m starting to think so. They’re pretty cool. They let you share yourself and your life with your friends. You find out more about them, they find out more about you, you swap cool stuff. Life is good.

And therein lies the problem. Life is so good that everyone is saying, “Gee, let’s start a social networking sites.” So more start. Then the originals come up with cool ideas, plug-ins, upload-your-address-books, etc. so everyone will stay on those original sites. They make it really easy for all their members to invite still more members.

The Commons here is any given member’s free time to spend doing social networking. At this point, I’m on Friendster, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and some “friends” have uploaded my name to Plaxo and Cardscan, who are now clamoring for attention.

The problem is that I enjoy social networking, but six sites? Give me a break. I’m lucky to have 10 minutes a day for these sites. Unlike many of my 21st century counterparts, I like doing things in the real world(*), which limits my online time.

Sadly, I’m now at the point where I ignore many new friend requests. I ignore it when my friends send me a “vampire bite” or electronically “chest thump” me. It would be fun to play, but there’s just too much coming at once. Picking and choosing is a necessity.

As more and more players decide that building community is the way to go, people will either ignore new communities or will have to devote less and less time to more and more communities … thus making those communities more shallow and less satisfying.

Where will it end? I’m curious to find out. My guess is that over time, we’ll have a couple of major social networking sites. The smaller sites will die off, and a few specialized communities will stick around. But which will vanish and which will survive? If you’re smart enough to figure that one out, give me a clue so I can buy stock today.

(*) How ironic is this for a kid whose social life was exclusively online until age 16, in an era when no one was online, so I was endlessly teased about it.

Will the Tragedy of the Commons doom social networ…

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