iYomu: “Social Networking for Grown Ups”?

“Every single person working in the media today who experienced the dot-com bubble in 1999 to 2000 believes that we are going through the exact same process and can expect the exact same results — a bust. It’s déjà vu all over again. And since this moment in time is only the beginning of the cycle, the best nuttiness has yet to emerge.”

iYomu logo

It’s ironic reading those words by John C Dvorak the very day after seeing last night’s demo of iYomu, the “Social Networking for Grown Ups” website to be launched on 13 August. It’s also rather nostalgic.

iYomu is entering an over-hyped marketplace. MySpace is the biggest of the social media websites — pig-ugly and (last time I bothered with it) a tad unreliable. But it’s got 201 million users. If MySpace were a country, it’d be 5th-largest. Facebook is flavour of the month, “only” 11 million users but growing fast. Photo-sharing site Flickr gets 3000 new images uploaded every minute. They’re worth squillions. In theory.

Yet the vast majority of Internet users wouldn’t know what “social networking websites” are — indeed they can barely use email. And for all the success stories, there’s dozens of failures.

So as sharp-dressed Frances Valintine and a relaxed David Wolf-Rooney, both New Zealanders, presented their Vision to a small collection of eminent bloggers (plus me), I couldn’t help but wonder…

Will they become millionaires, or will it all crash and burn?

I also wondered how many times Frances would use the word space. I stopped counting at 15.

I’ll explore iYomu and report daily as it moves from beta to launch and beyond. I think it’ll make an excellent case study. If you’d like to join me and be eligible for the US$5000 prize draw, let me know and I’ll send you an invitation — though I’ll demand that you post at least one useful comment back and, if you win, buy me dinner.

(There’s also a Big Global Incentive to join once the site launches officially, and you’d be in that draw too, but that’s still a secret.)

There’s still one thing bothering me from last night, though. If iYomu is for “grown ups”, why doesn’t it have a grown-up name?

[Update: Check out this more detailed description from one of last night’s attendees. Saves me having to repeat the feature list. And also read my thoughts on why Facebook will beat both iYomyu and MySpace.]

Today’s Crikey fallout

I’m always intrigued when a mention somewhere else in the mediablogopolitisphere generates traffic back to little old me. Yesterday’s article in Crikey is no exception…

  • A friend wondered whether my current poll on the Haneef thingo is being run by Diebold. No, Bernard, it’s just that you’re allowed to choose more than one answer — that’s why things add to more than 100%.
  • I was amused to see my piece right next to an article on The Trouble with Triple J by broadcaster Michael Tunn, since I was the ABC staffer who gave him a briefing when he joined the ABC at age 17.
  • A PR firm invited me to attend a function tonight to see “a new social networking site for ‘grown ups’,” joining “six other bloggers who have an interest in social networking sites.”

More blog-fodder there, eh?

Oops, there goes privacy! So now what?

Most of the more enthusiastic web developers worry me. In their wild-eyed enthusiasm for the latest, coolest technology they seem almost oblivious to wider or longer-term implications. Nick Bradbury, creator of FeedDemon, a popular RSS reader for Windows, had an interesting take on this recently.

Back in 2004, I asked: “What are we actually building here? A lot of people in my profession wear rose-colored glasses and believe we’re helping to make information free to the world, but some of the early proponents of television believed the same thing. Are we really just building the next version of TV, one even more powerful because it knows your name and shopping habits?”

I thought I was being cynical then, but now I’m not so sure. Google continues to carve out a huge share of the Internet advertising market, in large part by figuring out what we’re paying attention to. The quality of the content doesn’t really matter to them — only the number of eyeballs they can advertise to does. Sounds a lot like commercial TV, doesn’t it?

So far, has the Web been better than TV, or just more targeted? And is it really worth giving up so much privacy in order to get it?

One of the biggest changes facing society right now is a massive loss of individual privacy. And one of the best introductions to the issues is Simson Garfinkel’s book Database Nation.

Garfinkel is a leading researcher in computer forensics, so he’s well aware that “privacy on the Internet” isn’t really about your email address being used to send you spam — despite that being the focus of most website privacy statements.

As he says in Database Nation:

To understand privacy in [the 21st century] we need to rethink what privacy really means today:

  • It’s not about the man who wants to watch pornography in complete anonymity over the Internet. It’s about the woman who’s afraid to use the Internet to organise her community against a proposed toxic dump — afraid because the dump’s investors are sure to dig through her past if she becomes too much of a nuisance.
  • It’s not about people speeding on the nation’s highways who get automatically generated tickets mailed to them thanks to a computerised speed trap. It’s about lovers who will take less joy in walking around city streets or visiting stores because they know they’re being photographed by surveillance cameras everywhere they step.
  • It’s not about the special prosecutors who leave no stone unturned in their search for corruption of political misdeeds. It’s about the good, upstanding citizens who are now refusing to enter public service because they don’t want a bloodthirsty press rummaging through their old school reports, computerised medical records and email.
  • It’s not about the searches, metal detectors and inquisitions that have become a routine part of our daily lives at airports, schools and federal buildings. It’s about a society that views law-abiding citizens as potential terrorists, yet does little to effectively protect its citizens from real threats to their safety.

Actually, you could argue that privacy has already been lost — we just don’t realise it yet.

It’s now impossible to drive anonymously across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Every mobile phone is a tracking device. Every web page you look at is logged by your Internet service provider. And a generation is recording every little detail of their lives in LiveJournal or MySpace or Facebook or whatever social media website will make all those look so last week.

My take on this?

Society will have to come to terms with the fact that everyone has skeletons in the cupboardthat joint they smoked, for instance. Roughly 1 in 7 of the men listed on birth certificates isn’t actually the father — but now routine DNA screening for diseases is uncovering uncomfortable bedroom secrets.

Many “bad” things are really quite common — they’re just not talked about. Our private worlds remain private. Or at least they used to.

We’ll have to get used to the idea that politicians, teachers, bus drivers — whoever! — are all flawed humans. We can’t ban those who smoked a joint or has “a history of mental illness” (depression affects 800,000 Australian adults a year) or committed a crime (copyright infringement is now a crime, you know) or there’ll be no-one left!

So long-term we might get a more tolerant society, with a more reality-based view of the world.

However in the shorter term I can see a decrease in tolerance. As new technologies reveal more of our hidden private worlds, people will be shocked to discover “all these criminals” and so on, and there’ll be a crackdown.

It could be an uncomfortable few decades.