I love this social media stuff. But how much of it do I actually practice? Well, a decent amount as a blogger, I suppose. But I’m quite light on the social networking side of things. I don’t have a ton of friends lists all over all sorts of sites. I don’t have a MySpace, Virb, or Facebook page. Why is that?
I figure it is because I tend to use social media sites for my own convenience, not for the purpose of networking. In fact, I like the “collective intelligence” angle a lot more than the networking angle.
For example, I don’t use del.icio.us because I want to make friends. I use it first and foremost because I used to use three machines quite a bit… and many browsers on those machines. I hated not having synced bookmarks. What I actually used to do is put my bookmarks on an HTML page on my server. That way I could always navigate to them. Enter del.icio.us—now I just save them to my account and access them wherever I want.
But del.icio.us has this cool feature that allows you to see how many people have bookmarked a page. Click on that and you can see how they saved it… what tags they used… descriptions they left… etc. An example I like to give is that if you see someone tagged it as “inspiration”, you can—with one click—see what other pages have inspired that person. If they are into the same stuff as you, this can really help you find relevant content. This is collective intelligence.
I’ve never gone as far as saying, “wow, this dude has wicked cool bookmarks—he’s gonna be my friend.”
Another example is Flickr. The other day, I was looking for a nice photo of Trot Nixon to use on a forum. While searching the entire user base for photos tagged “trotnixon”, the one I actually ended up using was uploaded by one of my Flickr Friends.
I don’t use Flickr too much for the collective intelligence though… except around conference time. I use it for my own storage and really keeping in touch with people I already know via their photos. I’ve added people as Flickr friends after meeting them… generally not before (using the term “meeting” loosely here… I have friends I’ve never met).
Side topic: I hate that when you add someone as a Flickr contact you have to decide if they are a Friend… or just a contact. I realize there are some permissions-based features that go along with that, but gosh… I don’t want to add someone as a contact just to have them add me as a friend and then be like… WTF? That jerk? Also, I don’t want to add someone as a friend and then have me just be a contact. Then I just look needy…
So, I’ve never searched Flickr and thought “wow, she has sweet photos—she’s my new friend.” I had never done that on ANY site.
Well, until now.
I have gushed about last.fm since my buddy Nick got me to join. Now I adore it. I love the collective intelligence side of it. Just about every time and artist I haven’t heard in a while comes up on the shuffle, I command+tab over to the last.fm.app to see how many scrobbles (plays) that artist has. Generally, you’ll get some in the tens of millions. The really indie folks are under a million, generally. Every once in a while you get someone below 100k or even (gasp!) 10k. Lowest I’ve seen for a band that I listen to just like I would any other band (like, not friends of mine or something) is Calendar Girl, clocking in at a lackluster 287 scrobbles. In fact, I was their #2 listener last week (with a whopping five plays).
Last.fm is like fantasy football for audiophiles. Every Sunday, instead of checking out Tom Brady’s yardage, I’ll check and see what I listened to over the last week… who rose up my charts… who moved up my Top Artists Overall chart. Last.fm has a friends feature that lets you easily see what they’re listening to. I added Nick. Once I listened to enough music to allow the algorithms to make a good judgement, last.fm told me that Nick and I have “Very High” compatibility rating on the Taste-o-meter.
However, once I listened more, last.fm also presented me with “Neighbours.” Neighbours are not friends. They are the people in the system who have the musical tastes most similar to you. Think about this. Imagine if the whole world scrobbled their music listening. Imagine if you could find that one person in the world with taste just about exactly the same as yours?
Well, even if everybody in the world did this, I think I’ve already found mine. Sparky232221.
This one’s just plain freaky. Just about my entire chronic music-listening life, Teenage Fanclub has been my favorite band. They’re a Scottish quartet (well, three guys with revolving drummers over the years). They are my #1 artist on last.fm. They are Sparky’s #1. Another Scottish outfit, Mogwai, is my #2 artist. They are certainly my favorite among highly active bands (TFC is in the latter stages of a brilliant career that used to see them much more prolific). Mogwai is Sparky’s #3. Who’s Sparky’s #2? Why that would be Hoboken trio Yo La Tengo—who happen to be my #4. The only thing keeping us from having the same artists in our Top Threes is my obsession for The Arcade Fire lately (Sparky has The Arcade Fire at #30).
Not only is Sparky my #1 neighbor, I’m his. In fact, I’d like to see the algorithms results. He is so far ahead of my #2 it is not even funny. I introduced myself to Sparky (maybe we’ll call him Mark because—well—that’s his name) on his shoutbox with a ” Wow… holy… you have fantastic taste in music. :)” We keep an eye on each other’s charts now. It’s cute. It’s fun.
But finding that other person that is so freakily like you it is scary is not just bout “cute” and “fun”. I recently had the chance to do a teenie tiny amount of work for a Cambridge, MA startup called PatientsLikeMe. Their service does kind of the same thing, but for a far more noble cause.
PatientsLikeMe was started when Stephen Heywood was diagnosed with ALS. His brothers rallied around him, shocked by how little was being put into finding a cure for this terrible disease. Jamie Heywood became a “guerrilla scientist”—leaving no stone unturned to try to get to the bottom of the cause. Stephen Heywood, with friend Jeff Cole, started PatientsLikeMe.
PatientsLikeMe is a networking site for patients of life-altering diseases. It started with ALS and, in March, expanded to include multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. PatientsLikeMe allows patients to track their progress—weight, treatments, symptoms, how those symptoms were effected by the treatments, dosages, etc. All of this is then fed into an algorithm which shows them—here’s where the name comes from—patients like them. People going through exactly what they are. So much for feeling like you’re alone when you are faced with something like this.
Jeff and Ben are fantastic people and I’m watching the site closely to monitor their progress. Social media isn’t just all about meeting new friends. It can really be about changing your life—connecting you with people (not just information) that you never would have been able to discover before.
Essentially, the reason why the web was built.