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31 Jul


The geek / non-geek split in your social network (and why old media feel so stale)*

July 31, 2007 | By |

Recently I’ve noticed again a certain, shall we say: split in my everyday life, which I’m sure some of you are familiar with. It’s a number of related splits, really.

And no, I’m not talking about the kind of work/free time aka day/night split most people feel in their offices at times. Rather, I’m talking about the split between online and offline persona in the sense that a certain part of my friends and peer group shares both, while others share only one or the other. While some of my friends are very active online in different roles, partly for work, partly for fun, others are rather non-wired. Which is fine, of course, nothing bad about it, but it does create certain interesting situations. (Particularly when of one them wires up and discovers a blog post of mine or something.) We’re talking parents here, partly, but also former work colleagues, student friends, and what not.

But there’s a second split, too, and that’s the the split between my peers in Germany and those abroad. As I’ve lived in the U.S. (very briefly), in Australia (slightly less briefly) and in different places in Germany (not at all briefly), many of my friends simply live in different places, consume a different media mix, do very different stuff in their daily lives than my peer group and friends who are physically around here. (I’d like to point out at that point that there’s no qualitative difference between these different relationships, or if there is, then it’s tipped towards my friends around here.)

This is very obvious in the kind of media I consume, or chat about with friends, just to give an example. For example, I was talking to my friend Findy in Sydney maybe six months back and she was totally hooked on Heroes. In Germany, Heroes hasn’t even been on until now. (Is it now? I don’t even know.) In effect, when a show airs here, I’ve usually heard my friends abroad talk about it for half a year and it would feel rather stale to watch here, even more than TV does usually. I guess I’m not the only one who has that problem.

So what does that mean? Regular media completely and utterly fail to address me and many others as a target group. When I want to talk about a TV show or movie with friends and can’t get it in the movie theater or on TV, well: Here come the tubes. (Isn’t that the dilemma old media face in just one sentence?) That just as a side note.

Then there’s a third level of that very split, and this is (in lack of a better term) the geek/non-geek split. Within my social network, there’s a certain gap in geekiness. (Is that even a word?) While on the one hand I discuss the recent developments of the social networking sphere or the pros and cons of Pownce (add me. or need an invite?) versus Twitter (add me) with West Coast folks, in Germany I’m asked quite regularly how blogs work, what tags are, or if Wikipedia articles can really be edited by anyone. And what was Facebook again? Ahem. You see the difference.

(Of course I’m exaggerating. But you know what I mean, right?)

This isn’t bad, of course, just non-parallel development and a slower (more healthy, maybe?) adaption speed. To those of you in the industry (or the Valley, for that matter) this will sounds pretty amusing, bordering on ridiculous – mind that Germany isn’t exactly a low-tech country. Quite the contrary. But there’s very different adaption of certain things than in the States – take mobile web services, for example: While in U.S. tech circles, it’s standard to have web-enabled mobile devices, and overall in the U.S. it’s at least not entirely uncommon, there’s hardly mobile web use in Germany as of now. (Hardly anywhere except the U.S. and Japan really, as far as I know, but I might be wrong on that one.) On the other hand, text messaging has been ubiquitous in Europe since the late 90s. My point is clear? It’s different, the basis on which tech-related issues – among others – are discussed is very different.

Of course it’s all the more fun when you see those different networks connect at some (often unexpected) points.

And then, while I’m in the flow here, there’s one fourth split – although I’m not sure it belongs here: If you go to one end of the scale I just drew up, the very connected, geeky, wired end of the spectrum, you’ll end up with all those folks who sign up for all kinds of web services and social networking tools just to check them out. (Either because it’s part of their day-to-day work, or because they enjoy it. For me, it’s both.)

There, you’re on a growing number of social networks, microblogging platforms, instant messengers and what not. Which means you connect to your usual suspects, plus a few you meet just by signing up. (Like those who invited you, or those who you invited.) To some, you connect on several networks, creating a dense layer of connections. To others, just one – if you don’t check that one regularly, you might lose touch quite quickly.) At times, it feels like there’s a whole bunch of networks that overlap, but don’t always connect very well. (I’ve started to feel that way between Pownce and Twitter, for example: Pownce seems more powerful, but I’ve grown fond of Twitter. A geek’s true dilemma: Friends or features? Just kidding.)

So why can’t we properly take our social network along? Why isn’t there a really good way to transfer our online identities and connections? (There’s some solutions for this, of course, some services, and a bunch of ideas. But I haven’t seen a single one that has really convinced me or that is really widespread.)

Why am I talking about this at all? It’s been on my mind during a couple of conversations lately. So I’m really curious: How do you go about it?

  • Please excuse the title – if I find a better one, I’ll put it up. Promise.