I've been on Facebook now for longer than I've had my current Gmail account, and yet I can honestly say I never saw much use for it before the last six months.
Part of writing about tech means that you are forever jumping on the latest social network, trying out the latest app, and trying your hardest to keep ahead of the curve. You leave a trail of login IDs in your wake, rarely revisiting the majority of things you sign up for. You are a serial early adopter.
Of course, the serial early adopters consider themselves elite, above the masses, and when the hoi polloi begin to join a social network, it becomes passé, signalling a time to move on to the next big thing. The problem is, however, two-fold with this approach to determining what's hot and what's not. Without the arrival of the masses, what hope does a company have for profitability? The early adopters are never numerous enough, nor loyal enough, to support a company beyond the intial uptake.
An Early Adopter Panics When the Mainstream Nears...
Even more importantly, though, is how useful an app or a social network is. No offense, but how many times am I supposed to interact with the same people on multiple social networks? My FriendFeed subscriptions look a lot like my Twitter follows, which are probably the same people I'm connected to on LinkedIn, and so on. Up until about six months ago, my Facebook friends list looked much the same.
Six months ago was when things started changing. That was when "the masses" began signing up, and suddenly, I was connected to my cousin in Florida I hadn't seen since she was less than a year old. I found a friend from first grade who now lives in Montenegro. I get to "talk" regularly with my best friend from college who's living in Mexico and my junior prom date who moved South.
I don't need to see the same updates on Twitter and FriendFeed and Facebook from the same people every day. The redundancy of information eventually becomes tiring. Adding in the perspective of the "regular" people outside the tech sphere not only broadens a viewpoint of how things are perceived, but also what's important in the overall scheme of the world, not just the insular world of tech.
So the next time you remark that an app has "jumped the shark" because the unwashed masses have started showing up, think about whether you want all of your daily social interactions to be in the narrow world of tech or whether you should appreciate a wider horizon brought to you by those who aren't as "hip" and "in the know" as you are. I signed my dad up for Facebook myself.
Read more by Cyndy Aleo-Carreira at Shakespeare I Ain't. You can find her on Facebook here and Louis is hiding here.