Friendster was the first site I noticed the “post a comment” feature now so prevalent on the social networking sites. I remember thinking it was a way for others to know what your reputation was (like eBay). Interesting, but no big deal I thought – I couldn’t imagine it being used that often.

Then MySpace came around.

For anyone that uses MySpace (or any social networking site), you will have encountered an interesting phenomenon: people post on each others profiles, with comments for the world to see. It’s as if they were having a conversation on stage.

A stalker could literally just keep refreshing a person’s profile page and know:

  1. what that person was doing at that time
  2. where (and the time) they planned on going out to that night or the weekend
  3. what mood they’re currently in
  4. who their real friends are (and what they think about other people)

I know what you did last night

…and everything else you might say to a friend in private. The difference with this conversation, in that anyone can see it.

I was a little astounded at why this happens. Why not send a message in private? But a bit of thinking, made me realise this is one of the key innovations – albeit accidentally – that makes social networking sites so popular. And it’s for a simple reason: the more comments someone has, the more apparent popularity they have. Popularity, indicates high social status; Higher social status, being one of the key drivers of humans in group settings.

And people are very aware of this. They know it’s all on show – and often, they will say things that publicly praise you – usually with the hope of receiving a reciprocal praising themselves. For example, a posting saying you’re studying, may be returned with a ‘you’ve always been so driven/smart/competent – keep it up’. There’s also the random comments, to give people a bit of exposure to other people that see that profile (like celebrity profiles)

Random postings on Nelly Furtado's profile

Social networking sites might seem like a new way of doing things, but really they just reflect how people operate in any social setting. Want to succeed on the web? Maybe should should drop the web development books, and readsome basic human psychology ones instead.