In the early days of the web (circa 1994) a few geeks would spend countless hours writing code to create their homepages. Very few people would care, but the joy of crafting a space that would reflect a piece of their personality was a reward in itself. A few days ago I watched a friend of mine update her MySpace page and realized how the same obsessive attention to detail was put into adding widgets, updating content, uploading pictures, linking to other content or leaving comments on her friends spaces. What I found really interesting is the fact that she would’ve never even come close to the geeks back in the early days, yet there she is today, spending probably more time on her page than I did on mine back then.
In my previous post, d√©j√† vu, I pointed out the heavy influence that a drastic change in the demographics of web users will have on the web as we know it today. The generation of geeks that created their first pages in the 90’s likely grew to become professionals of the medium and went on to produce some of the great sites out there today, but it is only over the last few months that it has become socially cool to have your own page and since not everyone is equipped to do it as those geeks used to, sites like MySpace are attracting millions of cool teenagers by simplifying the process. Of course we’ve seen a whole generation of users adopt this habit throughout the “geocities” phase, but we have to admit it was still just an elite of savvy internet users that was able to create their own page.
According to Stefanie Olsen from CNET News.com, American teenagers are spending 72 hours a week using electronic media:
An estimated 68 percent of teens have created profiles on social networks like MySpace.com, Xanga or Facebook.
Even though the technology has become quite sophisticated, the millions of users now demanding to create their own page has had an important impact on the evolution of the web. It is sufficient to browse through some of the pages to realize that we’re falling back to the basic tacky layouts that were so common in the early days, even though there are much better resources out there. The millions of new teenagers couldn’t care less for the technology behind the scene and certainly have no interest in learning the latest XHTML/CSS techniques to produce flawless websites. They care about the social aspect of this activity, so technology has to take a step back. Danah Boyd has a great paper on this topic entitled Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace.
The evolution of the web over the next few years will be based on serving the most basic needs of a very large number of new users. Not that other things will go away, but big corporations are likely going to set their budgets with this in mind. Only the most simple technologies will pass the test of mass consumption, for better or for worse.
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