Big Thunder Mountain

On my recent USA trip I met Jeff Axup at BarCamp San Diego 5.

He’s got a company: User Design, LLC, and a PhD in User Design to go with.

I told him about my idea that Facebook is like Space Mountain; MySpace is like Big Thunder; Friendster is The Matterhorn…

He said, “YOU HAVE TO BLOG THAT!” … so… here it is:

I think what might have excited Jeff the most was the idea of making associations between Web2.0 environments and rides at Disneyland — I actually love this — and encourage you to think up others: What ride is LinkedIn? What ride is Twitter? Please leave your ideas – words & pix – in the comments section below!

Click any image to see a larger, more detailed, image…

In her 2007 Berkman Center talk, danah boyd wonderfully details the social network lineage from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook…

And then she provides a masterful dissection of the MySpace vs Facebook dichotomy as being not so much the aesthetic distinction so often cited, as a class distinction pitting Elitism vs Bling…

However neither Jeff nor danah’s points are exactly my point today…

My main consideration is that Space Mountain is a “ride,” and that ride is more about Space Mountain than it is about you. Different peeps can have very different experiences – you might love it so much you ride 20 times in a row – you might get nauseous and want to puke… but to a fairly large degree… Space Mountain is more about Space Mountain than it is about you.

And I’m convinced that Facebook is also a “ride,” and that Facebook is more about Facebook than it is about you.

At first blush this may seem counter intuitive – look at all your friends on Facebook! Look at all the wonderful, personal interactions you have with your friends!

What I can tell you is: I know, uh, “someone” who has a Facebook identity and about as many friends as me, and our Facebooks look pretty similar. We don’t have a single friend in common; we don’t have a single photo in common. We aren’t even “friends” with each other… but I believe our Facebooks are pretty much the same experience.

Superficially this is true, of course, because of the design consistency of the Facebook interface, but beyond form, the content is in fact pretty similar. Her friends post silly pictures and make stupid comments about them; my friends post silly pictures and make stupid comments about them.

If you look through my Facebook Friends list you’ll see that even though I happen to live in The Hague, I have a lot of friends in the Middle East and vicinity: Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Chile, etc. Their culture, religion, etc are different from mine. (In fact, as a member of the Bush Administration, I’m obligated to inform you that their way of life is antithetical to mine!)

And yet, if you look through their Facebook photos, it is remarkable how similar to mine and everyone else’s they are. It is remarkable how playfully Western so many of their images are. Even if a friend wears a veil in one photo, she’ll be scantily-Western and giggling in the next.

This certainly says something about who “we” are… but I believe it also says something about the “ride” that Facebook… or MySpace… or Friendster… is!

Once again, we personally project a powerful, palpable dose of uniqueness and self-importance, but if you step back one frame of reference, it’s hard to see that distinction.

As a virtual public artist my work invites avatar communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

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