It's not a very social network, is it?

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We live in a rather strange era where social networks seem to be on the rise, but where nobody seems to know how to properly build one yet.

Years ago, before the hubbub about Web 2.0 stuff, we had people thinking of how to make money out of the websites - and this invariably meant that no money was made out of the websites, because you can’t make money out of nonexistant websites. Now, we have websites, but development is still hampered by people who want to figure out how to make money out of the situation.

Sometimes, you just can’t make money off of core functionality. And this is the annoying truth behind social networking. This is not a problem in itself, because you can make money out of other things. The problem is when people say “we can’t make money out of that” and refuse to build the core functionality to begin with.

This is almost like having a power company refusing to sell electricity because they’re still busy figuring out how to profit from selling wiring services. The real power companies wouldn’t worry about wiring; they get profit from selling power to the consumers. They don’t need to care about who wires the houses as long as they’re wired according to the standards.

And that brings us to the social aspects of videogaming.

One of the biggest events in gaming world recently was the fact that a rather prominent website, MyGamerCard.net, went down.

MyGamerCard was an unofficial site for accessing Xbox Live data. It was supported by Microsoft. Life was good. This is what Web 2.0 stuff is supposed to be about, right? We have data sharing between sites and people can do unofficial things with their own information.

Of course, the problem is that Xbox Live isn’t an entirely open system. Microsoft has a community developer program, but if XBL was fully within the spirit of Web 2.0 things, they would give us - everyone - full access to publicly available data. And, as MyGamerCard alleges, things didn’t work too well even if you were an official community developer.

Let me guess: Somewhere in Microsoft, someone is busy trying to think how to monetise core functionality. This leads to stagnation. That’s why services like MyGamerCard have trouble operating.

Incidentally, when I had to update my sites to get the old xbox.com-based iframe gamercards back, I could no longer find the instructions on how to embed the gamercard on the xbox.com website. The instructions used to be there and the service still operates as it did before, but it seems that they’ve been mopped out after the update. Are they trying to make the system dwindle down like this? Or were they also sort of relying on MyGamerCard.net?

In any case, one of the fundamental things in systems development is that data access services get developed as a natural byproduct of developing systems in the first place. We have systems that house data; it’s obvious that we also need to access the data somehow. The social web services, these days, are just about accessing the data from further away and doing interesting things with the data. People and businesses who charge access to the data are usually doing it because that’s the only form of business that they can think of. Yes, I know, I’m calling phone companies parasites here, but that’s basically what they are; they’ve laid down some wire and given you a number and now they’re charging you money for using the lines just because. The city I live in offers net access for free. I guess they’re using taxpayer money in good ways.

You can justify selling access if the data to which you’re selling access actually has some monetary value, but does gameplay data actually have monetary value to ordinary citizens? In general, looking at times when people play games or seeing achievement details has social value, but little monetary value. And this social value is what companies like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo should stop trying to monetise for the sake of monetisation.

In short, we can’t build social networks until we’ve realised that some things have only value for social interaction. If someone figures out a way to make money out of it, that’s good, but don’t hold back until someone gives us some sort of a half-arsed money making scheme. We’ve seen those fail before, and if we keep on going on that road, we keep seeing them fail.

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