It seems that people have been joining the Formspring Web site a lot lately.
Apparently, you make an account and people can then ask you questions anonymously. They can also ask you through their account, in which case it is not anonymous, and is pretty much indistinguishable from a Facebook wall or a Twitter feed. That sounds pretty lame.
I’m curious as to whether Formspring will join Facebook and Twitter in their dominion over the world of Internet social networking. My gut tells me that it won’t, but my gut also told me that Twitter would flounder and die immediately with its inane name and generally dumb concept: “Wow, I never thought I’d be privy to the thoughts of my classmates, coworkers and favorite celebrities! It’s like the Internet Age’s answer to ‘Walden.’”
Twitter proved me wrong, though it hasn’t quite knocked Facebook off the throne. While I have no plans of becoming a part of the Twitter culture, I have come to appreciate some of its features. The ability to “tweet” (God help me) through text message without having the Internet on your phone is a neat aspect. I even made my own private “twitter” so I can text message myself notes, and it has come in handy.
Facebook, of course, is chock full of attractive features as well: millions of pictures of people you really shouldn’t care to look at and displayed conversations that are innocuous or self-serving enough that no one minds that it’s public.
It seems clear enough to me that Twitter and Facebook have more to offer than Formspring features-wise, which is why it probably won’t have their longevity. However, Formspring nonetheless taps into those same desires that Facebook and Twitter capitalized on before it — the wish to present an image of yourself to the world and the desire to creepily peruse other people’s “lives.”
Please don’t try to tell me that Facebook and Twitter are not about satisfying those desires. Looking at a friend’s Facebook is not “keeping up with friends from home.” Yeah, to a degree, it is nice to be able to communicate with certain people in such a casual manner, but let’s be realistic about what keeps these Web sites thriving. It’s not any noble thought.
Formspring also allows you to present an image of yourself (in answering the questions) and allows you to read about other people. But here it almost manages to one-up Twitter and Facebook — it allows for some pretty brutal attacks on people, akin to what one would see in a Lifetime movie about cyber-bullying.
If Formspring does end up sharing the throne with the two kings of social networking, it will be because of this aspect. It is much more exciting to see someone get called a liar and a whore than to see “Hey long time no see, what have u been up to?” and “Cute picture, girl!”
Meanwhile, Formspring combines the desire to present a fake self-image with the opportunity to be self-righteous, which must be irresistible to the typical frequent status/away message/Twitter updater. The frequency of responses that call a questioner a coward for his or her anonymity is probably the best evidence. I guess these people forgot what Web site they signed up for.
So maybe Formspring will dominate our culture for a while, in which case my view of people as creeps and attention whores will be supported. But maybe it will disappear, in which case my view of people may evolve to include the fact that they are not tough enough to deal with the honest, though perhaps cruel, opinions of others.