During my teenage years, I spent a lot of time hanging out on bulletin board systems and the Cleveland Freenet system. I'm no stranger to meeting people online.
But a few years ago a friend sent me a link to Friendster. I signed up, posted some interests, linked to a few friends, and then couldn't for the life of me figure out what else the site was good for. A little while later, a friend introduced me to LiveJournal and I spent some time looking for new people's journals to read. But really the most useful part of the site was the ability to keep up with the handful of friends I already had who were writing journals.
Now that I make a living writing for websites, I spend most of my days perusing the latest items to come across my Google Reader. I have a subcategory set up for friends blogs, LiveJournals, etc. When I need a break from reading Scoble or Calacanis, I can catch up with my friends. But I'm not sure I have the energy to make new friends the way I did when I was 16.
Of course, social networking isn't all about making friends. StumbleUpon is a good example. Sure, you could try to actually communicate with people who are interested in funny photos, ham radio, or podcasting. But the main reason to add "friends" to your StumbleUpon profilem is so that when you hit the "Stumble!" button in your toolbar, it's more likely that you'll be directed to sites that you're interested in.
Twitter was all the rage during SXSW this year. Everyone was talking about how the service lets you keep up with the latest goings on. Want to know who was blogging about their cat? Want to find out who announced their engagement on Twitter? Want to know what your friends are doing every stinkin' second of the day?
I don't. Subscribing to an RSS feed is one thing. If Robert Scoble's going to write up a couple of thoughtful posts about the AppleTV today, I want to know about it. But if he's going to send out a series of one liners throughout the day, I'm not sure it's worth my time.
Perhaps I'm a dinosaur stuck in my old RSS ways (even though I've only really been using RSS feeds for the last two years or so). But I prefer to get my information in paragraphs, rather than sentences.
Sure, this is probably the same complaint many had when email first entered the game. "What's wrong with putting pen to paper and writing a letter?" they would ask. Or when IRC and IM came along.
Maybe I'm just an old dog at 30, unable to learn new tricks. But when I first heard about Twitter, it sounded to me like MySpace or Facebook -- something that was good for teenagers looking to connect to the world beyond their bedroom in their parents' house, but not much use for me.