Since MySpace and Facebook have become such a big hype, lot of text has been dedicated to social networking. For people like myself whose social drive is not very developed, the attraction of “hey, dude, I love you so much!!!” is pretty difficult to parse into a familiar frame of reference, but apparently there’s something to all that cuddling online. Being alone has to be learned after all. I somehow can’t shake the feeling that people are going to get bored with all the poking eventually…

Independently form that, there is something really interesting about Facebook and that is, of course, Facebook Platform, the API that allows third party developers to write plug-in like applications for the system. Some of them are really impressive (socialistics and the touchgraph app come to mind), others are not. What I find fascinating about the whole thing is that in a certain sense, the social network (the actual “connections” between people – yes, the quotes are not a mistake) becomes an infrastructure that specific can applications “run” on. For the moment, this idea has not yet been pushed all that far, but it is pretty easy to imagine where this could go (from filesharing to virtual yard sale, from identity management to marketing nirvana). In a sense, “special interest” social networks (like LinkedIn who’s currently scrambling to develop their own platform) could plug onto Facebook and instead of having many accounts for different systems you’ve got your Facebook ID (FB Passport) and load the app for a specific function. If the computer is a Universal Machine, the Internet the Universal Network, Facebook Platform might just become what sociologists since Durkheim have been talking about: the universal incarnation of sociality. Very practical indeed – when Latour tells us that the social is not explaining anything but is, in fact, that what has to be explained, we can simply say: Facebook. That’s the Social.

That’s of course far around the corner and futurism is rarely time well spent – but still, actor-network theory is becoming more intelligible by the day. Heterogeneous Associations? Well, you just have to look at the Facebook interface and it’s all there, from relationship status to media preferences – just click on Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain on you profile page (come on, I know it’s there) and there’s the list of all the other people whose cool facade betrays a secret romantic. This is a case of mediation and it’s both technical and symbolic, part Facebook, part Amélie, part postmodern emptiness and longing for simpler times. Heterogeneous, quoi.

A Facebook Platform thought to its end could mediate on many additional levels, take part in producing the social through many other types of attachment, when it will no longer be a social network application but a social network infrastructure. At least Actor-Network theory will be a lot easier to teach then…

Post filed under actor-network theory, social networks.

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