here’s been a lot of attention given to The Social Network lately, and by the time this article is actually in print, that reference will seem as aged as an orange soda stained copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. But regardless, the film is the first popular analysis of social networking and cloud computing. Cloud computing refers to the way in which almost everyone now uses the internet, through large online applications run by 3rd parties that store a majority of our data. The cloud metaphor comes from services like Gmail and Facebook. They are gigantic and out of our hands.
But before these easy to use tools of communication with incredible multimedia capabilities existed, people were more or less left to fend for themselves on the internet. That era of ICQ, Geocities, 56k and CounterStrike 1.6 is defined in a big way by my friend Ezio and his gino house party review site, Partyz.
Partyz was an online directory of house party criticism for the Catholic Elementary School party scene. Every few weeks, whenever some Grade 8 house party rager took place in the Richmond Hill area, reviews in yellow comic sans on a black background would go online. Parties would be reviewed by how chill the host was, whether people got to make out, how sweet the house was and whether or not there were any snacks.
Awesome lines from party reviews include:
“Action OMG it was like fucking mass mack suicidal shiat!!! I walked out of the bathroom to see like 6 pairs of legs under a pool table!”
“It waznt anything SPECTACULAR...not much of a turn up but the new faces (Holy Family, St Joes Worker) made up for it i guess!”
“the party would’ve been NOTHING and I mean NOTHING without Bryan...he hooked 6 speakers to one system and picked all the locks on the doors.”
So what does this website, designed in order to create a place for people to read about other people in the same area of town and in the same social circles have in common with Facebook? Everything, really. For me, who was friends with the site’s creator but not really involved in the whole techno music fast-life of 13 year old ginodom, the site was an interesting and entertaining voyeuristic social website. For the people who were constantly involved in that scene it provided for a constant online social outlet. Since there were no profiles, Ezio set up a guestbook for people to leave comments and discuss things. Since you didn’t need to login, like a blog’s comment system, you could basically just say whatever you wanted and pretend you were anyone you wanted.
While the aesthetic and scope of Ezio’s website is certainly nowhere near the worldwide spread and complexity of Facebook, the core idea of creating a portal for 24/7 online communication while simultaneously serving as a malleable public record of parties, conversations, stories and regional public events is the same. And that’s a cool thing, I think.
The internet is a gigantic network you can use to make other networks with. It is a framework of hardware with wires and signals that run over oceans and through cities that you can use to create virtual networks among your friends, family, coworkers, strangers, peers and like-minded individuals. What’s impressive about Facebook is that it replaced that shadowy cables and servers concept of what the internet is, in the truest most complete sense, and gave it an interface. Facebook is less of a website and more of a virtual citizenship. It provides you with an identity that is transferable to blog comment systems and I suspect that will grow in the coming months as your Facebook profile becomes a larger part of one’s internet identity.
As Ezio says, “Facebook is like your online business card” and in that regard “Partyz was more akin to a Perez Hilton or a Cobrasnake blog for a small town. You don’t really have a way of knowing if you have a following on Facebook besides how many people comment or like your status updates”.
The difference between these two sites, I think, is the difference between the internet then and now. Before the virtual monopoly of Google, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Youtube data was more in the hands of the individual than the cloud. Pictures and comments were more private and on smaller servers with much smaller audiences. Videos barely existed. Now we use an internet where everyone can and does watch everything. All of a sudden the ponds and lakes of digital information have spilled out onto one big ocean that everyone shares, and I’m not sure if that’s better or worse.
Originally published in Winter 2010, Issue 5.1.