"Go Talk to a Girl"

Friendster & Socializr Founder Jonathan Abrams Sets Us Straight on Social Media

(Interview from Examiner.com)

Jonathan Abrams enjoying cake, the most social food of all.  Photo supplied by Abrams.

Jonathan Abrams doesn’t believe in Social Media—at least, not on a semantic level.

“The term ‘social media’ isn’t terribly meaningful to me.” He admitted from the offices of his current endeavor, Socializr. “It suggests that Web 1.0, 1999-era stuff was, by contrast, not ‘social.’”

That’s the benefit of chatting with a pioneer like Abrams: perspective. I had the opportunity to sit down with him and talk about this medium—which he prefers to think of as an iteration of an old one—and why people should spend less time with it.

The real age of Social Media

Ten years ago, as Abrams pointed out to me, the press buzzword for socially-created media was “community.” He cited as examples personal-identity communities like Geocities, UGC-fueled sites likeHot or Not, and profile shingles like Match.com. Abrams has credited Match.com in particular for its influence on Friendster and the explosion of profile-driven-networks explosion that Friendster begat. 

Abrams expressed disappointment in what he regards as a lack of innovation in the social space. “(The amount of) really new stuff in the last few years doesn’t seem that much,” he shrugged. “Delicious, Yelp,Flickr,YouTube…These sites launched in 2003, 2004. And a lot of Twitter lately seems to be about sharing links, which is certainly not a new concept.”

“Put away your iPhones”

Which isn’t to say that nothing out there merits this SocMed innovator’s attention—or in some cases, concern. Abrams is particularly wary of the general public’s increasing reliance on Social Media, for, well, socializing.

“When I started Friendster, the whole concept was to use social technology to improve your social life--not to create an online fantasy world to escape into.” He explained. “A social life, to me, doesn’t take place on a computer.”

To illustrate this, he shared an anecdote with me from his other job as co-owner of local nightclub Slide: “I’ve been approached by several entrepreneur friends with ideas…they want to somehow use Twitter, integrate with twitter, do something to replace Twitter, that would let people (while they’re at Slide) chat in real time about Slide, and see what other people at the same venue are saying.”

C'mon. You're at a club. Put down your phone 

Such pitches leave Abrams nonplussed. “I don’t want to walk into my nightclub and see everybody looking down on their iPhone I want them to put away their iPhones. Have a drink. Go dance. Have some fun. Talk to a girl!”

Starting with Friendster and on through his two-year-old startup, Socializr, Abrams has insisted that technology should enhance your social life, not replace it. “I think when the technology’s interfering with your real life, you’ve taken it too far.” When you’re having a meeting with somebody, and instead of listening to you, they’re looking down at their Blackberry, is that really a benefit?”

Which explains his desire to start up a company like Socializr—a service that, while it aggregates feeds from a half-dozen other social services, is at its heart powered by real, live, face-to-face events. It helps you choose the ones you most want to attend, and shows you which ones your friends are attending. Abrams wants Socializr to help you spend less time planning your social life, so you can go and have one.

I’ll post some more pearls of wisdom gleaned from my conversation with Jonathan Abrams in a few days. In the meantime, instead of adding your 10 minutes on Facebook to the five billion that users spend there daily, why not spend a few asking a friend or lover out for some actual face time? Don’t worry, other folks will pick up the slack.