I have been skeptical that MySpace-style social networks would eventually become mass-marketing schemes, and friedn groups would be reduced to niche demographics, just a group of people who could be counted on to by the same stuff, and that friendship would by and large devolve into the perpetual recommendation of stuff to shop for and nothing more. Here’s more evidence to support that dire outlook. This AdAge story details the pyramid schemes some teens are coming up with to take advantage of incentive marketers deals—free iPod to those who can get 10 of their friends to give up personal information to PayPal or Blockbuster. “Destitute (or denied by parents) young people head online to ask friends and network associates to help them complete referrals and get that player. This youthful networking has in turn helped spawn an entire cottage industry of pay-for-referral Web sites and ‘conga lines’ where people put their names on a list and are bumped up as the top person gets their referrals and collects their iPod prize.” These referrals are then sold to direct marketers who use them to target all sorts of advertising at the unsuspecting person preselected, perhaps, for his gullibility (they give up their contact info for nothing). And teenagers, who probably think they are too smart to be duped by ads, are thus extremely vulnerable to them.
If this sort of thing is any indication, it wouldn’t be a surprise for social networking via the Internet on ad-sponsored sites to morph into friendship in general as a saleable, branded commodity that exhibits the “rational” characteristics of profit-making and efficiency. If being riends with your neighbor isn’t getting you anything tangible, there are millions to take their place online. Why bother being friends with someone if you can’t get an iPod out of it?