ComicSpace Thoughts

By | Monday, December 18, 2006 4 comments
As noted here the other day, I recently joined to see what the whole social networking thing was about. I've been trying to look at things from the inside, as it were, and see if I couldn't uncover some secret pleasure that I just wasn't understanding from an external perspective.

So I've spent a fair amount of time going through the site and aquiring "friends" and asking questions and...

I still don't get it.

I am deeply interested in this, since I enjoy studying comic fans and fandom, but I just don't really see where the attraction is in a site like this. Don't get me wrong, I think it's fairly well put together, but I'm not sure of the benefits.

As near as I can tell, the benefit that you COULD get out it is in being able to find other people with similar interests. For example, if I added a tag to my ComicSpace profile that said I was comic book historian, then someone else could see that and say, "Hey, I'm a comic historian, too! Maybe I should talk to this guy." I can see that idea. But I don't really see that happening.

I've seen some people who have asked to be my "friend" based on what I must assume is that notion, but no one's contacted me yet beyond the initial friend request. I'm seeing more two other types of "friends" -- people who are promoting their comic book/strip and people who are signing up to be "friends" with creators. If you look at many of the comic creators on ComicSpace, you'll find that they have hundreds if not thousands of "friends." How many of these people does Warren Ellis really know? As of this writing, Ellis has 1,250 friends of 6,430 possible people who've signed up. Brian Michael Bendis, who didn't sign up until yesterday, already has 342 "friends." That's just from fans wanting a sense of attachment/recognition by creators they admire.

Other folks, though, have a lot of "friends" because they're signing up to be everybody's friend in an effort to promote their comic book/strip. Of the 17 "friends" I have currently, one is a creator who I was interested to see how willing they were to accept unknown "friends", one is my comic shop, five are guys I already knew from online, three are organizations trying to promote themselves, and five are individuals trying to promote their own comics.

So the only real benefit I can see as worthwhile doesn't seem to actually be manifested that much. Certainly not in any significant way. So what's the big deal, then? What's so cool about online social networking? Any enlightenments would be appreciated!
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Richard said...

In total fairness to ComicSpace -- and speaking as a veteran of more social networking sites than I care to admit, because I have no life in the real world -- it hasn't really got started yet. It seems plausible that Josh was intending a quiet rollout and planned to gradually roll out new features and attractions, slowly building the site...but then Warren Ellis gave it a plug which got picked up by the blogosphere, and the floodgates opened. It's like customers bursting into a new comics shop before the proprietor has had a chance to unpack the boxes and put the new issues out on the racks.

Adding functionality to one of these sites is no trivial matter, especially in a one-man operation as this appears to be. You put in a new module, it has some problem, and you get flooded with user complaints and end up having to take the whole thing offline and restore an earlier version, and everyone grumbles. This happens all the time. It's a massive headache.

I'm just saying, the reason you don't get it is that there may not be any it to get, so far -- right now it's only a list of friends, which isn't very interesting on its own. But the idea has a lot of untapped potential, and if we see some of the promised new features in the next few weeks, it could get a lot more interesting.

I can totally understand how Josh might've gotten blindsided, so I certainly don't hold that "against" him or social networking in general. But even from the bits I've seen or heard that he's working on, I'm still not sure I get it.

Let me put it directly to you, RAB, if you don't mind. What is it that you personally get out of a social networking site? I'm not trying to be facetious here; I really am interested in why they're popular and any thoughts/feelings you have on the subject would be appreciated.

Richard said...

It's all about access to people you wouldn't be able to reach elsewhere.

Over on Tribe I joined a group for aspiring comics creators out of sheer curiosity. I was sure my comics writing days were in the past and had no intention of getting involved with the business again...but thought someone there might be interested in my experiences. I encountered a lot of enthusiastic creators who pointed me toward other websites and online resources that ultimately made me realize I missed the field more than I knew and got me thinking of giving it another shot. Now I'm writing comics for two publishers, and it wouldn't have happened if not for these people I wouldn't have met any other way.

Also, social networking provides a layer of mediation making it possible to contact someone who might be uncomfortable sharing a private e-mail address. I spotted the creator of one of my favorite TV shows on a networking site, established it really was him, and was able to ask him about something in the latest episode and get an answer that same day. He'd never give out his real e-mail to strangers, but with the extra safety barrier of the networking site there was no impediment to me dropping him a line.

There's an inherent value in being able to search for more people who like the same stuff you do -- ComicSpace doesn't have this yet, but I assume it will -- for one thing, they can turn you on to other stuff you might like. A lot of people who liked the same stuff I did were also mentioning The Invisibles as a favorite, so I checked it out and liked it as much as they did. I might never have gotten around to it otherwise.

People have scanned my online profiles on these sites and written messages saying "I can't believe someone else likes those two novels! I thought I was the only one!" and they've gone on to become real-world friends of mine. I've even gone out on a couple of dates (real ones I mean, with flesh and blood women in actual restaurants and all) that way.

All this is why I emphasize that new features are the draw, not just the "list of friends" aspect -- these sites work best when people put up lots of information about themselves and there are interesting ways of sorting and sifting through the data.

It took me forever to jump on the MySpace bandwagon, and even still, I rarely use it for anything than checking out new pictures of old acquaintances, and shooting off quick messages to relatives I could just as easy call or go see.

So a highly specialized version of MySpace seems even less beneficial to me, though I did sign up with it. I've had Friends requests from those trying to plus their comic, and that's about it. I'm not sure what to do with it,and I don't find myself visiting it often, so far.

Seems to me that MySpace can cover comicbook interest, in addition to any other interests one might have. Perhaps if ComicSpace starts doing Events or something, where like minded geeks can get together and meet...that might be interesting.