Wait, no, what am I talking about? Friendster is the one we all joined in 2003, the one none of us check into or even mention any more. How embarrassing!
No, I mean Facebook. I recently joined Facebook, the social networking service. The service that came between Friendster and Facebook was MySpace, which was different because you could put music on it. It was dirty because Rupert Murdoch of News International owned it, though, which is why I told my millions of readers at Wired.com to delete their pages. Dozens did.
Wired liked my Committing MySpacecide piece so much that they raised my salary. It defined a whole zeitgeist; it was at least six months ahead of social networking trends (people didn't start deleting MySpace pages until October 2006, by which time the site's ugly page layouts had spawned a new -- and horrible -- school of graphic design).
I joined Facebook because I could no longer remember the reason I hadn't joined Facebook. I also couldn't remember what made it special. If MySpace was different from Friendster because it had music, Facebook was different from MySpace because...
...because it doesn't have music, and because you use your real name, right?
Oh, no, I remember now. It's much better than that. It's not just some gimmick, some increment. It's revolutionary. Facebook is different and better because it has eskimos.
This is the point. This is a great feature. Other networking software is lousy because it's either cluttered with digital ghosts -- people who aren't your friends in real life -- or simply reproduces already-existing real world relationships, making it redundant electronic icing on the cake of real life.
But Facebook -- here's the beauty bit -- connects you to this group of people you'd never otherwise know: the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Territories.
Did I say "eskimos"? That's not right. That's the kind of thing only a clumsy Facebook newbie would say. The Tlicho people of sub-Arctic Canada aren't eskimos. They're Dene aboriginals, the most northerly redskins before you hit eskimo territory.
Once you could only learn the ways of the Tlicho through exhibitions like Extremes, currently running at Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland.
But now, thanks to Facebook, you can get hourly updates on what your new Tlicho friends are doing. Clue: it isn't what your old, passé internet friends were doing (surfing the internet, mostly). No, your new, highly fashionable Tlicho friends are skinning snowshoe hares, hacking ice holes to fish through, or building a snow house to shelter in when it's minus 40c and a blizzard is approaching. What's more, they're wearing really excellent clothes while doing it.
What I'm really getting at here is that, thanks to Facebook and your new Tlicho friends, for once there's a social networking site that's about difference and The Other. Instead of being phatic and redundant -- "Hi, how're you doing, on the internet? Hey, what a co-incidence, me too!" -- Tlicho Facebook floods you with new information, with strangeness, and with a truly different way of living. That's why it's capturing imagination -- and market share.
Did you know, for instance, that the Tlicho people signed a land claims agreement in 2003 with the Canadian government, and that by 2005 they were controlling all the land between Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake? Well, Chief Monfwi -- one of my new Tlicho friends -- just added a Shout to my Wall saying that in 2007 the UN gave the fledgling Tlicho government an award.
Yay Tlicho! Yay Facebook! And yay the internet, always marching forward, always reaching out -- ever ready to face the strange and embrace the stranger!