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People Aggregator’s difficult birth

It’s the easiest thing in the world to be a critic – I know, as I’ve
made a pretty tidy sum from being one over the years. It takes a lot
more to do something creative – and that’s why I think that Marc Canter
should be forgiven a little for the slightly ham-fisted way that he’s
brought People Aggregator to the attention of the world.

Yes, sending email invites out to everyone who’s ever emailed you isn’t
a great idea. Tara Hunt – who I believe is acting as consultant to Marc
– gives some really great advice with her list of 11 rules of community
building. But it would be a shame if Marc’s understandable eagerness to
get people to aggregate put anyone off getting involved with People
Aggregator, because it’s fundamentally a very nice idea.

I suspect, though, that many of those who responded to the invite will
have the same first response as me: "huh?" Dig around at People
Aggregator like the average curious end-user, and you’ll find a few
nice things, but little that isn’t offered in better (ie more populated
versions by MySpace and countless others. There’s almost no
documentation on the site, and almost no help Broadband Mechanics’ web
page has a section on strategy, but it includes phrases like
"normalizing the name space" which aren’t exactly consumer friendly.
And there’s a lot of concentration on the openness of the project, which
is very geek friendly but will leave the average MySpace user going
"who cares?"

All of which is a shame, as at the heart of People Aggregator is
something different: the notion that not only is the user not locked
in, but that they are in complete control of their social network. For
People Aggregator isn’t *a* social network: it’s a meta-network,
allowing you to create your own ad hoc networks as appropriate. These
networks can, in turn, have their own groups – so that networks can
congregate around interests and sub-divide if required.

At the moment the examples of networks that people have created are,
generally, pretty lame. Mostly, they simply replicate the kind of
things you find in groups you find in other social networks (and in
People Aggregator itself) – a network for fans of an obscure band, and
so on. Some of these networks will be viable, others won’t.

But where networks become more interesting is where they represent
broad aggregations of interest. For example, consider the possibilities
of a social network dedicated to publishing, that links PR people,
bloggers, journalists, and more. This could include groups devoted to
professional journalism, PR, the challenges of switching media –
whatever there was an interest for within that community. And, once
created, a network is effectively a completely separate entity from
People Aggregator. Networks can be public, or private – whatever the
originator wants.

This alone makes People Aggregator worth a look, because it opens up
the possibility of communities that are far more true to real life than
anything out there presently. Networks can be small, large, federated,
open, closed – whatever the community wants. A lot of this is still in
the future, of course – the interface is, at present, something of a
shell rather than the complete real-deal. But even now, you can taste
the potential.

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