You probably know Nicholas Negroponte, the man who tries to supply every student in the developing world with an laptop of 100 dollar, The Children’s Machine, to extend Internet access in the third world. While that large problem still exists, according to Robert Scoble a new digital divide is emerging. He calls it the friend divide. “In the beginning of the nineties, everybody had the same experience on every computer. The digital divide back then was that some people had a computer and some didn’t.”
But when ICQ was launched, the experiences of people started to diverge. ICQ users with a hundred friends had a different experience than those with only two. With the new web, version 2.0, this diversion becomes more significant. Scoble proved this by showing versions of Google Reader, Twitter, Pownce, Friendfeed and Upcoming, one version with only one friend and the other one with Scoble’s famous collection of friends. 1000+ on Google Reader, 500 people on Upcoming, 3000 Powncers and over 17,000 Twitter contacts. So we got to witness two extremes here, one with no activity and the other version that was flooded by updates. Those are totally different user experiences, the consequence is the friend divide.
When ‘normal people’ decide to sign up on a service, they enter a pretty lame environment since there are no friends. Or as Scoble puts it: “The first experience is a real crappy experience, since there’s no input. And it’s all about input from other users”. According to Scoble, social networks should work on improving this first experience. One network that tried this a bit was MySpace, as they introduced you to Tom. But they can do better, says Scoble. For example, if a construction worker signs up, why not introducing him to a group of construction people? He could meet an architect and find relevant construction info through him. The same goes for techies, why not immediately hand them a contact list of established tech bloggers?
I think Scoble has a point, yet I’d love to hear a more thorough analysis of this new friend divide since I don’t see the importance of it yet. The problems that emerge from the digital divide are obvious: a part of the world lacks skills and knowledge about a digital phenomenon that is changing the world. But what are the consequences of the new digital divide? A small group of people finds more info than an immense group of people? I think Scoble is so involved in the tech scene that he tends to overestimate the influence of nice services like Twitter and Friendfeed.
Would there be a friend divide that influences millions of people, I think it comes down to this question: “Are you on Facebook or are you not?”