What does it mean to be a Web 2.0 geek?

Squeezed June 30, 2008

On the Twitter feed today I noticed a message from one of the people I follow, and that sparked a lively discussion. Said Twitter user kariume:

“I miss the days of Web 1.0, when it was okay for a geek to be an introvert.”

It made me think back to the good ol’ days. Wasn’t it just yesterday (OK, maybe almost two decades ago…has it been really that long?) that calling someone a geek was an insult on the order of calling someone a nerd or a dork? Now we live in an online culture where people willingly take the title geek for themselves and confer it, with the utmost respect, on others.

Even then, geeks labored on their own projects and paid no heed to the popularity contests that the rest of the world sought to win. Being cool wasn’t that important.

Now we find ourselves in Web 2.0, and some aspects of it seem to reflect the popularity contests that the Web 1.0 geek would shun. The well-known centers of the Web 2.0 world, such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, all feature profiles with one’s “friend count” prominently displayed. “Invite your friends,” the Web 2.0 site implores the user, as if one’s entire worth on that site revolves around that friend count.

You’ve got only 15 friends on your page? I’ve got 45 on Twitter. Neener-neener-neener. But of course, my count pales against some others who follow, and are followed by, close to 1,000 people.

I can certainly see how this search for the almighty “friend” can make some geeks uncomfortable, especially those who, like myself, are happy with their comfy group of friends.

Of course, geeks come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments; and geekdom encompasses both the extrovert and the introvert. Said Shane Robinson (@shane), “I’m an introverted geek. We’re still here in Web 2.0 land. We’re building all this stuff everyone else is using.” Adds Burt Lum (@Bytemarks), “I think it is still okay to be geeky and behind the scene.”

And speaking personally, with my 45 friends compared against those in the high three figures, it’s safe to say that Web 2.0 itself hasn’t fundamentally changed me. I’m still very much an introvert. I use my Twitter not primarily as a means to meet new people, but rather as a way to extend the face-to-face contacts I’ve made.

And often, that can pave the way for new offline interactions, which, again, makes some geeks uncomfortable. I’ve had the good fortune to have been able to take part in the Hawaii Geek Meet (which I wrote about), monthly Flickr Friday meetups, and Manoa Geeks. To be honest, if it weren’t for having one of Honolulu’s alpha geeks sitting 100 feet from me where I work, I probably would have missed out on these and others.

In the end, there’s no doubt about it that Web 2.0 has made it easy for friendships and relationships to grow and prosper. Making new contacts does have value. I’ve expanded my horizons greatly. But I know that at the end of the day I always come back to the same trusty group of friends who provide me that stable foundation in a time of change. And in a time of rapid change, that’s a great comfort.

Your turn: Does one really need to be an extrovert to survive in the geek world these days? Is the emphasis on the “social web” a good thing or a bad thing?

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4 Responses to “What does it mean to be a Web 2.0 geek?”

  1. Mad Marv Says:

    I’m an introvert and survive more or less. I also don’t talk much.

  2. Burt Says:

    @Pineapplejuice, In my opinion being a geek is not being an extrovert or introvert. It is about being who you are. When people come to these events they can do a show and tell or just hang back and absorb. The great thing about the geek movement is its grassroots origins and unpretentiousness. Introvert or extrovert, the main thing is be positive and the effects will be widespread.

  3. Tim Wright Says:

    I’d assume posting to a blog would make you a extrovert in the social web.

    You can be an introvert all day at work until log into wordpress and still be a cyber-extrovert (just coined the phrase).

  4. Alice Says:

    I have only 48 friends on Facebook, but over 90 percent of them aren’t really who I would call friends. I sometimes put stuff online, but I don’t broadcast too much personal info so I don’t accidentally make myself look stupid.

    I don’t think you need to be extroverted to “survive” the geek world. Most geeks I know are pretty introverted and wouldn’t broadcast their whole lives on the Internet.

    But we do live in the American culture, which values extroversion more than other cultures (as opposed to Japanese, which values the opposite). As a naturally introverted person, I’ve been forced to develop my extroversion, to the point in which some people think I’m naturally extroverted. But I’m still shy and will always be a natural introvert.

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