Xanga the next Facebook

In my last entry Facebook and Twitter WTF Internet I explored my dissatisfaction with Facebook and made a few suggestions on what in my opinion would be improvements to the site. That said. After a thinking a little more, though not much more as this thought has crossed my mind previously, I am going to put Xanga in the mix.

Rather then making suggestions for just Facebook, I’d like to go in a different direction and make a few suggestions for Xanga. I understand Xanga has a suggestions feature, but this is a little more in depth.
Xanga is a social blogging site. Now you might argue (or you might not) that any blog that allows commenting is a social blogging site. But by my definition a social blogging site is any website that hosts a number of blogs and allows its members to interact with each other using the same profiles over the entire network. 
A social blogging site is just a more in-depth description of a type of social networking site. Networking is such a broad term and blogging narrows it down a little bit.
The heart of any social network is the profiles. They each represent a real person. A user, a member.
Personally I use xanga all the time because it’s a great site, well made and hosts a wonderful community of users. Xanga is the most powerful and feature rich social blogging site I’ve ever seen. But will it ever become more then that? Does it ever want to? Lets pretend for a moment it does. Lets pretend that secretly the xanga team wants to turn this place into the next Facebook or God forbid Myspace. In other words an incredibly popular social phenomenon.
To do that, Xanga would need to rise above its niche corner of the internet as a social blogging site into a full blown social networking site. Now of course there are exceptions. Twitter is the exception. A blogging (or rather microblogging) site that just exploded in popularity. But while everyone else, including Facebook, is trying to chase and jump on the Twitter bandwagon, the truth is, the internet and its future is far from just simple text messages. 
There still exists a space on the internet for the ultimate social network. A site that many would confuse as the internet itself. A harkening back to the days of the walled gardens of AOL and Compuserve. back when people didn’t realize there was a larger internet out there and some cases didn’t care until years later.
When the walls began to tumble just before and leading up to the dot com boom, we saw personal home pages spring up all over the place. Most notably on sites like Geocities and Angelfire. people hacking together sloppy HTML pages filled with self vanity and pre-emo doubt. Sign my guestbook, check out pictures of my cat or download my friends mp3. These pages had a litte of everything and yet a pattern was emerging. 
Personal home pages gave way into full blown movabletype blogs or other websites. Those without the skills found there way to sites like livejournal, friendster or even yes, Xanga.
But as the years went by new sites showed up, gaining in popularity. Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. Not to mention the countless others. 
Eventually the personal home pages of yesteryear evolved into wordpress sites by those that got out and myspace and facebook profiles for those that didn’t. Now Twitter accounts to be added to the list. The walled gardens being rebuilt.
So where did Xanga go wrong? Did Xanga go wrong? For a site that started in 1999, Xanga is old in internet years. The site has evolved. By like all sites that start one way and evolve into something more, why didn’t Xanga become the Facebook or MySpace for this generation. I can only guess until I’m told different. That is if the Xanga team even knows itself. I know from my filmmaking background that over the course of production when you’re down in the dirt digging, sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture, even if you’re the one building it.
My guess is that Xanga, like so many sites, developed a certain following, carved a niche for itself and found that it was both difficult and obtrusive to expand outside of the niche. Once you’re on your path and you have a decent following you’re careful not to want to upset that following and lose ground. As more years go by it becomes harder to make any drastic moves. Creating new things while phasing old things out become a long drawn out process so as not to alienate anyone too much. 
If this guess is true, this could very well be how and why we find Xanga to be primarily a blogging site still, today.
My second guess might be that they just prefer the site the way it is, focusing primarily on blogging. 
However looking at the current state of Xanga, the site has a lot of options moving forward. 
It has a solid user base consisting of a large female population of users. Which is an interesting position to find itself in. 
Beyond that, the site is well designed and very web 2.0 in terms of features and interactivity. It’s clear the developers haven’t been asleep behind the wheel. Introducing media features like video, audio and image uploads. Pulses, credits, modules and ish sites rounding out the overall larger feature set. It has set itself up to host nearly all major types of user submitted content and display it in a unique but blog compatible way.
Still its focus is on blogging and connecting people through blogging. The question is, can it expand itself into something more and what would it take?
Here are some suggestions based off my use and observation:
1. Profiles – Xanga needs to rethink its profiles. Profiles are a members calling card on a given social network. Right now Xanga profiles act almost as an afterthought and are even trumped by some of the old “about me” pages people put up on Geocities and Angelfire sites. I would guess that many times people don’t even look at each other profiles and many here go unfilled and blank. People need a reason to fill out their profiles and check out other peoples profiles. I understand that many of the profile information seems to leak over into the the side column on weblogs, that’s fine. Perhaps profiles need to be loaded in an Ajax style using a tab above the weblog where people can easily flip back and forth from profile to weblog without loading new pages.
2. Don’t lose the Xanga nav bar. I’ve noticed that it’s optional for people to pull out the Xanga nav bar from the top of their xanga sites. Bad idea. Some of these Xanga sites can be poorly themed and the only hope for a visitor finding their way around is through the nav bar up top. When it goes missing, chaos insues.
3. Xanga image galleries need a revamp. I understand the appeal of trying somethign different using a slideshow style display. Unfortuantely the icons are rather small and even the full sized images often display small. People generally don’t view images in a linear fashion. Often their eye catches a single thumbnail the click on. The bigger the thumbnail the more likely they are be able to deduce whether they want to click on the image or not. This in turn could save bandwidth if they can see a clearer thumbnail and realize it’s not something they want to see.
I would suggest a more tradition grid style gallery layout spanning multiple pages with thumbnails at least 100×60 pixels in size if not 120×80. This will likely get more people uploading, viewing and commenting on images. The ability to categorizes these images into albums and promote those albums would also be of dire need for such a gallery revamp.
4. Friends Groups. As it stands Xanga already has this feature for it’s protected lists. However this is mostly a paid feature if you want to go beyond a single group of ten people. Which leads me to believe a lot of people who are not paid members are probably not using this feature. Yet this feature also stands at the heart of building Xanga into a powerful new social network. The ability of who sees what and when with anything from weblog entries to pictures, pulses, video and audio. 
5. Pulses. I’ve said it before but I think pulses are better then Tweets. The only reason is because pulses allow for easy commenting in a linear fashion attached directly to that pulse. However Pulses are currently treated very similar to blog post with the only difference being length of copy. Pulses need to be easier to do. One suggestion is to add a pulse box to the users home screen. I know there exists now a series of large buttons for users to “add” wahtever kind of content they want just by clicking. However nothing gets easier then just an exposed text field with the words “what are you up to?”. 
6. Video Galleries. I don’t see videos getting used a lot around here. If they do, they generally get embedded into blog entries. Although that’s always a nice option, the abilty to browse a public gallery of member videos would add a certain amount of exposure to members video content, as well as an excuse to link to their profiles. i’m thinking a sort of youtube style list of videos with a nice tag cloud off to the side and the ability to search videos by keyword and category.
7. Communities with community blogs, image, video and audio galleries. Including search within those communities and multiple community moderators. This pretty much speaks for itself and I remember hearing somethinh about Xanga working on somethign like this. So I’m going to leave it as it is right now. But I will add it would go farther with these features then being just an ability for people to create their own ish sites.
The ideas here present a Xanga in which blogging is still a powerful and much desired pull for the website, but not the only pull for the site. There still exists a huge populace of people who don’t find a website like xanga to be much of a conern for them. Yet they are signing up for facebook, twitter and youtube accounts. Now it may be that these sites have a certain pul because of their fame and members. Friends joining because other friends belong to them. But there is also a number of people who drop off from these sites after realizing that the content there just doesn’t stack up in the long run. The goal is to find that balance in which a blogging site like xanga can grow its other features and it’s membership and in turn ad revenue, without a huge fall off rate. 
It may very well be that users perfer to go to different sites for different things. Where Xanga is to blogging as YouTube is to video and Flickr is to photos. But if a site like Facebook can outpace Flickr in photo hosting popularity while still being a broad social network, it’s only a matter of time and a few feature upgrades before it can also outpace youtube for videos and eventually Xanga for blogging. Time will only tell just what role twitter plays in all of this.     

0 thoughts on “Xanga the next Facebook

  1. I like your ideas. I do hope that xanga could become the new social networking. I’ve been a xangan since 2000 with my old blog. and i’ve loved it here. feels more “homely” than the others. It would be great if Xanga could have some features that facebook has, and some more awesome features ;)

  2. Hey, these are some serious insights. I hope the top Xangans read and consider them. Thanks for caring about this unique site!

  3. Personally, I hope Xanga remains a pure blogging website, focusing on the blogs and not the people who write them.  It’s the only reason I’m still here.  I don’t like social networking; if I want my friends/family to know how I feel right now or what’s going on with my life, I will tell them myself, either in person, over the phone, or (if I need to quickly send a message to a bunch of people) via text or email.  I enjoy Xanga BECAUSE it’s one of the few places outside talkbacks and message boards (which are juvenile at best) where one can enjoy the same anonymity that drew people to the Internet in the first place. 

    A close friend of mine keeps up on Facebook AND MySpace.  She spends hours every day filling out those stupid “20 questions” questionaires and “What kind of fairy/pin up girl/dog are you and your friends?” games.  All of her “friends” know the intimate details of her most recent (and painful) break up.  It’s like a virtual shrine to the self.  I’m just not that kind of person.  I don’t want my secrets, fears, peeves, and frustrations to be beamed into the inboxes of every person I know or have shared a mild acquaintance with.  I haven’t shared my blog address with anyone I know personally.  But I do have several people within the Xanga community with which I speak (through Xanga) on a regular basis.  These people are just as anonymous as I am, and frankly if they had an expanded “about me” page, I wouldn’t look at it.  That’s not why I’m here.  If I find a connection to someone through their/my writing, their age, gender, race, interests, and city of residence mean almost nothing to me outside of what they write about.

    I have a feeling that bringing Xanga away from the blogging atmosphere into the social networking atmosphere will bring with it the same childish, emo, short attention span, self centered crap that drove me away from MySpace in the first place.  Blogs keep the focus on the community or society at large; social networking keeps the focus on the individual.  We need less of that, not more!

  4. Aside from the fact that this was well written, I don’t agree as much. I don’t think people are themselves on Facebook. I’d like to discuss this more, but i wasn’t expecting a good post, and I’m on my way out the door! Haha. I wasn’t expecting a dumb one either, don’t get me wrong.

    I simply just found your face attractive. And that was my initial reason for being here.
    So hi, you have an awesome face… annndd,
    I think I’ll respond to all of this later if you’re at all interested.

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more on the Xanga nav bar point. It’s a pain when you realise that it isnt there after clicking into a page.
    you’ve obviously thoight this out well, but personally I think that Xanga is doing well as it is. Keeping blogging at it’s core, yet having so much room for socializing. Turning it into a site which primarily deals with the social side would take away from it.

  6. @normality_dreamer – Thanks you for the compliments. That has me thinking about a topic for a new blog post. I would definitely love to hear why you think people aren’t themselves on facebook.

    @colorless_clarity – Lol. I try to do that from time to time. Not too often though. :)

    @The_second_x – I’m not really sure. It’s kinda hard to tell unless they try it. I think it would depend a lot of how it’s laid out and the kind of controls that are given. You might be right though. These are all things to keep in mind as a design my social network.

  7. @ithiliya – See I’m the opposite. I don’t understand the need for absolute anonymity on the internet. People are people and it’s not like others are very different. I think some people just have this paranoia about being themselves on the internet. They dip their toes in but are afraid to go any further for whatever reason. I guess it’s hard for me to understand since I’m always so open on the internet and always have been. The way I see it, I am who I am. People either accept it or they don’t. We’re all human so it’s not like most of us are vastly different from one another in either our bodies, thoughts or actions.

    I also don’t think the goal of the internet is for a bunch of anonymous people to get together and be anonymous. I think that only promotes the kind of immaturity you see rather then displace it. I’ve noticed that on communities that require people to use their real first and last names and photographs, the atmosphere tends to be more signal and less noise. Because there is a certain level of accountability that gets added. I almost wish there was a second internet built around that kind of foundation. 

    As for social networking in general, it just depends on how you use it. It’s a great way to keep in contact with people you probably wouldn’t call or for whatever reason don’t call as often. I remember a conversation with my late father years ago in which he was telling me he didn’t understand the whole online text based chatting thing. He was like “why not just pick up the phone and call them?” He was in his sixties and it didn’t make a lot of sense to him. So I explained to him that phone calls can be abrasive. They demand the other persons undivided attention as well as your own. Chatting is more like sitting in the same room with someone where you’re both working on your own projects and making small talk here and there. In some ways it’s actually a more natural way to converse than phone calls. 
    I think the same is true for social networks to some extent. Years ago my friends and I all had livejournal accounts. Certain friends were off at college and other friends were more acquaintances or friends of friends. Most of us religiously updated our journals every day talking about the things we did that day or would be doing or our opinions on certain subjects. We used them differently then most people use their xanga. I’ve notice that xanga users are more likely to write like they are writing for a magazine then write like they are writing in a personal journal. The result was that we stayed more connected even though we were hours away and wouldn’t see each other for months. It also helped me get to know the people who started as friends of friends who I otherwise wouldn’t call or write because it would be too awkward.


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