Last month StumbleUpon had around 7 million registered users. Twitter is coming up pretty close, with around 4 million registered users, while Facebook watches all this from a distance, with more than 200 millions registered users. Why are those numbers important, apart from dry media statistics? Because they are not just numbers, they represent populations.
One of the most surprising and most important effects of social networking is the creation of a new type of country. A country which is not defined by physical borders, but by domain names. A country which is ruled by Terms Of Service, and not Constitutions. A type of country which, in some cases, is far more rich than most of the traditional, physical bordered countries.
If you’re surprised by these affirmations is good. It means you are from the old fashioned generation which thought email is the final frontier. If you’re not surprised, I bet you are one of the happy citizens of those new countries. You are already an active member of that population and help the economical growth of that specific country.
Well, for those still surprised, I will try to uncover in this article why and how the social media is shaping the new digital-political structure of the world, the structure that will overlap in the end the familiar geo-political structure.
Traditional And Digital Countries
A traditional country model is defined by borders, physical borders. A citizenship is defined by a special identification document, by which you are recognized. The traditional model of a country is territorial. You can’t really DO something outside the physical borders and your citizenship. The value is defined inside a territory, where there is a currency which you can trade for value. A traditional country is defined by fixed factors, like geography.
On the other hand, the digital countries are defined by interactions. Your citizenship is your username. In the Amazon country, you interact by buying things. In the eBay country you can do even more, you can sell your stuff too. And in the Monster country you can hunt for a job. All of these are interactions. And all digital countries are defined by interaction, instead of physical borders. Interactions performed over the internet.
What Is A Digital Country?
The simplest example for a digital country is Twitter. The virtual territory identified by the domain name twitter.com has been filled with immigrants which are starting a certain type of interaction. They talk with each other, they try to increase their circle of influence (followers), they’re sharing information and knowledge.
Twitter is a young country. It doesn’t even have an economy (any revenue apart from what founders are spending to keep it working). But, as the promise of gold under the mountains in the age of the american pioneers created a huge exodus, the potential for growth of this (not for long) little country has drawn millions to ask for a citizenship (a username that is) and start building a future economy.
I’m one of the early immigrants on Twitter and lately I spend a lot of time there. Since it’s my most familiar place, I can call it my “country”. But at the same time I have a Facebook citizenship, a Reddit citizenship and a Digg citizenship. I am a member of those countries too. I’m not a very active citizen, hence the benefits those countries are offering me at this moment are moderate.
And with that paragraph comes the core of this comparison between traditional and digital countries: benefits.
Where Do You Want To Live?
I bet you want to live in a rich country, as a free man (or woman). You want to have decent lifestyle, opportunities and safety. All those things are benefits in a traditional country. In a digital country, benefits are more or less about exposure or popularity. There are a lot of other benefits, like money, business opportunities or potential relationships, but deep down it all comes to popularity or exposure.
Of course, you can just keep a low profile in a digital country and lurk for opportunities but I doubt this will make you a full citizen of that country. More like an expat or, if you’re really lurking, a spy.
Each digital country has ups and downs. Like any traditional countries each digital country has its own specific, its own particular and distinct touch. Here’s a breakdown of how I see the most important digital countries:
The new hype, the brave new world where everything can happen. It’s also the most rapidly growing digital country. Go grab your seat or somebody else will. The government of Twitter is also one of the most transparent governments in the digital world, although rumors are rising from time to time about a new and unexpected alliance with another digital country.
Exotic and sometimes strange place where you can meet all kind of people. StumbleUpon keeps a veil of mystery, mostly because its government is quite quiet, but it’s surprisingly well to live there from time to time. Most of the people I met on StumbleUpon are genuinely interested in what they say they are interested.
Busy and noisy, like a modern city. A lot of stories are happening in this country, but each story has a limited timeframe and everybody seems to run out of time somehow. The level of comfort is unparalleled but I doubt that is ever needed. Notorious for its infamous government which will try from time to time to steal your contributions, if you’re not careful enough.
The fashion country. There is only one thing that counts here and that is the front page. Digg is like a continuous fashion week with all the watchers being the models too. Friendship is corrupted by vanity but if you do reach the front page, your blog will become the next Naomi Campbell. Problem is you have to reach front page constantly otherwise the thousands of Eva Herzigova waiting in line will take your place in a second.
The geeks country. In this country the rule of 1 +Â 1 = 2 verifies most of the time. But geeks are unpredictable. One of your contributions can receive the support of an unbelievable mass of people while other stuff will be quickly pushed under the carpet, for no particular reason. Being theÂ geekiest digital country makes it quite difficult to find your way around, despite the apparent usability.
The ancestor of the geeks countries. In the early ages, if you could do a meaningful contribution to this country, its level of gratitude was known to be literally overwhelming, washing out your digital identity for a small amount of time, due to hardware failure. Older texts make references to this like “the Slashdot effect”. Right now is quite an exclusive country with citizens over a certain age.
The college kids country. Inhabited mostly by teenagers, this digital place has quite a reputation for being fast, sometimes shallow and with a horrific traffic. It’s better to say you’re under 18 if you create a profile here, that will maximize your chances for an interaction. As strange as it may seem, it’s one of the largest digital countries in the world.
The college kids country reloaded. Most of the Myspace inhabitants are also doing some jobs in Hi5, by commuting with one click of the mouse. A part for being as shallow, crowded and trafficked as the other one, Hi5 is a little bit younger, which could lead in some usability improvements, but only on the surface.
The corporate country. Interaction is pretty limited here but if you manage to find at least 2 college mates, you’re set, you can use their network and start growing. LinkedIn is notorious for being the headquarters for businessmen. LinkedIn also might have the highest real revenue for digital citizen in terms of opportunities.
A broken experiment. Once one of the most envied destinations, lack of proper management made it quickly to become unappealing to most digital citizens. As with any other country, Technorati still attracts several tourists for its allegedly accurate measurement tools and the overrated promise of exposure.
The eternal colony. Many Twitter immigrants chosed to leave the hype and move to this rather small country, but so far they weren’t able to create a mass moving effect. FriendFeed is famous for its high level of interaction and its capacity to bring in at least 10 comments for each sentence you shout. A place to watch in the near future.
The storage country. Many digital citizens are keeping some of their assets here. It’s fantastically well organized and it even provides some tools of communications between its citizens, although not as advanced as the other countries. Delicious is known as being one of the most balanced and steadily growing countries, although staying too long there can become boring.
So, what’s your country? Where do you live most at this time? Where do you work, where do you travel? What’s your favorite digital country? I’d love to hear your comments.
Oh, and feel free to follow me on any of the countries listed above, if you look carefully I gave at least one link for each destination. Happy travel. 🙂