The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Twenty-Five Things

So, if you’re anywhere near Facebook these days, chances are good that you’ve seen the “25 Things” meme. The descriptions and titles vary, but the basic idea is that you have to write twenty-five things about yourself (no restrictions on what they are or how you use them) and then tag twenty-five of your friends. Once tagged, you’re expected to write your own list and tag your friend back.

My little corner of Facebook has generally been resistant to these kind of digital chain letters. But this one took off. Why?

Working hypothesis: Facebook and its ilk are all about self-disclosure and keeping tabs on your friends. But they all generally proceed according to fixed categories — favorite music, movies, books, usw. — or through the structures of particular applications, groups, or wall-to-wall communication. The fact that the twenty-five things prompt doesn‘t define what you write about, that it asks you to be creative within a very broad (but finite) constraint, is an irresistable invitation. And invariably, nobody uses their twenty-five things post to say, “I love Animal Collective.” It’s all about filling in the gaps in the schema.

Likewise, the meme actually forces you to identify twenty-five friends whom you’d like to tag in the post. You’re restrained by having to tag the person who tagged you, but otherwise, you have to do what Facebook and its ilk virtually never ask you to do — to CHOOSE among your friends the subset whom you’d most like to know more about. Effectively, it asks you to designate superfriends.

So, in the context of a social network where you’re able to know a lot of small things about a lot of people, we have an emergent structure that allows you to know a little bit more about a little bit fewer people. Because what your friends write about is still minutiae — little stories from childhood, their favorite meal, a secret phobia — but it’s slightly more unexpected, slightly more meaningful minutiae. And through that, it gets at just a little slice of what has made social networking surprisingly fun in the first place.

It reminds me a little bit of the early days of Friendster — when you needed to be invited by a friend, where “wall entries” were “testimonials” where you could unabashedly praise your friends or make up bizarre, impossible stories — personal and public, sincere and self-ironized all at once.

February 4, 2009 / Uncategorized


Ah, I do miss the Friendster testimonials. Even though I’m guilty of giving in to the “25 Things” meme, I think I’d be more interested in a setup where I had to write one thing each about 25 people I know, and then each of them had to write one thing about me, and so on, and so on. Who cares what I have to say about me? What matters is that Tim has glorious, Bill Clinton-esque hands, and a tendency to gesture broadly with them as he speaks, like a conductor guiding a symphony of conversation.

…or it could all be one big plot to get people to hand over their secret answers to common password-reset questions.

Just sayin’.


[birthday redacted]

Oh, crap! I never should have posted my SSN, mother’s maiden name, hometown, father’s middle name, name of first pet, street I grew up on, and name of my first love!

My friend Andrea has a great take on the phenomenon here. Short version: smart people our age are neurotic, which leads to self-obsession and voyeurism — 25 things gives us a chance to indulge our urge to self-disclosure and peek in on our friend-crushes’ lives.

I can also testify as to the fact that a bunch of us 50-somethings are finally getting the confidence to a social network like Facebook, and we’re getting back in touch with the folks we went to high school with, 30 years ago. Those of you who are not yet thirty, or barely so, may not grok what it feels like to reconnect with people from the pre-digital age, and to now have them “friending” you. That guy who broke your heart in junior high back in the seventies? wants to be your friend? Hmmm.

25 things is cheaper and safer than a high-school reunion!

I don’t think it’s about choosing “superfriends”. For one thing, I don’t have 25 “superfriends”, and I’d know a lot about them anyway (whenever I ask my boyfriend to do the X Things About You variations he just comes up with things I know of already :P). For me, I tagged people that I know some things about, but not wholly. It’s been really interesting actually!

I don’t mean “superfriends” as in “better friends”; I just mean (as you say) friends whom you want to know better, by asking them to give you info not on their profile.

The best (or most interesting) part about “Twenty-Five Things” is that it doesn’t itself restrict the info in any real way, so any of your FB friends can “eavesdrop.”

Tagging, though, does have a function: not only does it bring a smaller set of friends into its own gift economy, it also calls your post to your friends’ attention. I clicked “Notes” recently and was surprised to find a lot more of my friends who’d written themselves up, but I hadn’t known it because neither I nor any of my friends had been tagged. (There’s a kind of friendly voyeurism here, too — you can see when your friends have been tagged, too!)

Dustin says…

I’m not sure I’m ready to say this is causal, but I can’t help but notice that the “25 Things” showed up on facebook just about the same time I noticed my myspace friends finally commit to facebook. Also, it was also the same time that all my older co-workers finally signed up for facebook.

So while my little corner of facebook has also tended to be resistant to these kinds of things, I’m now connected to all these new users who don’t have the same hang-ups. And I have to admit, now that I’ve seen “25 Things” pop up so often, I’m tempted to fill it out myself. Resistance is useless.

Theresa M. says…

@Gavin: “a setup where I had to write one thing each about 25 people I know” DO IT. Start a new meme.

Howard Weaver says…

Precisely my reaction, Tim. On all counts.

I also love the pop ethnography aspect of it. One of my friends recently posted this: “I really hate root beer and barbecue sauce. I believe this is because I did not grow up in the US, as my unscientific polls of foreigners reveal that they hate these things too.” (!)

Is pop ethnography a new liberal art…??!

Sorry, can’t stop.

What does David Brooks call it, “comic sociology”?

Actually, for all the cut-ups in this room, maybe “stand-up comedy” needs to make the list.

Even though I filled out 25 things on a whim (and completed it in stacatto mode in less than 5 minutes), I don’t understand the point of the exercise when I constantly feed little bits about myself to the twitter-verse. But perhaps, it can convert the technophobes who are finally giving in to Facebook to the rest of Web two point doh.

I hadn’t totally formulated the 25 Things/Twitter connection, but you’re right — it’s definitely highly inflected by Twitter/FB status style, but in a slightly more controlled environment.

Alternatively, it’s a way to retroactively twitter your life — every memory or story recounted is what you might have twittered at the time.

Oh, you hit the nail on the head, Tim, because echan knows *all about* retro-twittering your past.

Also, can someone please send a memo to the media to stop covering the 25 Things bit? Time, NYT, Slate, enough already. (Though I am enjoying the SM take and discussion.). Is our news cycle that slow, or is this the only levity we can think of amid -597K job loss reports.

Um, sorry. I wrote all of those. 😉

P.S.: Btw, Sarah Morgan in the NYT article has great hair.

I considered posting a bunch of my recent Twitter messages as my Twenty Five Things, and it would have worked out well, but among my closest friends it’s very uncool to display this kind of earnest show-offy neediness.

Some friends you have.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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