All-encompassing social networks may soon be a thing of the past thanks to Nintendo's Miiverse.
This week Nintendo released a version of Miiverse, its newly founded social network, for mobile and desktop browsers. In contrast to Facebook’s all-encompassing approach, which demands every part of your life be reported back to one central place, the Miiverse has been designed in a way that is conscious of its limits.
Instead of asking users to create Timelines weaving together work, family, hobbies, relationships, check-ins, and photos, Miiverse limits a person's interaction with others to communities organized by games. One builds an identity by creating a cartoonish avatar, a Mii, that underscores the fact that every interaction be viewed as a limited fragment, not something representative of an entire person and life experience. It is a sliver of thought drawn from one small nook in a life too large to be quantified.
The moment of the all-inclusive social network is dying, now that the promises of seeing your whole life turned into a series of pics, posts, and messages can be seen for the impossibility it always was.
Nintendo has struggled to sell Wii U since it launched last November but Miiverse has been a bright spot, offering those who have bought the machine a playful way to use it even while there aren't many games to play. Miiverse has many of the game-like elements that users expect from a console—it tracks progress, measures post counts, and likes, and encourages response to activity, all done from under the safe banner of an animated caricature.
The specificity of Miiverse and its cartoonish overlay limit a lot of the social anxiety that has emerged around networks like Facebook, Twitter, and OKCupid. There, the effort to sum up one's self into a coherent whole is made worse by wondering what all the different people in your life will think if you start posting things that show the way you are with one group is not how you are with all groups.
Like most social networks, Facebook is built like an inside-out message board, which presents a running list of users instead of subjects. This switch turns the posters themselves into the subjects of discussion, or at least opens them to that possibility whether they like it or not. On a message board, a user that is not interested in a subject simply avoids the thread. But on Facebook and Twitter, the subjects other people are interested in constantly interrupt a user's experience and create a backdrop of hostility and mistrust.
One logs into Facebook never really knowing what to expect—video of a 747 falling from the sky in Afghanistan or links to a sale at a clothing shop. In the early days of social networking, there was something exciting about this structure. Individuals each had a small scrap of power to disrupt the pious and rigid flow of media with their own whims and insights. But it's become clear the price one pays for that privilege is involuntary exposure to other people's erratic whims and insights, many of which pull us into subjects we don't care about.