I've got a Twitter account, though I don't get much use out of it. Truth be told, I've always treated it as a sort of interactive RSS feed: a stream of websites and journos advertising their latest pieces, interspersed with the occasional witty repartee from roustabouts. Ditto for Facebook. Back in college it was my social calendar, a place to organize events and then post pictures afterwards--a few years down the road I'm loathe to start mass-defriending folks, but I can't imagine those guys and gals I chatted up between keg stands are keen on discussing the minutiae of GPUs or Pokémon training.
Both social networks are kind of a bust for getting my conversation on. But what if there were a site specifically designed to draw like-minded folk into its social web, centered around a particular niche--say, video games? A place where internet denizens with like-minded tastes could congregate and discuss things that interest them? Good news everyone, there is: Reddit, NeoGAF, Digg, uhh...Google Plus.
And now, F!rst. It's a fledgling, mobile-only community for gamers that aims to--actually, that's irrelevant. Social networks don't need a mission statement, just a community that rallies around them, offering debate and breathing life into their virtual halls. Like most fledgling social environments, F!rst offers that intriguing feeling of newness born of being a place that isn't yet overrun with advertisers and trolls, a spot for the dedicated few to share stuff they think is cool or shoot the breeze beneath the general banner of video game and video game culture.
If it's lucky (read: successful) that won't last--such is the nature of the Internet, as money flows where the eyeballs are. But for a brief moment a new destination has arisen that's generating interesting dialogue, fomenting a new community that has yet to succumb to memes, self-promoting writers and websites hoping for pageviews or thinly-veiled advertorials. Right now, F!rst is pretty cool.
F!rst. Ugh. I loathe the name. Shouting "first" represents everything I hate about comment sections, and that exclamation point just rubs me the wrong way. But never mind that; the app (Android only for now, though the iOS version is nigh) is everything it needs to be: a simple receptacle for thoughts and hyperlinks, quick to load and intuitive to operate. The default stream lists popular topics based on user activity. You can search for usernames and topical #hashtags--each hashtag denotes a new channel, which you can subscribe to.
It's a fledgling community, so channels for Dwarf Fortress or even Guild Wars 2 don't exist, but the beauty of its fluid system is that I can rectify those errors by simply starting a topic and throwing a hashtag in. Thus far I've spent a few days joining in the conversation and starting up a few dialogues of my own, and the whole experience feels leagues ahead of established social networks--I imagine this is what the first Redditors felt like, as they broke new ground in their own nascent community.
It's weird. Part of me realizes that F!rst offers something special, a place where folks can gather and chat about video games. Another part of me is nonplussed: what does this offer over Reddit's /r/gaming anyway?
Okay, /r/gaming is a terrible example. But an established community like Reddit offers a myriad of places to discuss things you're passionate about--I can check out new indie games, read up on Dwarf Fortress adventures, or get Guild Wars fashion advice without ever leaving my browser tab.
And why restrict things to mobile devices? If I'm joining a community, I want to participate everywhere--HTML knows no bounds. I've got Reddit access on every internet-enabled machine in my apartment; why can I only access F!rst on my tablet and phone?
Communities are a kind of chicken-and-egg situation, and comparing a nascent social network like F!rst to established players is wholly unfair. F!rst offers some unique, interesting options, including weekly video content via an established YouTube channel and the promise of an SDK that allows developers to integrate F!rst chat into their games. The community feels more intimate and seems keen on making friends, trading usernames and the like to get some cooperative gameplay going--I suppose it helps that Grand Theft Auto V is still fresh on our minds. The coming months will be the real litmus test--we'll see if F!rst can keep people coming back for more, all the while keeping the drek that plagues the rest of the internet's communities at bay.
I'll let my inner cynic take the reins here: joining (or starting) a new social network seems like a losing battle. If foul-mouthed, misogynistic minors don't flood the place and the app manages to maintain a steady stream of interested participants, then self-promoters or thinly-veiled advertisers will eventually drown out the rest of the content, seeking fame and a quick buck. Provided F!rst is successful, of course--it could simply go the way of so many other social networks, existing on the periphery of our collective senses but failing to gain much mainstream traction. Such is the nature of things.
Prove me wrong: grab the F!rst app from Google Play and come chat with us.