San Francisco Symphony's Social Network, aka Sysypuss vs the Facebook Monster

This week the San Francisco Symphony launched its own social network site, called, not very imaginatively, The San Francisco Symphony Social Network. That's an unfortunate name that one can't even dumb-down into a decent acronym, which I think would have been a good idea. It's such a good idea I'm going to give the thing a nickname, just so I don't have to re-type that painfully long name nor refer to it by an acronym that I won't be able to pronounce nor remember. Henceforth, it shall be referred to as Sysypuss.

The initial response to Sysypuss from many bloggers seems to be pretty negative, with some questioning the need for yet another network that will have to compete for time and energy against Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Youtube, porn and whatever else people are consuming or participating in online to others who've labeled it "painfully absurd" and behind the curve.

I'm going to take a contrarian view here and state that it's a swell idea, though one that is going to need superb execution and direction to survive. When parts of your base are jeering from the sidelines, it's going to be an uphill road. Regardless, I think the symphony can pull this off and I hope they do.

I think almost everyone who reads this will probably also be on Facebook, with friends ranging in number from 10 to 1,000. Now subtract from that number your friends from work, remove all of your friends from elementary, junior and high schools, take away your family, friends of friends and casual acquaintances. Remove the networking opportunities and people you've met once. Now, how many of those friends are left? I'm betting that leaves your circle of friends pretty diminished. From those that are left, how many like classical music? How many attend concerts? Some of you, and you know who you are, will undoubtedly be saying to yourself, "Ha, that still leaves most of my friends!" Believe me, you're a tiny minority in a larger world that's indifferent to the arts on a good day and completely uninterested the rest of the time.

I think the success of Facebook comes from giving people an online, interactive community, but I also think it's flawed because it's based on the most artificial and weakest of social bonds and it's somewhat voyeuristic. So what do you do after you find out what the girl or guy you longed for in high school now looks like? How many quizzes can you take? It will eventually be replaced by something else more exciting, which will in turn be replaced by something else. Remember chat rooms? When was the last time you were in one?

In their latest redesign, which most people hated and I thought was a huge improvement, you can now "hide" those friends you have little in common with and not have to read about their latest trip to the podiatrist or what the baby/child/husband/boss you have never and will never meet did that morning. Better still on the new Facebook was turning the "Fan" pages into something where communication now takes place both ways, enabling people to get news or "updates" about people, places or things they actually are interested in without have to click a link to find out or "follow." Facebook's new changes allow the user to narrow what was quickly becoming unwieldy and makes it more user friendly by allowing people to filter out a lot of useless information.

That's a great innovation , but while I may be interested in what a musician said in an interview or in a new release of theirs, I for one don't really care if they're playing in Chicago or Bucharest. So the quality and value of these groups will depend on the individuals controlling the posts. Close, definitely an improvement, but not quite there for the most part.

Twitter seems to be getting a lot of press and attention, but what can be very interesting in 140 characters or less? I don't see it growing into a phenomenon like Facebook. Do you really care that right now I can hear a band somewhere in the neighborhood playing a bluesy version of "Little Wing" that is so good even the crack dealers are stopping in their tracks to listen to it? I didn't think so.

So far, the coolest music site I've come across is LastFm., but it's a huge site and can eat up your entire day, weekend, life.

Which brings us back to Sysypuss. Right now there are 280 people who share my interest in the San Francisco Symphony. They are likely to be local. I may have seen some of them at concerts, or even sat next to them. Or chatted with them during an intermission. Or admired them from the audience. Or in the audience. Sysypuss is a portal into a local, living real community in which I can participate to the extent I choose.

I'm already a part of it by choice, not circumstance, and SFS is just giving the social network's users a way to maximize their involvement through an online channel. Will all of those people interest me? Probably not. But I for one, would be interested in reading more reviews from audience members, learning more about the musicians and the music, and coming across the random unexpected and surprising thing that can be the best part of the online experience.

I'd like to see musician's blogs, gossip from the bar, candid pictures and a "missed connections" link similar to the one on Craigslist. I'd like to get opinions on what works or performers I may be interested in from other people, based on what they gathered from a list of the concerts I've attended or subscribed to, or things I've listed in my profile. I'd like to buy an impromptu ticket from someone this way rather than from that guy in the beige trench coat who looks like a nasty Mr. Bean.

Yes, this is niche social-networking and I do think it's what the future looks like. The online community designed for the common denominator isn't all that satisfying to me. I also can't imagine it's that satisfying for many of the arts-oriented people I know. If this is done correctly, the result will resemble something like MySpace for the Symphony. MySpace doesn't get a lot of press in the wake of Facebook, but for music, it's still the community of choice for fans and musicians.

But classical music isn't going to work on MySpace, period, so kudos to SFS for figuring this out and creating a third way. The challenge is going to be keeping it free of cheese, not turning it into a commercial for the SFS, establishing a baseline integrity and maintaining an intellectually and socially stimulating environment. They will need some luck and some smart people to make it work. But I'm all for it and you can find me there.