App Review: Avoidr & Anti-Social Networking.

On: October 10, 2011
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About Liam Voice
My name is Liam and I'm from Nottingham in the UK. I am currently enrolled in the MA New Media course at the University of Amsterdam. Previously, I attended the University of Leicester, UK. I obtained a first-class honours degree in Communications, Media and Society BSc. I am interested in online communities and social relationships.

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The class assignment this week was to write an ‘app review’ which relates in some way to the concepts of mobility and geolocation. Now, mobile phones and their apps are not my forte, which is quite odd for a New Media student to admit but it’s the truth. I can go days without using my phone, and I’ve gone weeks without sending/receiving a text. (Don’t cry for me, cry for those missing out on my debonair wit!). I’m also not a fan of adding a location to my updates on Facebook or Twitter as I like to keep some semblance of privacy. For the assignment we were also told to avoid the location based social networking site Foursquare as much has been written about it already. I’m going to be rather facetious and circumnavigate this caveat by discussing a plugin which is powered by Foursquare: Avoidr.

Avoidr is an app which uses Foursquare check-ins to tell you when those people you have placed on your avoid list ‘check in’ to a place, which allows you to discretely dodge them. This allows users to avoid their enemies, their exes, or those who they no longer wish to be friends with. It’s tagline is “Keep your friends close and your enemies at that bar down the street”. The user can also label their “frenemies” with nicknames, ranging from amusing to harsh, to remind them why they are avoiding them (e.g. ‘Jerk’, ‘Doofus’, etc.). The app then creates a list of ‘Places To Avoid’.

Avoidr, and similar apps like Snubster, where users create lists of things or people that annoy them, and Please Rob Me (created by a group of Dutch developers) which aggregates SNS check-ins and in the process highlights the danger of geolocation, have been dubbed ‘anti-social networking’.

Avoidr, Please Rob Me and such apps are a social critique of the trend towards mobility and location tagging culture. With the explosion of geolocation apps, programs, and platforms, whether it is checking in on Foursquare, adding your location on Twitter or sharing your location via the numerous mobile phone apps, it is interesting to see a plugin which tries to put ‘escapism’ back on the app agenda.

The creator of the plugin, Jesper Anderson, created the website when he discovered his friends’ romantic relationships turning sour and breaking up, and trying to navigate the subsequent social terrain. Anderson claims that in actual fact, the app should not be viewed as anti-social networking but more as “a filter” for your friends.

Video: ABC: \”Anti-social networking? App helps you \”filter\” friends\”

Despite the hyperbole and emphasis on the anti-social aspect of the app, it is perhaps a kinder course of action than the more formal ‘unfollow’ and ‘unfriend’ functions of other social networking sites.
Anderson claimed in New York Magazine that “social networks should take into account that friendships ebb and flow”. This is an important issue that social networking sites seem to have neglected to take into account. Perhaps a couple of case studies are required to provide some context. Raise your hand if you have been sent a friend request from someone from your past (e.g. secondary school) that you haven’t spoken to in years. Both parties know that in all likelihood they will never see each other again and have no intention of talking to each other, either in real life or online. Okay, Round Two. Raise your other hand if you have avoided going to an event because you knew someone you didn’t want to talk to was there.
(You can put your hands down now.)

The truth is life moves on and friendships change; they “ebb and flow”. Social networking sites provide an idealised and maybe even naïve view on the concept of friendship, by turning it into a game; it becomes about collecting friends as ‘trophies’.
It ignores the whole friendship process and undermines the value in the connections. The Avoidr app pulls the concepts of friendship and social relations back to a more ‘realistic’, almost Latourian fluidity, understanding of the term.
(You may disagree, and feel free to, but this is how I see it.)

Many people seem to neglect the ‘network’ aspect of the terms social networking. A network is a series of points, or nodes, that are joined by connections (edges). When one node (i.e. a friend) is broken/disabled and needs to be navigated around then the other nodes, or the creation of new nodes, allows an alternative route to be used. When combined with the mobility aspect, the app could take on a ‘truer’ definition of the term than previously thought.

*I’ve just realised that Avoidr may now be defunct as I can’t get it to work but I think my arguments still stand.*

Sources:

Huffington Post | Smith, C. (24th June 2010) ‘Avoidr Foursquare App Helps You Avoid Awkward Run-Ins With Your Ex’ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/24/avoidr-foursquare-plugin-_n_624186.html Retreived: 8th Oct 2011

InventorSpot.com | Callari, R. (2010) ‘Avoidr, The Anti-Social, Anti-Check-In Social Network’ http://inventorspot.com/articles/advoidr_antisocial_network_thats_anticheckin_44045
Retreived: 8th Oct 2011

Mashable | Van Grove, J. (17th Feb 2010) ‘Are We All Asking to Be Robbed?’ http://mashable.com/2010/02/17/pleaserobme/ Retrieved: 8th Oct 2011

Mashable | Ehrlich, B. (24th June 2010) ‘New Foursquare App Helps You Avoid Foes and Exes’ http://mashable.com/2010/06/24/avoidr/ Retrieved: 8th Oct 2011

New York Magazine | Shafrir, D. (22nd June 2010) ‘Popular Foursquare Prompts Antisocial Networking’ http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2010/06/foursquares_popularity_prompts.html Retrieved: 8th Oct 2011

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