Unless you have been living under a rock you will have heard about the sites called Facebook, or MySpace, and their professional cousin LinkedIn, you might even remember their predecessors Friendster. These sites are basically social network software/service (SNS) where you connect with other people and share information.
Today I read a great article by Cory Doctorow in Information Week about how the growth of Facebook within the workplace will eventually kill Facebook. Why?
It’s socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list — but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who’ll groan and wonder why we’re dumb enough to think that we’re pals).
Basically we will all run from these services as our workplace joins in so this example does not happen:
Here’s one of boyd’s examples, a true story: a young woman, an elementary school teacher, joins Friendster after some of her Burning Man buddies send her an invite. All is well until her students sign up and notice that all the friends in her profile are sunburnt, drug-addled techno-pagans whose own profiles are adorned with digital photos of their painted genitals flapping over the Playa. The teacher inveigles her friends to clean up their profiles, and all is well again until her boss, the school principal, signs up to the service and demands to be added to her friends list. The fact that she doesn’t like her boss doesn’t really matter: in the social world of Friendster and its progeny, it’s perfectly valid to demand to be “friended” in an explicit fashion that most of us left behind in the fourth grade. Now that her boss is on her friends list, our teacher-friend’s buddies naturally assume that she is one of the tribe and begin to send her lascivious Friendster-grams, inviting her to all sorts of dirty funtimes.
In the article Cory links to several really good pieces. Such as a Times article on how Facebook is using all of the data it collects about us to help targeted advertising. One part in particular scared me a bit:
He suggested that internet-users could no longer expect to remain anonymous online, but could control only the amount of information about them that is available on the web.
Cory also references Danah Boyd article (her stuff is truly amazing if you have not read any of it do so) on Facebook and Privacy. Her conclusion has some great advice, emphasis mine.
Yes, people reveal personal stuff to a website. They know that they revealed that information but they still have an assumption about how it is to be presented and the ways that make them comfortable and the things that make them go ick. This is really about context, context, context. As i’ve said before, there’s no way that people can comfortably negotiate all contexts at all time. They could retreat and go into hyper private mode but what kind of life is that? People choose to make risks based on what they assume the architectural affordances and norms of a space to be. I think that asking people to retreat into paranoia is completely unreasonable. Instead, i think we need to find ways of providing reasonable levels of protection and comfort, recognizing that there are always risks when you are still breathing.
Danah also lists her reason why she feels people “friend” each other on SNS:-
1. Because they are actual friends
2. To be nice to people that you barely know (like the folks in your class)
3. To keep face with people that they know but don’t care for
4. As a way of acknowledging someone you think is interesting
5. To look cool because that link has status
6. (MySpace) To keep up with someone’s blog posts, bulletins or other such bits
7. (MySpace) To circumnavigate the “private” problem that you were forced to use cuz of your parents
8. As a substitute for bookmarking or favoriting
9. Cuz it’s easier to say yes than no if you’re not sure
Some final thoughts.
First I really hope Facebook, and the other services, don’t “misplace” all of our data like the little event in the UK.
Lastly I can see a whole “HR” mess brewing to resolve a SNS disagreement between workers!