Should this blog link to Twitter? (Part 3, last part)

09Nov08

In the last few posts I’ve introduced the issue of how one’s work and social life can collide in social networking applications, and reviewed a few of the UI controls that enterprise companies demand from social-media providers to make sure their populations behave appropriately.

But in this post I will argue that, by and large, the UI tools offered by social networks to “manage” your behavior are inadequate, and perhaps will NEVER be adequate. Why? Because people simply aren’t tuned to think outside the context of their synchronous environment.

  • A tragic example: Recently, a woman was killed by her husband after she changed her facebook profile to “single” and the news showed up in the husband’s activity stream.
  • A funny example: Recently, some dumb kid was fired from his job, when, after calling in sick, he set his Facebook status to “not going to work, fuck it.”
  • A personal example: My wife’s young cousin recently went off to college, got a tattoo, put it on her Facebook. My wife was then told: “But don’t tell her Mom and Dad, it’s a secret.” This is someone who’s grown up with social networks! Secret? Are you serious?

How many times is this repeated every day, now, out on the social networks. Someone records their interior monologue on the social network, and someone out there gets the news, and all hell breaks loose. People are pretty dumb about thinking beyond their synchronous context.

Social media apps have tried to figure out a way to allow you to partition your life, so that the right people are seeing the right stuff.

  • Flickr allows you to set photos to “public”, or for “friends” only, or for “family” only. But what about people who are kind of both?
  • Xing allows users to mark every line of their profile public or private. But really, who’s going to bother with that? (Most social networks have similar, if less complete, privacy controls on profiles.)
  • LinkedIn allows you to turn off pushing profile updating (that is: resume updating) activity out to your activity feed, just in case you’re linked to your boss. But will you remember to do it beforehand?

My point here isn’t that social media companies should stop trying to figure out how to allow users to manager the various personae the put on and take off each day. In fact, it’d be a killer app. But how can it possibly work? How, other than total social-network abstinence, can you be tuned to the negative consequences, waiting two days–or two years–down the road, of something you recorded in your Facebook this morning?

One of the reasons I’m glad to work at SelectMinds is that, as a business application, users really ought to know to behave themselves. If you slag your boss on one of our client networks, and get caught (as you surely will), I don’t have a lot of sympathy.

But I do sometimes really worry about the panopticon society that we’re building for ourselves with consumer social networks, where one’s multiple personae must be meticulously managed and guarded at all times.

So, my dear audience, there’s the make-a-billion-dollars challenge for you: the intelligent, easy personae manager that works across multiple social networks and data silos. An impossible dream?

Oh, and by the way, I’m leaving Twitter linked to this blog. Why? I hope (perhaps foolishly) that my occasional business-questionable post on Twitter will also help self-select the sorts of people I end up working with. If they don’t like what they see there, they may ultimately not like working with me. But, in this economy, we’ll see how long that attitude lasts.

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