Sunday, September 28, 2008

Social Networking

Are You Hooked Up?

In my quest to understand what it is that makes up a social network, I found there are thousands of sites that cater to very specific groups, topics, or hobbies and also ambiguous groups for anyone who wants to join. Are we lost in this ocean of networks bidding for our memberships? Yes, pretty much.

What is a Social Network?
The idea is based on the old adage… “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Meeting people online with similar interests to expand our knowledge in that interest is basically the cornerstone of social networking. But it is much more than just making connections for business or comprehension purposes. We can seek out people that we have lost touch with or people that we are separated with geographically. In short, a social network allows people to come together in common interests.

Which One Should You Join?
There are many platforms on which one can participate. Which one is the best?: The one that you are able to utilize best. Be it MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Reunion, LinkedIn, Tagged, Hi5, Piczo, Twitter, Flickr, or one of the many others available, in order for the network to work for you, you have to have someone to participate with. That is the concept that makes these sites grow at astounding rates. One person will join, tell others about their experience, then they tell others, and on and on it grows.

You may be willing to join multiple groups to be able to connect with the different sets of people you desire. This makes the growth compound even further. Some examples are: Facebook and MySpace each having 115 million people to their respective sites each month. There are many sources stating the most current statistics. It is an ever changing morphing system which is very hard to measure. (September, 2008.)


Changes in Progress
In the past few months, Facebook and MySpace have discussed opening their ‘walled gardens’ to allow other networks access to slow the multi-membership trend. The member would be given the option to share profile information with other websites to allow for more contacts. Some users stated that they actually enjoy having multiple groups because they can separate the amount of information that one group is allowed to view compared to another group which might be more casual in nature providing their privacy policies are in place. Graph found here.

Basically, the concept is separating business contacts or online contacts with close friends and family. This idea can be achieved through sites like LinkedIn which caters to the business/professional side of making contacts and networking off of those contacts. There are even expert searches available. The problem with this site (which is the problem with all social networking sites) is that people need to join and put their information into the system for it to work. The criticism for this site is that if the member publicly promotes himself, it can get back to his current employer. If the member was looking to leave the company anyway, this aspect wouldn’t be as damaging.

Expectations of Privacy
This process of using social networks to open oneself up to the public is ‘an experiment that involves radically redrawing the boundaries between what is public and what is private.’ Typically, people under the age of 25 years old think everything they do on their computer is public unless they choose to make it private. Most social network users say they feel strongly about their privacy but often ‘forget’ how public their words will become once they are posted. Some users treat their sites as an outlet to vent their current state-of-mind and do not realize that when that mood is over, the thought has been recorded for others to view. (Kiss and Tell of Social Networks by Nick Galvin.)

Chart found here.
“Privacy is the ‘right of people to control what details about their lives stay inside their own houses and what leaks to the outside.’ We have no control over who can read our seemingly private words”…when privacy settings are left at the default of public. (A Privacy Paradox by Susan B. Barnes.)


Who Can Peruse the Social Networks?
Employers (current or future), school officials, law enforcement, parents, and others can view this delicate information and make judgments based on it. I read that a respected police officer ‘vented’ on a social network and was asked to step down from his position for using improper dialog. Those who carry firearms can be held more accountable to abstain from acting recklessly, even if it is only with words. Another case was where students who were involved in hazing were reprimanded by their college administration. Other users confess that sometimes they fabricate their posts to make them seem more exciting, or they were dared to do it. They do not think about who will read it or how long the information will be available. There are new rules defining what is public and what should remain private.

Friends, and Family, and Data Miners, Oh My!
An industry that is profiting from this free exchange of information is the data mining industry. They collect, analyze, and interpret the volumes of personal information posted publicly and use it as marketing information about different areas of our culture and reinforce brand images. This is not a new concept. Almost every purchase we make is already tracked by some means for marketing purposes. The difference here is information is usually more ‘private.’

Conclusion: My Advice
My take on this cultural social networking system is that we, as adults, must be wise in that the written word or photos can be used in manners in which they may not have originally been intended. If you so desire, go forth and socialize, but do it intelligently. Do not forget that even though you may feel safe and private sitting in front of your computer typing out your thoughts, others do have access to them. Isn’t that the whole idea, anyway, to be social and interact with others? Be Smart, Be Safe.


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