social networking

Your Profile Photo Sucks

We've all got one of those online friends whose profile photo just sucks. Maybe it was a bad hair day for them, maybe it was a bad angle or maybe the light was bad. For whatever reason, it just isn't a good photo.

You have no idea why they chose it as a profile photo. Maybe they were in a rush. Maybe it was the one they had on their desktop when they started their account. Maybe someone else told them it looks good.

The problem is that if you tell them their profile photo sucks,  they might take it the wrong way. They might not understand that you've only got their best interests in mind.

What's the best way to tell them? How great would it be if there was way to tell them their profile photo was awful without letting on that it was you?

Dangerous Social Networking Games

I'm not quite sure where I stand on the phenomenon of location-aware applications. (I'm sure you've noticed that Foursquare is the hot one at the moment.) I find geo-tagging interesting; it's the sort of thing that I want to use to build pre- and post-apocalyptic fantasies. But marking a spot with useful or neat info, and letting others know you were there, is different from letting people know exactly where you are now. Well, I think so anyway. I see the value of letting friends or acquaintances know where you are at a given time: you can increase the likelihood of "chance" rendez-vous, and it adds an element of hyper-modern fun or adventure to our hyper-tech lives. It tries to put the social back in social networking.

I think of location-awareness as a sort of antidote to the separation that social networking brings on, whether it actually works or not. I've mentioned before that I now spend far more time at my computer than ever before, which, besides its other effects, makes me feel like I'm missing out on being social, even when I'm engaging in conversations on Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other forum. By letting others on my networks know where I am when I do get away from the new boob tube, I can at least feel like I'm being a bit more "real" social. Well, I don't precisely do this. At least not via a specific location-aware application. Occasionally I'll mention on Twitter where I am or where I'm going (usually obliquely), and I guess I'm not sure exactly why I do that.

Anyway, at the moment, I hardly go anywhere except for home and work, so my location posts would be excessively dull!

There's a dark side to all of this sharing though. Just as identity thieves can mine social networking sites and the world wide web in general for personal information to recreate private identities and do all kinds of bad stuff, enterprising thieves might use personal location information to determine when a person is and is not at home and when she is likely to return: the perfect opportunity—practically an invitation—to steal. That's kind of the premise of Please Rob Me, a website that uses Foursquare data from Twitter to inform the world when people are away from their homes, and thus supposedly when those homes are ripe for a'robbin'. (Really, their goal is "to raise some awareness on this issue [of privacy] and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc. Because everybody can get this information.")

I'm not an alarmist when it comes to this sort of thing, but I do believe that identity thieves are out there, and I'm sure that somewhere someone is in fact nefariously collecting information on social networkers' whereabouts. I don't think those are necessarily reasons to stop using Twitter or foursquare; just think smart and be safe, okay?

On the other hand, I think Blippy is one of the worst things I've ever heard of. The site updates your status, like Twitter, with every purchase you make on your credit card. And sane people volunteer to share this information with the world. This seems to me to a shockingly shallow intentional expression of private information. (And I'm not going to provide a hyperlink, because I don't think you should bother visiting the site.) People used to say that Twitter was narcissistic, but Blippy has no other purpose than to gloat over one's consumption. There's little more narcissistic than that. Barbara Kiviat writes in Time Magazine that the idea of posting every credit card purchase might shame people into spending less, but one of the website's co-founders, Philip Kaplan, points to an opposite trend: spending more so that the world knows all the cool stuff you're buying and doing. Kiviat herself finds the urge to spend more rising within her after using Blippy for a while. Ugh!

When we look at social networking tools in isolation, it's difficult to see the harm that they might cause, but these tools don't exist in isolation, especially not now. I think it should be clear enough that releasing important private information can lead to bad things without the many warnings about doing it, but the warnings are there, and the problems will only get deeper the more information we choose to share.

Where will all of this private disclosure lead? What are the advantages? Do they outweigh the potential pitfalls? I could pretty much talk about this for hours, but I'll let you chime in for a minute...


Gooruze vs. MyRagan

Via a post from Brian Solis*, I recently came across the site Gooruze (he's one of the founders, apparently). At first, I thought that this was simply a MyRagan clone with a few Silicon Valley flourishes thrown in. I've since come to realize that where MyRagan emphasizes their own content and writers while creating a walled-in social network, Gooruze respects the knowledge of their users. The whole idea behind Gooruze is that it is a place for experts to share their knowledge.

The Gooruze founders seem to have realized that in the world of Facebook, any social networking capability that they can offer would be of little or no value to their members.  However, that is not important when you realize that the true value of a site like this the concentration of experts and professionals willing to share their work and thoughts.

This space is becoming increasingly crowded, and I'm interested in seeing which one of these sites will rise to the top.

I feel that although the target audiences for the two are a bit different, I can already tell that I'll be keeping tabs on Gooruze. My only problem with it is the frustration of being a member of yet another site and having to remember to login and check somewhere else.

Aggregation Aggravation? You bet.


*I'm not sure what blogging software Brian's blog is built on (though I think that it is Blogger) but its really hard to grab a link for one of his posts while viewing the site as a whole. What is wrong with simply making the title of the post a link that will take you to that post and nothing more? Wordpress does this just fine.

Will Social Networks Impact The Election?

Todd Zeigler and the Bivings Report led me to an interesting post by Sanford Dickert on his Political Gastronomica site about "the seeming lack of impact social networks have truly had on the 2008 elections so far" (as Zeigler puts it).Discussing the question: Will social networks impact the 2008 presidential election, Dickert writes:

I was asked this question last year by my friend from Wired, after I finished with another campaign, and I can STILL heartily say - even with techpresident's MySpace, Facebook and YouTube counters - I believe that social networks will still NOT impact the coming 2008 election. "Wha?", I hear my poli-tech friends gasp. "Didn't you read the study that shows Facebook numbers are an indicator of relative success of drawing voters?" "Weren't you at the Facebook Political Summit ?" "Aren't you impressed by / using the new Facebook tools?" "Aren't you impressed by the incredible reach of all of the candidates and their supporters through MySpace, facebook, flickr, YouTube?". No. And why not? I think they are missing an essential ingredient: simple, human contact.

Dickert finally concludes:

When I go to the local mall, county fair, outdoor market - I can often see the ardent supporters of candidates "tabling" in the flow of traffic - holding their campaign literature, sign at the edge of the table, looking for eyes that are ready to learn more about the person running for State Senate, Congress or even President. You and your friends are there, giving each other moral support as the throngs of people walk by - nary paying attention to you, until a person walks up and says, "So....tell me about Senator X."Where are the Virtual Tablers?This is where the campaigns can use their volunteers and give them the power to reach across their own networks and chat up people when they are interested in learning more about the candidate. But, it is not easy to go and "speak" to someone in Facebook since all of the communications are not interrupt-driven (as a face-to-face might be), they are addressed whenever the receiver wants to. How do you get people to accept the interrupts? Usually, that is the sense of presence - of human contact. Once that magic ingredient is "captured" and enabled, then I could see social networks truly engaging people.

Dickert might make a relevant point, to a certain extent, but we still feel that this is not the last word.

Our point is that claiming social networks will NOT impact the coming 2008 election because they do not have the ability to – as Dickert puts it – "chat up" people limits many factors about these networks that really might have the ability to impact the election.

Take a site like "One Million Against Hillary Clinton" (Facebook), that encourages people to go viral and recruit friends and neighbours to join them in the fight to stop Hillary Clinton. A sight like this might not have a direct impact on people's voting behaviour. But when it makes CNN because of its viral marketing ability, it has certainly had an impact on the new agenda.

Also, take the "Vote Different" video on YouTube that attacks Hillary Clinton. This video has been viewed by over 3.8 million people. Saying that this video has not had an impact on the election is like saying that ads in general have no impact on elections.

Other notable examples for communities that have the potential to exercise influence on the voting process: or Both caused quite some stir in the political establishments of the respective countries they are active in.

It also seems that Sanford somehow equates human contact with an invasion of privacy and can't seem to accept the fact that people are now able to escape the mall stands and make their own informed choices. This eventually gives the impression that he has an outdated model of the voter respectively of campaigning which sees the voter as somehow without agency. In the internet now this invasion of privacy just isn't possible anymore (except for spam) but the voters are the ones in charge. And we better get used to it – if we need to resort to interrupting peoples' lives as a major way to attract voters then we should really worry about our other campaigning techniques and what went wrong with them.

Also on a more basic level the question is: How do we measure impact? Larry M. Bartels (1993, p. 267), once said that the state of research in the "media effects" area is "one of the most notable embarrassments of modern social science". Over time theorists have gone from claiming that the media have had a strong, almost hypodermic effect that can shape opinions and beliefs, to suggesting that the media have only a minimal effect on citizens because they can not deliver political messages with any predictable effect.

On the other hand theories about agenda setting testify to the power media can have over the community. But then again: Social networks can set their own agendas and influence political discourses.

Eventually we don't think that we have come to a stage where we in the "social network effects" area can exclude a hypothesis stating that social networks CAN or WILL impact the coming 2008 election. The reason: We ultimately do not yet have a clear enough understanding of how we can measure the impact of social networks.

Berelson (in Diamond & Bates 1984, p. 347) once said, musing about his own findings in the "media effects" area over the years, that: "some kinds of communication on some kinds of issues, brought to the attention of some kinds of people under some kinds of conditions, have some kinds of effects" (in Diamond & Bates 1984, p. 347).

So, in Berelson's words, our understanding for now is: that social networks on some kind of issues, brought to attention of some kinds of people under some kinds of conditions, may have some kinds of effects – also on the coming 2008 election.

Espen & Jens

Social Network Sluts

As part of the recent debate that Shel Holtz and I had in the comments section of an earlier post I had made, Holtz provided me with this link to an article about how users of social networks have little or no brand loyalty. However, rather than reinforce the idea that niche social networks have their place, this article made me think that investing time in them is a waste of resources. Wouldn't this energy be better spent interacting in one place?

Holtz's comparison was that Facebook was like a large athletic park with a bunch of people playing various sports, whereas niche social networking sites like MyRagan are more like an organized team or league (please correct me if I've gotten you wrong here, Shel). What he fails to take into account is that Facebook is indeed the large athletic park, but it also encompasses all of the organized teams and leagues by way of the groups and specialized applications.

Part of the reason that greater interaction might be taking place in a venue such as MyRagan is because it is still the early days. While the social networking graveyard (R.I.P. Friendster) is proof that everyone moves onto something eventually, I feel that MyRagan won't even make its first birthday. The novelty of the site no doubt intrigues people at this point, that won't last much longer. As I've asked earlier (without answer), how many of those 8,000 members are actually active? Satisfied? Have fulfilling communications experiences with MyRagan?

MyRagan and its members would probably benefit much more from having all of their interaction take place in one solid place, where it becomes easier to recruit members.

Until some sort of token or universal passport system (allowing us to move between various social networks without having to create new ids, logins, etc) is created, it is a waste of time to invest heavily in multiple networks.

That said, I'm not against trying new things. By all means, check out the latest new development. If it is easy enough to use, people will flock to it, and it will replace the old system.

We're all probably social network sluts, but we also all probably have our ol' faithful, that one that you just can't give up. And I'm sure that at the end of the day, the numbers will choose Facebook, or the next universal social networking giant. Niche networks have had their fun.

If you have any success stories from MyRagan (or other niche social networks for that matter), I would like to hear them.