For those of you who think this is going to be a blog about what the future of social networking is going to look like – you’re in luck! I’m not going to disappoint. But hold on for a while – first I have to start by discussing the current business of social networking. I’ll begin with a response to an article on CNet by Ben Parr.
I have this running conspiracy theory that Google tried to buy Facebook (and got turned down; evidence = trend: they bought Youtube instead of making something like Google-Vid), probably because they are a rich source of information for advertising. This is evidenced by the fact that Google started its Google+, and Parr seems to agree in that direction: Google wants more advertising power. However, Parr, and former Google employee James Whittaker, think Google has lost its charm. Parr clearly points out that when Google entered the realm of social networking, they show signs of a fading “empire”.
First, let me say that there are troubles with Google. I’m sick of getting mostly irrelevant search results (Google gives me EVERYTHING, not just what I’m looking for), and I’m feeling the urge to keep information about myself private. Certainly there are things advertisers want to know about me. Yes, they can have those to some extent, but I feel nervous giving away info that associates my IP address with things I just happen to look up out of curiosity (and then discover I don’t ever want to see them again). I could go on about this, but that’s not necessary. The point is, this kind of feeling has profound impact on social networking. If people don’t trust you, they aren’t going to entrust you with their personal details.
Parr discusses Facebook as being successful, which brings me to my second point. Facebook was successful. It still is to a great extent, but I believe that is going to change. Currently, Facebook is also becoming a privacy security threat. This isn’t so much a change in nature (as if Facebook changed) as it is in the mindset of the users. If you’ve been following the privacy issues like me, you might have learned by now that Facebook refuses to permanently delete your images, unless you are a major news website who will tell the world about it if they don’t do anything. Many people are becoming a bit more nervous. It doesn’t help, either, that these past few months have been the battle times of digital rights: SOPA and PIPA bills killed, debate over Mega Upload and file sharing in general, and recently some things here and there, such as the Righthaven biz method being rendered useless (article summary: the company Righthaven had been “authorized” by copyright holders to sue people for infringing “rights”; judge slaps them down, and the company ends up closing from debt (WOOHOO!) ).
Okay, now for…
- Ideal privacy…
Who would you trust your data with the most? Private servers? A not-so-big company? Sounds ideal. You may trust your roommate, spouse, or coworkers, but none of them probably have a server hiding up their sleeve (unless they are a geek). Ideally, this would be the ultimate way to share details about yourself – tiny networks where you control all of the information about you. I imagine each person setting up a sort of miniature webpage (no more worrying about pre-made templates, though undoubtedly some geeks will make them for us because they’ll want some). Basically, your computer is your network. Does this open you up for hacking? Not unless your friends are hackers. Basically, you would give your friends the password to enter your little website.
Benefits: It’s as private as you can get while still being “public”. It’s under your control. The only people who can get detailed info about you or pictures of you are your close friends, and you don’t have to think about deleting those pictures (to keep them from unwanted hands) because it would be like giving friends real copies anyways (except the fact that these are duplicable… hm….).
Cons: Anything you hook up to the internet is at risk. Period. This, however, would be the smallest risk you could take while still sharing personal information about yourself over the web. Another con: you have to set up networks yourself. While there may end up being templates and wikis and helpful guides on how to do this, especially if this method were to become popular, you still have a percentage of the hassle at getting it to work. You must admit, it is much easier to give away your name, age, and email address than set up a network yourself. The biggest con is this: how are you going to connect with the rest of the world? Sure, this works great for people who are already friends, but it doesn’t expand your social horizon or allow you to easily connect with new friends. What if you want to expand you horizon? That requires giving up a little more info and entrusting it to unfamiliar people. So let’s look at the next option…
- Nearly Pure Privacy, Slightly Expanded Horizons… i.e. What we’ve got now
Forums and chat rooms maintain your privacy (since the info you give may not directly associate the IP address of your computer with you) and they allow you to interact with new people. I’m a member of a couple forums, but I’m terrible at 1337 speak or lolzspeak for that matter, much less the mish mosh in the chat rooms these days. (Does anyone know what they are actually saying?) Sure, forums are great to an extent, but depending on the forum, you never really get close to the people unless you engage in deeper conversation. Many people (despite many having Facebook accounts) are usually wary, tending to shy away from the idea of sharing personal information. It helps to have something in common with someone. Even then, you may find limitations as to what you are digitally able to share with them in the privacy of the forum (do note that all forums generally have a personal messaging system, so you can send someone a personal message (“PM”) without having to share details on the boards). In the end, while forums will continue to be around for ages to come, given their extreme usefulness, they are not quite what people are looking for as far as the ideal social network zone. Plus, forums still require an email address to become a member. As for chat rooms, there are some chat rooms where you can remain completely anonymous, but I’ve never found them to be useful.
- MMOs… say what?
Some Many of you are looking at this as though I dropped in from Mario World. I decided to put this hear because, yes, there is social networking going on in massive multiplayer online networks/games. How conducive the atmosphere is for making friends depends on the game and who is playing. Although generally as anonymous as forums, this method is also just as if not moreso restrictive as to what you can share. For example, I doubt that picture-sharing software is a standard feature in MMOs – or at least, not those I’ve looked at.
- Halftime Report
Up until now, I’ve mentioned methods of social networking that are the most private available. Their degree of privacy also restricts features that social networking sites have boasted: finding out what other people are doing. Unless you are somehow subscribed to a person’s activities or get a newsfeed of all member activities and can sort out those you want to see, you generally cannot follow the activities of your “friends” on forums, chat rooms, or MMOs, much less on a private network. This also means that others have the same issue with information concerning your activity. You aren’t able to simply tell the whole world something (unless you join Twitter) much less broadcast to your friends that it is your birthday (sending them an email to tell them would be… yeah… awkward).
Suppose you do want to tell the whole world something. You could start a blog, like me. You could even attach your name to it. Hey, WordPress.com has no advertisements to bug you (THANK GOD!!!) (not that ads are bad – just that I’m not perpetually pounded with annoying, tailored advertisements). Okay, okay, so your friends aren’t always going to follow your blog, and not everyone is going to make an account just to respond to one or two things they cared to comment on.
- Back to Corporations?…
At this point, people, we’re looking at making more concessions of privacy in exchange for the ability to share with the public. Businessmen recognize this and build a business around it. That’s why Facebook became so successful. The tide is only now turning against it because of how it has been handling that information. You want an ideal corporation – one that won’t muck with your personal data in ways you don’t want? – Be prepared to pay for it. It costs serious money for Facebook to run and manage all of the servers they have. The services are paid for by advertising. Granted, Facebook doesn’t have Ad-sense like Google, but there is signs of a similar concept in development as hinted by the “you mentioned [insert something here] in a post”, sometimes followed by a corresponding change in the options on the “like”-menu-sidebar.
It’s about time I got to this. Sorry it took so long… Well, probably the fact that the future doesn’t exist, so we actually have no idea what it will look like. However, we can envision it.
What would be the ideal social networking site? Here is a list of things that social networking sites should have to be “ideal”. Granted, in some respects, a paid service would be most desirable from a business standpoint (which directly contradicts one of the criterion).
- Ability to close one’s account. This includes the permanent deletion of everything uploaded by that person on the network (pictures, notes, posts, etc.). Nevermind the concept of tearing apart social fabric by doing this. It is understandable that some things related to that person will remain (since friends have posted these things and will probably just repost them after their initial deletion).
- Greatest extent of anonymity within reason. In other words, I only need to give away my email address or simple details about myself (e.g. name).
- No releasing of personal information. This means that the company to whom you are entrusting your personal information will not sell, give away, or make available any personal information about you to third-parties. This also implies that search engines will not be able to find you beyond the fact that you exist.
- Secure protection of information from data mining. To some extent, this is impossible, but if a business really wants your trust, they need to ensure that they have a secure network.
- Basic necessary services provided free of charge. You should be able to share information about yourself via common means. (Facebook “status” posts are one example of a common means. This includes the ability to share pictures, though making photo albums is slightly in the gray zone).
- Unchanging License Agreement and Terms of Service. Unless absolutely necessary, the company running the services should not change the license agreement or terms of service on you. What might constitute such necessity would be legal interference. (I don’t mean that in a bad way.)
That’s a nice, easy list. Hey, I didn’t even exclude advertising (which would probably be on other’s lists)! This simple list is to point out the bare minimum for an ideal social networking site. There is more to this list to make things even more ideal. The following things would be really nice…
- Easy discovery of friends. It should be easy to find people you already know. It helps you get established and comfortable and helps fulfill one of the roles of this site in the first place!!
- Easy management of contacts. I like being able to hide information from certain people while still staying in-touch. I also want to be able to disconnect with people I have already disconnected with socially in the real world.
- No advertising. At least, not in-your-face, like pop-ups and such. The site has to be paid for, but it can be done in a non-intrusive manner. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like Ad-sense. Have I mentioned I don’t like Ad-sense?
One thing that wasn’t on this list is customization. Myspace tried that and many people didn’t like it. (Of course, there’s more to that…) At the same time, while it is nice to have a unified layout over the entire network, it is annoying when there are radical changes made to it. It’s rather annoying to relearn each new layout, especially when it is hardly related to the first. I don’t expect myspace will be making a comeback, however.
In the end…
It’s rather funny how Facebook has shaped our perspective of social networking. Facebook took advantage of a trend that had begun to grow rapidly with Myspace just as Google did with Askjeeves (now Ask.com). I’m wondering how this social networking thing will pan out, but for now, my activity on social networking sites is going to go down, down, down… I like the privacy of my forums, and I like blabbering things out on this blog. Thanks for reading. Sorry this was such a long post. I hope you enjoyed it. Perhaps I’ll comment more on this sometime in the future, maybe discussing social networking in MMOs more (after I acquire more knowledge concerning them). Once again, thanks for reading!