In a previous post, I tried to figure out how blogging networks and communities of practice relate to one another. This post has attracted quite a lot of attention thanks to Lilia and the KnowledgeBoard. This time, I am trying to establish a link between social networking and blogging. But this one is just a starting point.
Andrew has mixed feelings about social networking tools. One the one hand, they can provide the exhilarating experience of growing a network of potential contacts very rapidly. On the other hand, social networking on the web is a "state-of-the-art panopticon" which raises a lot of privacy and attention management issues. What strikes him, - and strikes me as well as a user of Orkut, LinkedIn and Ryze - is that all have a specific atmosphere and code of behavior.
I found myself behaving in different ways on different networksFinally, after some time spent on those sites, you realize you've talked a lot about yourself, and nobody calls you for a job, for a date or whatever.
everybody signs up, it's really fun, and then you've got all your friends there, and you're all dressed up, and there's nothing to do
To me, these social networking tools occupy a precise niche in the ecosystem of the web. They provide a first level of matchmaking between people, based on similar interests expressed in their personal pages and recommendations from common nodes ("friends") in the network and within the context (style, atmosphere, personality) of this particular network. But people need to know more about their counterpart than what is actually written in a resumé to actually decide to move forward and make contact. What they need then is a way to observe them in context. How could we make that happen?
First of all, bulletin boards are not the answer. As a tool to get to know people, they are awkward and time-consuming, and I don't believe "communities" on Orkut will ever succeed.
If those people live in distant locations, personal publishing tools in cyberspace are likely to work much better: blogging for written text, picture albums, sound tracks, videos, webcams (though webcams are somewhat perverse...).
If they live close to one another, then somebody from the network will have to organize a casual local chapter event for them to have an opportunity to meet: party, rally, dinner... Here starts the community.
Interfrench is a good example of a "next step". Interfrench is a global network of people born in the Silicon Valley whose goal is to create small gatherings of up to 30 people maximum every month in every town where enough French speaking people are willing to gather and interact. (Surprisingly, they have a chapter in Paris, but that's another story). Interfrench uses LinkedIn as the foundation of their membership directory.
The real problem with those tools has to do with privacy and ownership of data. On Internet-based social networking systems, personal data are centralized under the full control of the operator. The user cannot decide to leave the network and erase his/her name, address and phone number. New forms of "netwarfare" become possible as sensitive information about ourselves proliferates on the net. In the future, I will definitely favor those P2P systems that link with my personal data on my personal server using XML, FOAF, Atom or whatever standardized interface, and allow me to cut the link and leave instantly with my data whenever I want to.
The growth of social networking brings to light a contradiction inherent in the structure of the Internet. The geeks who built the Net tend to be among the more privacy-obsessed individuals in our society. But the network they have constructed is inexorably abolishing every last scrap of privacy that we may have once enjoyed. And yet the masses of people who use that network do not appear to share the values of the people who designed it.