The Convergence of Social Networking Sites

July 19, 2007 by Jared Goralnick

Rob Pegoraro wrote in today’s Post how Facebook is now becoming not only the home for personal interactions but business ones. He also raised an excellent point about how Facebook could theoretically allow us to divide which parts of our profile are exposed to our various contacts. While I think that might be one solution, it doesn’t truly address the issue, which is the ways in which our contacts from various settings are come together as we share more and varied information online.

While widespread social networking hadn’t gained steam when I was in school (P2P file-sharing was the big thing), after college I quickly jumped on the Friendster (now sinking) boat. And through inertia I eventually found myself on LinkedIn, Facebook, and (shiver) MySpace. It was easy when LinkedIn was the only business site, Facebook had nice privacy controls, and MySpace was the ugly step-child that you had to deal with because he worked the door. Now the lines have blurred.

For my friends that are reading this, you may find this a wake-up call. After all, it’s going to be a little while before the non-techies of the business-world really start using FaceBook–but it’s quite likely to happen. That means that all the photos, tags, notes, and bizarre status messages may be information you’ll have to second-guess before posting.

Pegoraro also brought up a very good point about who let in to our networks–and whether we ought to be picky:

Earlier this year, I began receiving friendship invitations from people whom I’d never met outside of work: publicists, marketers and lobbyists. Are they friends, too?

By the book definition, no. I may break bread with these folks and enjoy talking with them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be invited to dinner at my house. Then again, denying their friend requests outright — in effect, saying “I don’t know you” — doesn’t seem an appropriate response to this situation.

We deal with this in real life by using words like buddy, acquaintance, source and contact to distinguish different levels of closeness. But on the Web, it’s too easy to be reduced to a binary universe of “friend” or “not friend.”

On my personal networks it makes sense to focus on closer friends, but when business contacts are added then the strength of the network is often based on the quantity of connections. As such, invitations become more frequent and declining less of an option. (Then again, many people have been using personal social networking sites as popularity contests, leaving no one out, just the same.)

Personally I feel that all this rage over social-networking web sites is just getting started. We still have newsgroups, discussion forums, blogs, wikis, and countless other places where we can dialogue…and there’s going to be more convergence of these many areas as time goes on. Perhaps that will be the result of systems like OpenID, shared applications with a single sign-on (like Google’s), or some new yet-to-be-formed identity aggregation tool.

The one thing that’s clear about all this is the old adage that anything placed online, be it in a closed or open system, is probably going to be accessible to people who’re looking. Pegoraro’s article points to one of the unexpected ways this is happening with Facebook, but clearly this trend will continue.

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