Tuesday, 13 April 2010

WEB101 - Learning Portfolio, Week 7 - Social Networks

This week's topic is something that has become close to my heart - social networking. According to boyd & Ellison, social network sites are web-based services that allow people to construct a profile, display a list of other users that they share a connection with, and also enables users to view these connections. The social networks I'm most familiar with are things like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter but there are hundreds more and some are more popular in certain countries than others. For instance, I recently connected with a 2nd cousin in the Netherlands via Facebook, but she only has 2 other friends on Facebook and she told me that in the Netherlands the social networking tool of choice is Hyves. So I guess if I want to find other people from that side of the family I'll probably have to join that site - which is somewhat awkward because I don't speak Dutch!

As a rule I try to use LinkedIn for business and Facebook for personal, and I try to keep them separated. However, a quick check just now revealed several people on my Facebook list who I used to work with, who I never socialised with, some of whom used to report TO me, who I may or may not work with again one day. Who are also on my LinkedIn network, so I could contact them if I ever needed to. Who I probably never wanted to subject to my weird sense of humour and photos of my kids and new house-under-construction in the first place. Who I can't even remember adding! So I've just taken a deep breath and spent 20 minutes doing a ruthless cull of my Facebook "friends" list.

The thing is, this "friend culling" concept raises it's own issues. In Facebook at least, you can remove somebody from your Friend list, effectively "de-friending" them, and they don't get notified. The only way they can figure it out is if they know exactly who was on their own Friend list, and they notice the number of Friends decrease by 1, and they then go through their list to work out who has dumped them. Seriously - who could be bothered?

Well, I actually know people who ARE bothered, particularly those who see their Friend count as some kind of status symbol. I mean - wow! In real life, friends move away, or move on. Sometimes you can look back and think "gosh, I haven't seen Joe for... let's see... must be 2 years now". So you may try to call him, and you find out he's moved, and you don't know where he's gone. Or you may not even try to call! You probably just shrug and go and watch TV or something because, let's be honest, you haven't worked together for 2 years and it turns out you didn't really have much else in common except work, and he hasn't called you either. So you just chalk it up to one of those "natural progression" type things and move on.

The difference with "de-friending" someone on Facebook is, it's a conscious decision, and a very immediate one. One minute you're officially a Friend, the next you're not. So this begs the question about social networking - is it ALL good? Is anybody really benefitting in the long run from hanging on to all those people who, under different (non-Internet) circumstances, they probably would have lost years ago? A while ago I found people on my list that I went to school with more than 20 years ago, who I hadn't laid eyes on in all that time - was I REALLY going to get anything out of having them on my Friend list, and seeing all their updates?! Probably not. Nowadays I'm proud to say that my Facebook Friend list is more about quality than quantity. :>

Don't get me wrong - I love Facebook. A lot of my friends and family are on the other side of the world and no matter how much I used to try to keep up with their lives, it's difficult to find the time to sit down and write/email to each one individually. Being linked to them via Facebook means I can read about or watch their new baby/dog/house being built/whatever, on an ongoing basis. It makes me feel like I'm a still a part of their lives, even if I'm 8 timezones away from them. But over time I've refined the way I use Facebook, because I was spending too much time wading through status updates that I wasn't really interested in. So nowadays I've stopped adding people that I barely know, and I've learned to ignore Friend requests from people that I really don't want to see my personal information.

To finish with a funny - today a friend pointed me to the latest episode of South Park, entitled "You Have 0 Friends", which aired last week in the US. Very topical! I found a link to a small scene of that episode here on YouTube, which is a funny take on the madness that can arise from taking some of these social networking sites too seriously. If you have ways and means of accessing full episodes, you're looking for S14E04 (the ChatRoulette scene is hilarious but rude!). Enjoy. :>

Until next time,
Cheers,
Nicky
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