my talk on social networks for first tuesday bergen
I enjoyed my First Tuesday Bergen experience yesterday. Interesting people at dinner beforehand, and the two other presenters gave very engaging talks from a business point of view – Rune R¯sten (long-time Norwegian blog enthusiast who ran the blogs and more at Dagbladet before going to Nettby last year) talking about Nettby, the biggest Norwegian social network site at the moment (Spray Date and Blink no longer rule, though Facebook arguably has more Norwegian users), and Kjetil Manheim talking more generally about community and social sites and how businesses should think about using them – hey, his slides are already on Slideshare, cool.
As the voice from academia I started by talking about strong and weak links, as Granovetter theorised them in the 70s, and went on to talk about how some social network sites, like LinkedIn, primarily try to help us use and develop our weak ties, whereas others, like dating sites, are more about finding new friends and contacts. Unlike LinkedIn, Facebook has become a social site where all sorts of networks are mixed – I have contacts there ranging from acquaintances from high school, students I had three semesters ago, neighbours, colleagues I met once at a conference, through to colleagues I see or talk with regularly and close friends and family. The collision of networks is one of the problems with sites like these, as “boyd’s law”, formulated by Cory Doctorow expresses: ìAdding more users to a social network increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance.î According to Doctorow, that’s one of the reasons social networking sites only tend to last for a couple of years – once there are enough people in your “network” that you don’t want to have contact with you’ll move to another site. I then told boyd and Heer’s story about the teacher whose students found her Burning Man style profile on Friendster (PDF, and noted that services like Spock and Open Social are making these kinds of collision more and more likely, even when we try to keep our networks separate. danah boyd’s post yesterday was great as a round-up: Tim O’Reilly’s argument that this kind of openness is a kind of vaccination against the foolish belief that we can be private online (“We have a moral responsibility to eliminate “security by obscurity” so that people aren’t shocked when they are suddenly exposed.”) vs. danah’s argument that that’s all very well if you’re privileged, as tech geeks in Silicon Valley are, but if you’re not in a position of power – say, if you’re a teenager, or a dissident in a dictatorship, or queer in an oppressed society, or a whistle blower – that vaccination may damage you badly, or even get you killed.