Gaming the Social Networks
Cory Doctorow’s got an interesting article on why social networks like Facebook and MySpace are doomed over time: essentially his argument is that they make it too easy for all the folks you hate to find you:
For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there’s a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I’d cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, “Am I your friend?” yes or no, this instant, please.
I think Cory’s right, but only to the extent that people actually care about the sort of crap. I have profiles on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, et al., and my philosophy is to friend pretty much anyone who asks. As a result, I’ve got about 500 MySpace friends, of whom maybe about 10 percent I actually know or care about (if you’ve friended me there, be assured you’re in that ten percent. I love you, man). Same with Facebook. I don’t dislike most of the people who have friended me; I’m sure they’re nice people I would like. I just don’t know them. But if it makes them happy to have me on their friend list, why not? It’s harmless to me.
More to the point, I don’t actually confuse MySpace friending with actual befriending out in the real world; just because MySpace says we’re friends doesn’t make it so. If the people who annoyed me in seventh grade showed up on MySpace and wanted me to friend them, I would, because what do I care? It doesn’t mean now we have some sort of bond. I’m not obliged to them in any sense. I’ll friend ’em and then commence to not think about them any further. It’s a pretty simple thing.
Cory points out that one of the problems with Facebook, MySpace, et al., is that all of a person social spheres get dumped into one bin, and suddenly your conservative boss, who you’ve friended to be polite, knows that you hang out with a bunch of polyamorous hippies when you’re off the clock. Aside from my personal inclination to tell any potential boss with hangups about my personal life to just deal with it, dude, there’s no reason one can’t manage one’s online social life as one does one’s offline life, with multiple faces for different people. Use one MySpace account for all your polyfreak pals, another for family and non-polyfreak pals, and another one for your boss and coworkers and random people in the seventh grade what used to beat you up. Think of the latter as the social network equivalent of a spam trap. Don’t tell the people in your social spam trap that, obviously.
No, I don’t have secret MySpace/LiveJournal accounts I’m not telling you about, because, remember, I’ll friend anyone, and most people who I actually know, know to reach me other ways. The only “secret” social networking thing I have is an IM account; there’s the public one (ScalziOnAIM) which anyone can chat with me on, and then there’s a more private one, because unlike a MySpace profile, IMs demand attention and have to be managed. I don’t actually expect the more private IM is secret, but if I’ve not personally given you the account name and you IM me on it, you’ll get to experience Cranky Scalzi, which I don’t think you want, and then I’ll just ban your ass.
Which is the other thing: Cory’s formulation is rooted in the idea that people aren’t willing to be seen as dicks online, so they’ll just friend anyone to avoid conflict. This is not a problem I have; I don’t mind being seen as a dick if people annoy me or presume we have a relationship we don’t have, and won’t take a polite hint. But more to the point, if this sort of stuff mattered to me, I wouldn’t have a problem letting people know they exist in particular social spheres. Because it’s actually not offensive to point it out. Or shouldn’t be, anyway.