Fragmenting my public face

As I cultivate relationships across a wide variety of web 2.0 platforms, I am increasingly asking myself what the relationship with each “connection” or “friend” means. For example, it’s very clear what it means on LinkedIn — either we did business together, or would like to do business together, or at the very least, met in a professional context. It gets a bit muddier on Facebook, where I have “friended” people I went to grade school with as well as current close friends, and professional colleagues. Twitter, which I will refer to as a micro-blog platform for ease of understanding, is a particularly intimate place for me where I have sometimes denied connecting with people that I know, because I intentionally want to keep that community small.

Twitter is where I might just blurt things out, and even though it is in the realm of possibility that one of my Twitter connections might pass my “tweets” on, it is highly unlikely. So amid the wild seas of web 2.0 and the trends of exposing everything, I have attempted to carve out a space where I can quietly mutter to myself (and trusted associates) and hope it will all be fine.

Regarding Twitter and so many of these other web 2.0 services, the sense of timing is pivotal. My “tweets” on Twitter seem hardly relevant the next day, since they might have been referring to something so specific to a moment. Also in a space where you are limited to 240 characters, it can be difficult to be explicit about what you are referring to, though read in the context of the time of day, or based on how quickly a tweet appears after another may provide other clues.

I looked back through my archive and found a few recurring themes and somewhat interesting thoughts which I thought I’d share here, with everyone, a random selection of what I share in what I consider to be my online “safe space”:

  • Eagerly anticipating the haircut.
  • Getting excited about tomorrow’s opening at Canada House.
  • Unwinding.
  • Looking for recipes involving polenta.
  • Sitting on a pile of Krugerrands.
  • Planning + plotting.
  • Watching the rugby at a pub in Manchester.
  • Evolving into a true microwave gourmet.
  • Really irritated by Imogen Heap’s voice and wishing would quit playing her.
  • Terrible weather outside contributing to productivity inside.
  • Unable to shake hangover.
  • Trying to remember how to do proper MLA citation.
  • Waxing poetic.
  • There is the biggest rainbow outside my train window as Arcade Fire crescendoes in my earphones – I love life.
  • Looking at food porn.
  • Thinking of naming my imaginary band “Incompetent Terrorist”.

It’s all fairly unremarkable, like everyone else’s tweets. In fact, you would only care about them if you really cared about me. For me, I suppose, that’s the allure of a service like Twitter: I have finally found a place in the web 2.0 world where it might really simply just be about sharing in an honest, open way, with people who might give a damn. And that feels good.


What’s in a name?


As my attachment to online social networking sites (Facebook in particular) grows, my nitpicking about them seems to deepen. I’d like far too much control, in the form of having several different levels of “friends”, complicated veils of privacy control, and to do a bit more with the messaging options.

First of all, it’s incredibly difficult to choose which service to go for, because of the levels of complexity involved. Essentially what these sites are purporting to do is represent and mediate your entire social life, so this is no small task. Inevitably, many of us just join them all (see Anil Dash’s hilarious “Thanks for the Add!” post that underscores how far you can take this). Not only is this labour-intensive, however, it is also mostly a waste of time. Or, as Anil put it: “Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is stupid. […] hoping people manually recreate these networks over and over isn’t just an annoyance for really geeky people like me; It also acts as a barrier to people creating new, useful services, because it’s just cruel to ask people to clear this social networking hurdle yet again.”

However, let’s just say you are not as geeky as Anil Dash is (or as I am), and you only belong to one service. Let’s also pretend it’s paradise: everyone in the world is signed up to it and so you don’t need to send those pesky emails convincing friends to sign up. The next issue you face is that the whole thing is just too binary – someone is your friend, or they aren’t. Someone is in your “network”, or they aren’t.

I recently joined (and promptly let fester) an account at a new community/sharing/etc site called Pownce. In one of the shared conversations, Matt Jones had this to say about the binary relationships proposed by this type of site:

“I know I’m biased but I wish people would just ditch/rethink so much of the default language around YASNSs, e.g. Pownce’s “Fan, Friend, ‘you denied friendship’. It’s so autistic. My preference is to describe what is happening to the information, not your relationships e.g. ‘share messages with X’… A return to cybernetics, my “friends””.

Matt’s point is underscored by the trauma induced by refusing a “friend” request that Joshua Schachter describes:

“…since these systems make implicit relationship information explicit, deleting someone becomes a loud signal. In real life you would merely back off a bit, but the systems only allow you to express a binary sort of relationship.”

top friends
So, what to do? Something like the Facebook application Top Friends (picture above) is really the lowest kind of hack. Besides being rather Grade-Five-schoolyard in its approach, it’s a bit odd that an external application has to do the work of helping you to make these subtle (or not-so-subtle) shades of grey between friends. This kind of functionality should exist in the applications themselves, as they currently stand. Otherwise, no single one of them will stand out enough to truly save us from a list of site subscriptions as long as Anil Dash’s.

(Though OpenSocial looks to change a few things about how these sites might be used in the future…)