In his post “Twitter me this” Owen Stephens writes about differences in use and audience of Social Networking Sites. (Apparently at Imperial College London they had a similar kind of Web2.0 Learning programme as we had at the Library of the University of Amsterdam.)
Owen distinguishes audiences on several, intermixed levels (my interpretation): “young” (e.g. MySpace ) vs. “old(er)” (e.g. Facebook ); “business/networking” (e.g. LinkedIn ) vs. “family and friends” (also FaceBook); “professional” (e.g. Ning ).
And Owen mentions the risk involved here:
“I do find that Facebook raises the issue of how I mix my professional and personal life – whereas on LinkedIn everyone is one there as a ‘professional contact’ (even those people who are also friends), in Facebook I have some professional contacts, and some personal contacts. Although it hasn’t happened yet, there is a clearly a risk that in the future there could be a conflict between how I want to present myself professionally, and how I do personally – I’m not sure I’d want my boss (not singling out my current boss) to be my ‘Friend’ on Facebook.“
I recognise these differences and risks as well. In The Netherlands the most popular social networking site is Hyves, which can be compared to MySpace (according to my interpretation of Owen’s classification), but without the music angle. I have an account there, with only 13 “friends”, but my kids have 100 or more.
On LinkedIn however, I have 80 connections (a term used to stress that these contacts are to be regarded as serious business relations), of which 99% I have met face-to-face at least once, by the way. Owen says about LinkedIn:
“I’ve got a LinkedIn account but I don’t tend to use it for ‘social networking’, and more really as a ‘contacts’ list – while some people clearly use LinkedIn to ‘work’ their business contacts, I can’t say that I’ve ever been terribly good at this.”
I guess I am using LinkedIn the same way as Owen does. Last week I had a discussion with a colleague/friend (!) about the use of these business networking sites like LinkedIn. We concluded that a number of people obviously use LinkedIn to show off: “Look, I have more than 300 connections on my list; mine is bigger than yours“. I must confess that I have thoughts like that myself sometimes: “I hope that this colleague has noticed that I know that famous person“….
Now these “serious” business networks are starting to offer more social features. LinkedIn has groups, forums and “LinkedIn Applications”: integrating web 2.0 stuff like Amazon reading list, Slideshare, WordPress. In fact, this very blog post will show up on my LinkedIn Profile.
I guess there is a lot of competition, for instance with Plaxo. Besides “connections”, which can be marked “business”, “friends” or “family”, Plaxo offers the options of “hooking up feeds” from web 2.0 services that you use, like flickr, delicious, twitter, blogs, youtube, lastfm, etc. I find this a very useful feature, because it gives me an integrated overview of all my web2.0 streams, much like SecondBrain does, which has a slightly different “connection” implementation, more like Twitter, with “followers”.
Plaxo lets you also synchronise connections with LinkedIn, but this is a “Premium service”, meaning it costs money.
Now, to come back to Owen’s risk assessment: in my Plaxo profile I show my professional blog (this one, that you are reading right now) to “Everyone”, but my twitter, personal blog, flickr, delicious, picasa and lastfm streams only to “Friends” and “Family”, because I think I should not draw unnecessary attention to my twitter “trivia” (as Owen calls it), holiday snapshots and non-professional bookmarks. These streams are publicly available of course, but I do not want to actually push them in the faces of my “serious” connections.
You might argue that this kind of behaviour is not “social“, but rather “antisocial“: certain groups of contacts are excluded from information that privileged groups do have access to. And this term could also be applied to the “showing off” behaviour that I mentioned above.
The funny thing is, that the “killer application” that won me over to Plaxo and that I use the most, is not social at all: it’s something that I have been looking for since playing around with web 1.0 “Personal Information Managers”: the option of integrating and synchronising the Plaxo Calendar with my Outlook work calendar and my private Google calendar. For me this is a huge advantage to having to consult several calendars when planning an appointment.
But I do not share my Plaxo Calendar at all. Would you call this antisocial behaviour too?