The Social Power of the Web
Since going mainstream about fifteen years ago the Internet has changed the way we work and play. Our uses of the Net increase constantly. Email, chat and VOIP for communication, the World Wide Web for information, shopping and doing business in general. Search engines to locate information from all over the web, Wikipedia to find encyclopaedic exact information on almost any topic.
Today I don't know how I could write this article without Answers.com, immediately a click away from any word I type, to check meaning, usage or synonym, even spelling variants, and Wikipedia to verify my facts and enhance any topic on which I am writing. Composition has become a pleasurable learnig experience.
But the current big Web application, "the flavour of the month", is social networking. Following the lead of MySpace and FaceBook, the Web has sprouted many specialised niche networks for business, social, students, like-mindeds, birds of feather.
They say you've got to be on FaceBook, especially if you're a kid, and MySpace if you're an artist. Everyone will find you and you'll find everyone. You don't exist in the real world world if you're not here in cyberspace. You'll befriend your old friends, make new ones, spread you ideas, change the world, etc.
I joined both MySpace and FaceBook a few months back. So far on MySpace I have one friend, Tom. Tom's page says, "Tom has 243,835,798 friends". That's very interesting and a bit hard to believe (I added the commas to make sure I was reading the number correctly -– FaceBook is smart enough to add commas by itself), but since Tom is the guy who started this network and he automatically becomes your friend when you sign up, you would expect him to have a lot of buddies. I don't have too much information about myself up there, but no-one that I would want to find me, has yet to find me. Just a few people trying to sell me something or themselves. I've even reported a couple of them for abuse and they have been removed (two less friends for Tom).
I've been more aggressive on FaceBook. I have twenty friends. Just about all of them found me. I haven't gone actively searching. I now know all about my friends. I know that Mike is heading for the gym (but that was 4 hours ago, so I guess he's somewhere else by now), that Ilana is half way though her pregnancy (that'll stay constant for a couple of days), Nomi travels free, courtesy of the Zionist enterprise, and she will be in Perth on Thursday (but I had to put two sources together to know that) and Zach and Michal are now friends (and in the near future, when I log in again, the system will say, "People you might know: Zach", but I know nothing, yet, about Zach other than that Michal met him, or perhaps just heard about him, somewhere). I know which of my friends are on line right now (well maybe -- it seems a bit slow to update this information -- I've gotten excited that Daniel is on-line, but when I click on the chat symbol, it says, "None of your friends are on-line) and can chat with them, or email them if they're away from their computers.
I believe there are some worrisome aspects to all this. I think people are displaying (personal) information about themselves to I'm not sure they always know whom. Michal has 1,201 friends and Nomi has 1,387. Most of my friends' friends number in the hundreds (makes me feel a little unloved). There exists an element of risk of identity theft. You leave little clues about yourself: the area you live in, your pet dog's name (a common password or identity verifier), where you work, where you're going (I'm going to Montreal with my wife [you already know I have no kids or dog] for four days – hey Mr Buglar, no-one will be home all that time, so please don't feel rushed when you've let yourself into my apartment at two in the afternoon). Is there perhaps enough information here for a fraudster to apply for a credit card in your name? Is date of birth, location, job and marital status enough to get a card? Perhaps not in the U.S. where you need a social security number too, but quite possible in London (it's true -- I heard it on the BBC).
How many people are on the social networks pretending to be someone else. (Remember the case where a women pretended to be a teenage boy who befriended the girl next door. She (he) insulted her so badly, the fourteen year old killed herself. The neighbour is up for manslaughter charges.) You think your information only goes to your first degree friends. But I can see who your friends are. I can open a personality for someone you're likely to know, and then befriend you. I now have full access to all your information. And if you have a few hundred friends, you'll forget about me and I'm hear to stay.
If I give FaceBook my email address and password (yes, you got it) they will tell which people in my adress book are also on FaceBook. What a great feature! Maybe they'll change the password too and email it to me, just for added security of course.
Don't get me wrong -- I think these networks are fantastic. Just exercise a little caution please, and don't spend all your time in there.
Last week I joined LinkedIn. This niche social network is to allow me to "connect to the people in my professional network" whatever that means other than no pesky kids – just serious adults wanting to make some money. Real people.
Perry and Elisha both recommended LinkedIn to me on two consecutive days. Perry said he's already got a couple of jobs out of it and Elisha said that some Venture Capital Funds have viewed his profile. That's cool, because he's in the throes of starting a start-up. All sounds good. So I signed up. Unlike FaceBook and MySpace, I spent some time building up lots of information on myself including a full C.V. Everything from University to work experience. This network is the real world not a play world, so I'm being serious here. And proactive. I started off by looking for people who may be already on the network. I sent out sixteen requests to be my connections (not friends – remember this network is for serious business). So far six people have accepted me as their comrade. One even offered to buy my business (well until he heard my asking price – but heck, everyone negotiates).
My profile has been viewed by two people in the last four days. And in the last three days I have appeared in four searches – I'm glad their measuring period is consistent. I've joined one group so far, "Canon EOS Digital Photography". Someone recommended a "Very nice social network for photographers", but the hyperlink isn't active. I'll have a look later. I have to copy and paste it – bit of a drag on net these days.
But sometimes networking still works in the old fashioned way. My old friend Noosen left Sydney for Israel, I think, in 1975. I have seen him a couple of times in Israel, but not for at least twenty-five years. I think of him every now and again, but never attempted to contact him (it's a quirk of human nature). Then one day, out of the blue, I get an email that originated from my Story site. How did he find me?
Well the story is, a bloke working in construction goes to the local cement plant. Among other things, he casually asks the manager if this guy he used to know in Sydney, called Noosen, still works for the company. The manager says he'll check and later rings Noosen directly. Turns out he's been with the company now for over thirty years and has a pretty senior position there.
As Noosen later recounts, "Tuesday I had to make an inspection check of the plant and he [the manager] secretly arranged for the guy [who asked about him] to be in the plant. It was Ezy [my friend Ezy of flick phone fame ]. He filled me in with all the details." Including I assume my website. We've exchanged a couple of emails filling in on a missing generation. It is good to reconnect.
So you see, you still can find with old friends without the need for technology.
And just this morning (when this story was in the last edit phase), a guy I've met a couple of times, walks over to me in the gym and says, "You have an Internet business". "Well yes". "I may interested in buying it." I tell we can talk early next week as I'm going away for a few days [leaving my kids and goldfish at home, so don't get any ideas]. He says that's a pity because he is seriously looking at two other businesses and wants to make a decision by the end of the week. So we talk then and there. Now he's seriously looking at three businesses.
And I thought I'd sell my business through a serious attempt on a "big boys'" social network. Yes, you don't always need access to the latest flavour of the month.
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and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.