Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Social Networking

Finally, a story (somewhat) that has actually spurned me to create a new blog update after almost a year of non-use. The story is that of Social Networking.

As you can see from the right hand side of my blog under "Where in the Internet is Spider?" I have been pretty involved online. That comes with the territory of now having been on the Internet for over 13 years, since February 1997. In that time I have spent a lot of time in IRC, newsgroups, forums, Second Life, and more recently in what is commonly called "Social Networking" areas. These have included Bebo & Myspace, along with Twitter & Facebook.
Bebo was fun for a while. I had quite a few friends on there from The Polyphonic Spree forum, and even met up with one of my Australian cousins in there.
Did try Myspace for a while, but never really got into that scene. It was good for checking out some bands and new music, but I did not spend much time in there.
Second Life has been a part of my life for over 3 years where I enjoy being a blue elf that lives in a land named Farhaven, part of the Elf Circle group of lands. A lot of the friends I have met there are now "real life" friends in Twitter and Facebook.

A couple of years ago I took interest in Twitter. It seemed a very interesting method of communication, giving short updates of 140 characters, and being able to follow other Tweeters with their Tweets. I set up my account, played around with search and started following some people. Currently I am following 138 people, and 102 are following me. Some "people" are actually information groups that are technology based (Linux etc) and even road condition updates for the local area. I do have some really good friends on Twitter, and some people that I have never met but seem to live very interesting lives.
The only celebs that I follow are @bobbyllew (Robert Llewellyn - Kryten from Red Dwarf) and @wilw (Wil Wheaton - from ST:TNG and Sheldon's nemisis in The Big Bang Theory). Both guys are pretty much down to earth and very interesting to follow.
A few months ago I went from a Sony Walkman cellphone with only a number pad to type into, to an iPhone. This event really increased my interest and participation in Twitter. On the iPhone I use an app called Twitterific to check my tweet traffic.

This brings me to Facebook, an online area that I had been avoiding like the plague. As an IT guy I had heard of and fully understood the horror stories behind the privacy issues in Facebook, or rather the lack of. Basically I knew that everything you posted or shared was no longer yours but was then owned by Facebook. This was something that I really wanted no part of.
So, how did I go from this ideal to now having over 400 "friends"? Well, just over a year ago on a Wednesday evening, Arianna and I were with our church fellowship and someone mentioned that a couple we knew were pregnant. This was great news to us as this couple had been part of the fellowship for quite a few years before moving away. Then on the following Sunday we were told that they were now parents. We were overjoyed, but at the same time started asking around why nobody had told us anything for the past 9 months!!! Everyone gave us the same answer: "Oh, it was on Facebook".
This was the event that made me rethink getting involved in the Facebook explosion. We both realised that we were losing out on the good side of social networking and keeping in touch with many good friends. I joined first, followed by Arianna.
Neither of us play any of the games whatsoever, and have been extremely careful what applications we run. In fact, apart from the default set of applications, the only one I have authorised is Qstatus. This is an app from my iPhone that allows me to post updates to both Twitter and Facebook at the same time.
We are both very careful in what we post, not giving any personal details away, such as phone numbers or addresses. You have to be. It truly is a dangerous world online.
At the same time, Facebook is a very handy social tool. It enables you to easily keep in touch with family and friends all over the world. I now talk and keep up with family that I have not even met, and have conversations with many wonderful friends.

Going back to @bobbyllew and @wilw, both of these guys will not have anything to do with Facebook mostly because of the privacy issues.
In fact @wilw tweeted these today:

> "There is a person (or bot) impersonating me on Facebook. This is NOT me, and is likely a scammer: http://bit.ly/cHMS32"

> "FTR: I don't use Facebook at all, because I find the company's cavalier attitude toward privacy outrageous and reprehensible."

> "I wrote some more about that Facebook thing on my blog: http://bit.ly/b2Pqk0"

I totally respect his viewpoint and why he will not use Facebook, but sometimes we need to ask "What alternatives do we have?". Facebook may be considered dangerous, but it is also a very fine tool for keeping in touch with friends and family. Twitter can do this too, but I have yet to find an easy way to follow conversation threads in that medium.

Social Networking is here to stay, but like the squad captain in Hill Street Blues used to say "Let's be careful out there."