How social networks handle multiple social contexts (e.g. my work life versus my personal life) has been on my mind this week. Today I was in a meeting where someone mentioned that most of the people he knows have profiles on both MySpace and Facebook because their real friends are on MySpace while their work friends are on Facebook. This reminded me that my wall currently has a mix of posts from Robert Scoble about random geek crap and posts by friends from Nigeria who I haven’t talked to in years catching up with me.

For some reason I find this interleaving of my personal relationships and my public work-related persona somewhat unsettling. Then there’s this post by danah boyd, loss of context for me on Facebook which contains the following excerpt

Anyhow, I know folks are still going wheeeeee about Facebook. And I know people generally believe that growth is nothing but candy-coated goodness. And while I hate using myself as an example (cuz I ain't representative), I do feel the need to point out that context management is still unfun, especially for early adopters, just as it has been on every other social network site. It sucks for teens trying to balance mom and friends. It sucks for college students trying to have a social life and not piss off their profs. It sucks for 20-somethings trying to date and balance their boss's presence. And it sucks for me.

I can't help but wonder if Facebook will have the same passionate college user base next school year now that it's the hip adult thing. I don't honestly know. But so far, American social network sites haven't supported multiple social contexts tremendously well. Maybe the limited profile and privacy settings help, but I'm not so sure. Especially when profs are there to hang out with their friends, not just spy on their students. I'm wondering how prepared students are to see their profs' Walls filled with notes from their friends. Hmmm...

as usual danah hits the nail on the head. There are a number of ways I can imagine social network sites doing a better job at supporting multiple social contexts but they all involve requiring some work from the user to set up their social contexts especially if they plan to become a permanent fixture in their user’s lives. However most social network sites seem more interested in being the equivalent of popular nightclubs (e.g. MySpace) than in becoming a social utility in the same way that email and instant messaging have become. Facebook  is the first widely popular social networking site I suspect will buck this trend. If there is one place there is still major room for improvement in their user experience [besides the inability to opt out of all the annoying application requests] it’s here. This is the one area where the site is weak, and if my experience and danah’s observations are anything to go by, eventually the site will be less of a social software utility and more of a place to hang out and we know what eventually happens to sites like that.  

Now playing: Gym Class Heroes - New Friend Request


Friday, August 17, 2007 1:21:10 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
who's the redheaded skank?
ravishing rick rude
Friday, August 17, 2007 2:45:35 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Hey Dare,

I actually posted something about this sort of thing the other day, but more from why we even use guest books (walls) instead of something threaded like forums where you could shift conversations into their own context, their own thread away from your guestbook, and their own security context as you want to open the conversation up.

It's a little rambling, but I'd love to know your thoughts:
Friday, August 17, 2007 6:21:58 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It's fair to say the social networks don't support multiple social contexts very well. The question is, are they trying to? Dave Morin, Senior Platform Manager at Facebook was asked the other night at the Facebook Developer Garage when they were going to support this and his response was (and I'm paraphrasing), that fundamentally Facebook wanted a more open world, not a more closed one.

You're right to note that there would be some friction in setting up multiple contexts within a social network site that supported it. Members will also have to break down some internal barriers in combining their work and personal friends, but there might be some benefits in doing so that we don't fully understand yet.
Friday, August 17, 2007 8:47:07 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Saying that you want a "more open world" seems like a stupid thing to say in response to people wanting to keep parts of their life private from others. Not wanting your college professors to see your frat party pics or read about your spring break escapades isn't about being a "closed world" it's about separating the different parts of your life from each other.

Of course, this is probably just an excuse because they haven't figured out how to build a user experience in a way that isn't complex and intrusive. Sour grapes and all that.
Friday, August 17, 2007 11:43:29 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I actually posted something about this sort of thing the other day, but more from why we even use guest books (walls) instead of something threaded like forums.
Thank you for the useful informations.
Friday, August 17, 2007 5:16:16 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Seems like it wouldn't be a stretch for Facebook to add this. They already have the "how do you know so-and-so" part and the "how much of you profile do you want people to see" part done. Combine the two somehow and you'd be pretty close.

The real issue is do people want this level of transparency in your own life? In it extreme this has manifested as career advice to take all those pictures of doing bong hits off of your MySpace/Facebook/whereever page before seeking a job.
Comments are closed.