It’s been a month since I decided to take the plunge into the dark and mysterious world of social networking by joining LinkedIn and Facebook. My initial motivation was to join in order to conduct research, I’m one of those old-fashioned academics who prefers to experience first-hand what they’re talking about (not always advisable, as academics conducting research into hyena mating practices could tell you).
The first thing I did was to research social networks available. I had some recommendations from colleagues Nicolas Jondet and Colin Miller, but I also wanted to look at other alternatives. MySpace was out of the question, as I’m not a band (check out Malpaís and Broken Records), I’m not a popular podcast, nor an unruly teenager. Also, I have read about the 10 ways in which Myspace can ruin your life. Other sites did not offer what I was looking for, so I decided to go for the two recommended to me.
LinkedIn is serious networking, you fill in your professional details, hook with other like-minded people, and share their contacts. You can also write recommendations, and virtually introduce one of your contacts to another. I’m almost certain that I will keep using it, although the contact build-up has been slower than I expected, but the site fits well with my research into network theory.
However, Facebook is an entirely different kettle of fish, and I’m not sure what to think of it yet. At first glance, the only difference between Facebook and MySpace is that the former is directed to older audiences, and it seems particularly popular with University students. It also offers a range of “privacy” settings, which allow users to share information only with selected friends, or to the world. I’ve found it well-designed and easy to use, and I’ve been immersed into the wealth of snippets into other people’s lives.
Facebook is very popular with Edinburgh students and with some members of staff, which has created a conundrum for me. Should I join a network dominated by students? If so, everything I do or say in the environment will be open to scrutiny. How much information should I make available? Can I relax and be myself, or should I adopt a more professional outlook? Should I use the privacy settings or be open about it?
I’ve found the network useful, and I’ve decided to go for an open approach, but I’m still experimenting with the settings. One thing is sure, I can already see some interesting legal implications with social networking. There are a lot of avenues for research on defamation, intermediary liability, copyright and privacy that require further exploration.
Then again, I could just relax and post kitten pictures. Everyone loves kittens, right?
Update: I’ve just read this article on The Guardian. BNP in Facebook? Perhaps there’s a new Godwin’s Law for social networking, once the BNP moves in, the site is over.