Sunday 21 March 2010

A Wish List

During my long winter break I considered posting a list of New Year Social Media and Networking predictions. But before I had even licked my pencil I had been overtaken by several unforeseen events which convinced me that the predictions circus was a mug's game. If you are proved right, then, despite the vanity gold star you award yourself, to the rest of the world it was obvious, wasn't it? And nobody even notices. Alternatively being proved wrong only demonstrates how far your finger was (and by implication probably still is) from the digital pulse. Your predictions are in danger of becoming the objects of ridicule, rather in the way the Tomorrow's World [BBC] episodes from the Sixties are often unkindly laughed at for having been way off the money.

So to avoid the elephant traps I have a Social Media and Networking Wish List instead - much safer ground and hopefully more useful. Just two wishes for the Common Man: for somebody with a proper job and plenty of Internet adeptitude, but somebody who simply doesn't have the time to spend twenty hours a day in congress with the Internet.

First Wish

Twitter. I have one wish that would make my experience of Twitter far more satisfactory by thoroughly speeding up admin. I like Twitter a lot: I find it an excellent feed-reader alternative and combination news/info propagator and harvester. However, a lot of slime-dwellers also imagine Twitter to be wonderful for their dubious and spam-ridden activities too. 95% of accounts that try to follow me fall into this category, it saddens me to say. I don't want to discourage the genuine and friendly 5%, so I allow people to follow my accounts and I get an email announcement to that effect. However, this is what the email looks like:

It can be seen that the only information provided about the new follower is their Twitter handle and the numbers of their followers and followees, and their tweets. Of course if they have only made one tweet and are following 943 and are only followed by 7, then I know instantly that I am going to block them. I do follow my own Twitter Rules! However there are plenty of people with an apparently reasonable balance between following and followed and a healthy number of tweets who I will block immediately I see their profile bio and site link (or lack of same).

So, dear Twitter, my wish is this: put the potential follower's full profile in the email so I don't have to log on every time to see what they are up to. And while you are at it, stick a 'block' link in the email too - rather like the 'unsubscibe' link in a group/forum/discussion board email. Then I will be able to perform all my admin duties straight from my inbox, saving one or two of those valuable clicks.

Second Wish

Social Networking (no, not just Facebook).

A 'given' about email: If you have an email account you can send to, and receive from, anyone else who has an email account. Blindingly obvious. That's how it works.

But if you want to 'social network' you must sign up with a seperate provider, Facebook, Myspace, Google Buzz, Wave or - probably - Tsunami. I actually suspect all these things are becoming way too complicated and particularly time-consuming for my Common Man described above. Google Buzz and Wave are, or are going to be, very clever, but it seems to me I would have to live there the whole time - and so would my friends - to make use of them. I want email. And then I want an SN service for family and friends and colleagues where I can share photos and video and gossip and a bit of blah-blah. In my own time, when I want. I am sure my Common Man feels the same way.

In Germany there is an SN service called StudiVZ which started in very much the same way as FB - social networking for German speaking students. My step-daughters started SN with StudiVZ and then joined Facebook as well when they realised that if, for example, they wanted to be 'friends' with me or their mother, or my sister, or a bunch of people in Greece, they had no other choice. And a lot of their 'friends' at StudiVZ are in the same position. And the same applies to LinkedIn, the business and career-orientated social network. Yes, it is now possible to squirt different social networking news feeds into other services, or use one of numerous consolidation sites which put all your social networking stuff on one page.

But why? Why is this necessary? Why do I have to have all these accounts and spend hours fiddling about getting the whole bag-of-mashings set up just how I want it (or maybe failing to do so)?

No one would tolerate this situation if it applied to email - it would be a joke.

My dream is about a generic 'social networking facility' linked with all webmail accounts. When you signed up for a webmail account you could automatically get 'SN Access', just like the way Google gives you access to Calendar, Books and so on (including their own Buzz), when you have a Gmail account.

If you chose not to activate or use it, you wouldn't have to. If you are already an account holder at Facebook you would tie your email identity to your FB one so that all your FB stuff was sucked into the SN skin in the tab next to your email. And your LinkedIn account, and StudiVZ... The skin and use of apps would be totally customisable. The only thing you would have to accept would be targetted plain ads in the right column, à la Google. (These ads would be sold and placed by your particular email/SN provider. And if you wanted to pay for your account you could avoid the ads altogether.)

But if you didn't already have any of the individual branded SN accounts, the fact that you had activated the SN part of your email account would automatically make it possible to be friends with anyone from any of the individual SN sites. Conversely they could search for you and add you to their Facebook account or their generic 'SN account' just like yours.

So, to put it another way, having an account at Facebook, Myspace or StudiVZ would be the social networking equivalent of having an email account with AOL, Google, Hotmail, Talktalk, Btinternet, &c. &c. But in the end of course, all the individual SN sites would become redundant because SN would simply become a sibling of email. Note: I am not advocating that email and SN should be mixed up on the same page in the way that Google seem to be heading - their roles are too distinct in my opinion. Tabbed would be fine. And within the SN tab you could of course tab or group (ring-fence if you like) your contacts according to status: family; friends; business; hobbies, although individuals could be in more than one group. (Think of it graphically like a Venn Diagram). For instance, you might have a sister-in-law who is in the same line of work as you, so she would be in your 'family' and 'business' groups, but her other business contacts couldn't see her family contacts or feeds - or the family-related part of her profile.

And you would of course have total control over exactly how much and which personal info goes into each part of your profile.

This is my wish for Social Networking for the coming decade.

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