I’ve been goofing around with Facebook for a while now. It is really cool, engaging and often devilishly fun. But it is a walled garden, a waste of time and doesn’t really solve our problem. The fundamental flaw is that personal relationships do not transcend context, they are birthed, grown and live within it. We lack the control we need; we lack the next generation of social media tools.
Sorry for the high school geometry diagram but I’ll call this the Relationship Context diagram. We have many different contexts in our life but suffice to distill it down to three: (1) Professional, (2) Personal or private and (3) Public. Professional life is pretty obvious but in this example I would also include classmates for the school-age crowd. Personal is in many ways both a narrow but deep and wide context. It’s who you really are around your very closest friends. And finally there is Public which is the content you would share with most anyone.
All contexts have codes of conduct. All have a certain tolerance for what can be exposed without risk of reputation. All have culturally agreed upon measures of wealth and success and all have differing expectations as to how much we can expose about our own insecurities and doubts. And lastly, all have a moral framework governing what can be considered humorous, offensive or abusive.
Facebook primarily assumes most of your information should live in the intersection of these three contexts – the middle of the venn diagram. It would seem to make sense to give us a lot more control over our content and how it is shared across contexts.
There are some fun scenarios to reflect on that illustrate these points. I once read a funny story about a 21 year old blogger that was having a great time bragging of his college antics on his blog until his mother mentioned reading it. Oops. I know employers are checking out prospective candidate’s online identities via a Google search or a Facebook presence. I personally struggle with how much I share on my blog about my personal life and I am surprised when I meet new people how often they will mentioned they’ve read this blog. Do we really want to know you’ve installed the “Where I’ve Been” application or that your “Moods” application reflects you love of cats?
Facebook gives you too little control of this; but at it’s core it can’t really do what most of us want it to do anyway because it doesn’t deeply consider context. Help us connect with people with shared interests: whether or not we met on or offline, with powerful, configurable boundaries of context and depth. Keep us informed of things that are interesting without becoming an annoyance. Stop focusing on stickiness to drive valuation and give us ways to monetize our own data.
So when they write the history of content on the web maybe the story-line will be what started as a site-generated web, migrated into user-generated and ultimately graduated to owner-generated; where those who generate the content own it, control who sees it and personally gain from sharing it. Seems like we’re on that path. Maybe there’s another startup idea in that? Gosh I hope my boss isn’t reading this…