In the world of social networks, the marginal utility of an application increases when the user’s friends usage rates increases. Much of the reason of the emergence of the popularity of social websites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace is due to an increasingly number of users utilizing this service.
In my earlier post, I had discussed the societal, economical and psychological benefits/drawbacks of social websites. In this post, I will continue to discuss the role of online privacy. In my earlier post today, I had discussed the balance between online privacy and targeted advertising. Trying to seek a balance between the two is rather difficult. There is a paradox that exists as the users become increasingly engaged online, their privacy increasingly erodes.
One of the noted features of Facebook is a news feed, that automatically updates the activities of the user’s family, friends and acquaintances. It is similar to an RSS feed, instead of seeking daily updates on a multitude of web pages, these feeds are instead fed to a single web page. On Twitter, the user can update his/her status (what they are doing, where are they going, who are they seeing, etc.) with a maximum of 140 characters (similar to a text message) unlimited number of times per day. Both Twitter and Facebook feed applications are similar, one feed is not meaningful by itself, and can be rather mundane. Put together a collection of feeds that happen in one day, it becomes a story, and it paints a complete picture of the family member, friend, acquaintance or even a stranger that the person is following . With Twitter one can update one’s feed and follow others’ feeds and know what the other user is feeling/thinking/doing, etc. on a constant basis especially when using a Blackberry device. According to this article, social scientists refer to these incessant updates as “ambient awareness.” Can people constantly read and absorb a multitude of messages on a daily basis? Well, these feeds are meant to be scanned, akin to reading newspaper headlines, and is analagous to acting as ambient messaging.
These feeds can become a conversation piece with friends the following day. It ressembles reading someones mind. For example, if one was meeting a group of friends at a coffee shop, and saw something interesting while in transit, he/she can “twitter” this neat occurrence to his/her friends real-time. Once at the coffee shop, his/her friends would know what happened to the user on the way to the coffee shop.
Being connected and engaged with these online social tools is not all rosy, the article discusses how this constant self-disclosure created difficulty with one user withdrawing from this online world because she wanted to know if people were discussing events behind her back. Some employers and college admission boards are now utilizing these online social tools to screen potential job candidates.
In the end, users need to balance the enhancing social capital vs online privacy paradox. The constant self-disclosure could be used as a method for catharsis, which inadvertently, makes the user know themselves better.