A New Social Order: The High Cost of Web 2.0 Networking
This might not be a popular perspective but I think it’s something worth considering. My legal training is always looking for the counter-opinion that might not be so obvious on first blush. So please bear with me as I take a look at the potential dark side of social networking.
A Brief History:
Not long ago the web was all about exclusivity. There were private bulletin boards, private chat rooms, private newslists and private newsletters.
Then a new technology emerged called blogging that was primarily for geeks speaking to geeks from their own personal podium. Some blogs required registration just to leave a comment and others offered no commenting at all.
Along came RSS push technology making it easier to share information. The public soon saw blogging as an opportunity to self-publish whilst the search engines eagerly gobbled the information up like online transcribers.
But that created a problem for the geeks so a new blogging hierarchy emerged via so-called a-lists as the geeks tried to drown out the noise (i.e. the public) and be heard above the din.
It wasn’t long afterwards that online marketers and splogpreneurs saw an opportunity to make money off the public. Blog networks sprang up all over the place to carve out their little empires.
The corporate bigwigs weren’t far behind and could smell the money all the way over to Wall Street. So the next thing you knew entire websites (called social networks) were being built to encourage us to “share” our information.
But they took “sharing” to the nth level by asking us to “share” our private information such as birth dates, etc.
Now everybody’s in on the act and it’s all about ”socializing” the web. I suppose it’s a good thing the cold war is over or some might consider it a communist conspiracy. But I digress…
So I was wondering:
1. Is the “social” web just a backlash against the elite mentality of the past?
2. Is this just another cycle … a trend that will eventually be replaced with something new down the road?
3. Or will the openness of the web end up compromising our privacy, so much so that we will long for the good old days?
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction:
As for me I believe we’re in another cycle, much like the music and fashion industries.
History students know that every generation rebels against the previous one. Generation X wears their hair shorter than their hippie parents. Rap boldly contrasts with the musicalness of the 80’s, and so on.
After more people cry over their privacy being compromised by the social networks, I believe you will see the open web putting up walls again. It’s just human nature and another history lesson learned.
Lessons learned too late:
But by then it may be too late. My concern is the damage will be done and there might not be any turning back the clock. The information will already be out there for easy pickings and the highest bidder.
Today everything is about the web being open. We have open standards, open architecture, open API, and OpenID. But more importantly users are encouraged to “open” up and share their private information on the premise that they can be found by that old school mate or long lost lover.
But as we learned from the lessons of Facebook, it’s not only just our old friends who are seeking information. Online marketers, advertisers and government agencies are using the information for their own purposes.
We don’t need an evil empire like George Orwell’s “Big Brother” to spy on us. We are willingly giving that information away.
Another brief history lesson:
Does anybody still remember the human rights and feminism movement? How many people today believe it has gone too far? How many women wish they could leave their jobs and go back to being full time moms again?
I’m just asking so please don’t shoot the messenger because it seems to me the question is now moot. Society and the economy has adjusted to a two-income family so that decision has already been made for us.
If you don’t believe me then just go shopping for a house or a new car and you will find your answer.
Wrapping it up:
Let me close by leaving you with these parting thoughts. Do you really think that we can turn back the clock now? (Rhetorical question). So why should we expect anything different of the new “social” order?
Indeed web 2.0 social networking has its benefits, but it can also come at a high cost. Are you really willing to pay the price?
UPDATE 09-19-08: Still need more convincing? Then read this article about Employers using Social Network sites to spy on their employees.