Warning: rant ho.
Even the Google guys think there's a problem.
I've never been a fan of social-networking sites. I dislike them more as time goes by.
For starters, I don't like their policies, which can be usually summed up like this: we own everything you post on our site(s) and will use it for marketing purposes, many of which you wouldn't like if you knew. Even when they claim you own your information or content, they also claim they can do anything with the data that they want to.* (FWIW, Blogger, the current host of this blog, only grants itself publishing rights, and I still own the copyright: you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content on Google services.)
My main beef is that social-networking sites seem to be primarily a conduit for voyeurism, where a lot of energy seems to go toward looking up old girlfriends/boyfriends (almost never a good idea) and/or enemies (the assumption is that you've already kept up with the friends you've wanted to keep and don't need to hunt them down on Facebook), or just simple sneaky-peeking into other's lives without them knowing about it.
TLD: When Facebook was becoming the rage, I used my daughter's account to look up an old flame just to see her picture (you have to be logged in to see any "personal" content). She's still pretty, but, like, so what? I don't think it would have mattered to me if she'd somehow gotten ugly. Then it occurred to me I didn't really care in general, usually you're not with someone anymore for several good reasons, it was just simple morbid curiosity. I also felt vaguely ashamed that I had nearly immediately done the very thing that Facebook is really about: secretly poking into stranger's (or now-stranger's) lives. Ick. Haven't done it since.
Way back when the internet first started up, I really dug chatting with total strangers over IRC. The concept that I was talking to someone in Scotland in real-time just blew me away. The community was so relatively small you could even contact most anyone. I had regular correspondence with the great James Lileks before his popularity made it impossible for him to respond to all of his emails. In full acknowledgement of the voyeuristic aspect of the web, Jennifer Ringley put up a cam that showed what she was doing 24/7 for a few years, including sex with her boyfriends. I don't remember how I found it (I do remember I wasn't actively looking for it), but I logged on to the main chat room she hung out in, and it was like bumping into celebrity who was out and about with her entourage. I typed in a question to Jenny, and about 5 people immediately typed back, "who are you and why are you even talking to her." Wow. I lurked for about a week, seeing what the interchange was like, and it stayed true to that initial impression. Occasionally Jenny would want to chat, but her sycophants did everything they could to keep her contained and fawned over every little thing she typed. It was a microcosmic example of celebrity. I did manage to join a conversation once, as it was a topic I knew stuff about, but it really did feel like sucking up to a celebrity, and not like a usual exchange with whomever was on the other end of the pipe in IRC.
What I came away with was that, on my side, I had this false feeling of "knowing" these people, even though we'd only passed ASCII back and forth on a network. I realized that this is a dangerous illusion, it was way too easy to fall into this false sense of connection, and how vulnerable it made you.
I got my wife a computer to chat because we agreed she was going to stay home to raise the kids ("kid" at the time), and she was lonely for adult contact. I stressed that she needed to remain anonymous, and that she should NEVER give out personal information. Well, after chatting with a couple people for a stretch of months, she felt she could trust them, and gave them her real name and such. Suddenly, one of them announced he was going on a road trip to visit his chat buddies, and a couple days later, the fucker knocks on our door. We put him up for a couple days, but it was clear all he wanted to do was screw my wife, so we sent him packing. It was a lesson we will never forget. It was proof positive how dangerous the web could be.
Both of us pretty much stopped chatting, and certainly were very careful about giving out our actual information to anyone. To this day, I've only trusted 3 people enough to do so. And in those cases, I've known the individuals over years, and from several message boards, blogs, and other web sites. I got a pretty clear view about who they were beforehand.
I submit that most blogs differ from this in that your interest isn't based on who you "know" or "knew" (or would secretly like to see naked), but is based on your enjoyment of their stories and thoughts. I've noticed all my favorite blogs are by people who are blogging under a pseudonym. I still like Dooce.com and Lileks.com, but not as much as I do the blogs you see listed on the right. (I hope to re-grow that list someday, but blogs are going through a dip in popularity, and I eventually concluded it was redundant to link to monsters like kottke.org. I predict they'll come back into their own and always be a presence, because they often do offer some of the best content on the web.)
Anyway, back to my point. My daughter recently learned one of the ultimate Facebook lessons the hard way.
(I know, I know. I really really really did try to keep her from joining facebook, but - as the argument always goes - all of her friends were on there, and it was true. Remembering what social freaks the kids who couldn't watch TV or listen to music were back in my day, I felt that it was more important to take the chance then it was to forbid.)
She was in a school play, and after the initial costume fitting, she groused on her page: "I don't like my costume." Just so happens one of her "friends" was a teacher, and one of the little queen bee bitches in her class alerted the teacher to the complaint - it's sad that bullies now have yet one more way to get atcha. Sure enough, my wife and I were emailed by the teacher, with a CC to the school principal, about how that's very inappropriate, and measures will be taken.... yadda yadda yadda.
So, we have new family facebook policies: 1) No comments or pictures that can be even remotely used against you (we already had strict rules about pictures in place), 2) no adults whatsoever as "friends" (along with the existing rule of no "friending" someone you don't know personally in real life, first).
We wrote the obligatory apologetic emails, rolling our eyes the whole time, so things appear to be smoothed over for now.
But really? All this over "I don't like my costume."? Crikey. I doubt had this same teacher overheard her say that in the hallway that s/he would've done the same thing, if anything.
Slashdot reports that Facebook finally is allowing people to delete their accounts (though I doubt they really delete your info), which is at least a step in the right direction, given the problems they've had in the past keeping their data secure.
I know that when I go to look for a job in the future, they're going to ask me if they can find my information on LinkedIn. I will say "no" and then have to present my reason why. Perhaps I'll just bring a printout of this article. But I know it's going to probably cost me a job offer or two, because the person doing the hiring will be very proud of his/her LinkedIn pages, and will consider it an affront that I distrust LinkedIn. Btw, I've looked at the descriptions of some colleagues, and just like half of the resumes out there, there's some stuff that borders on fiction.
Buddies who use the site frequently report what I'd call "negative" use, in that they rule out companies and people based on their "connection" information and other ephemera. Which is why I think these sites do more harm than good, imho. They actually work to limit your chances more than they help them.
And worse, last night I created a pseudonym identity on LinkedIn just to see what they put you through, and to my horror they even tie directly into your email and grab all of your contacts (since I didn't know what I was getting into, I used an email account I created for the sole purpose of having an email to use when I know those I'm going to provide it to will spam the hell out of it). So even if I never add my real information to the site, I know several folks who had me in their contacts when they joined, thus I'm on there without my consent. That explains why I've gotten pre-fab emails that say "_______ has invited you to join LinkedIn and wants to add you as a contact" or whatever the hell it said. I think I actually curled my lip and grumbled as I deleted those.
The point being the mere existence of a social-networking sites essentially create one more headache for me, even when I decide I want nothing to do with them.
Above I predicted that blogs will always be with us. I'm guessing that in about a decade or less, social-networking will exist primarily as anonymous places. I bet people will not want anyone and everyone to have so much access to the details of their lives. The lawsuits that result will be interesting, for sure.
*From LinkedIn's agreement: "You own the information you provide LinkedIn under this Agreement, and may request its deletion at any time, unless you have shared information or content with others and they have not deleted it, or it was copied or stored by other users. Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including but not limited to any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties. Any information you submit to us is at your own risk of loss as noted in Sections 2 and 3 of this Agreement."