When the Internet craze first started back in the mid 90’s I was one of the first to snap up domain names for my friends and family. Everybody needs a web site, right? For a time that was fine. Web sites were primitive and hard to maintain. Search engines and threats were also primitive. During this time I ran my own web server. I maintained static and dynamic web sites. Being able to serve database content out of a database is a real plus. I wrote content management systems to maintain that content. Later the tools caught up with my needs and I switched over to Drupal for CMS.
When it comes to self publishing there’s a real privacy concern. You have two options. You can make everything public and have to censor every thing you post. This approach works well for organizations but not well for individuals. The second option is to make everything private and require your intended audience to log in to see. This approach breaks down because authentication is such a hassle.
The hope is that something like OpenID will come along and make it easy to identify your intended audience and give them access to the content that you want them to see. I say like OpenID because as it stands now, OpenID does not work. When I say it does not work I am not talking about the technical aspects but rather the practical ones. An authentication system needs to be so simple than anyone can use it. The Internet is so balkanized today. Users have to register with each site they touch and are giving up there personal data without consideration for the privacy issues.
The Social Networks offer some hope but with a warning. These are similar to the communities on AOL and CompuServe of the 90’s. People are coming together to form these virtual communities. Whether its World of Warcraft, Wii, Digg, Facebook or MySpace, these communities are strong. Unlike the AOL’s of the past, the content on these networks is oftern very public. The hard decision is to decide which communities to join and how to participate. A buddy of mine recently commented that you would never find him on one of those web site. He is a radio personality and his online presence is a valuable asset. Anything that could damage that puts his livelihood at risk. He said “pages like Facebook get people in my business fired and both a Patriots cheerleader and a Longhorn offensive lineman have both been dismissed for their Facebook pages in the last 36 hours.”
Think before you post. Don’t post anything that you would not want your boss or your family to read. Another way to put it is “don’t be stupid”. When MySpace first started getting popular I checked it out. I was appalled by the vulgarity and lewdness that was rampant on the site. And that was just from people I knew. That experience colored my view of the other sites. Fortunately they are not all that bad. MySpace seems to be the worst. It has a culture of unstructured self-promotion that is better suited for a rock band than a high school student.
Other sites are better structured and have a more mature culture. Facebook started out as a site for college students but has expanded. Its focus is on getting in contact with other people. It allows users to specify their college and high school. This allows other users to browse through profiles by school and year. LinkedIn is what I like to call Facebook for grown-ups. Its focus is on professional relationships rather than personal ones. You cannot browse by high school but you can post what is essentially a résumé online. You can recommend the work of other people in your network.
Sites like ebay, Flickr and Digg at first glance seem to be focused on something other than social networking. Do not be fooled. These sites are first and foremost all about the social network. You would not dare buy something off someone on ebay who had negative feedback. Someone was actually sued recently for giving negative feedback on ebay. Anything you post on any of these sites be seen by anyone.
At this point I am unsure how to use the social web sites but they are an alternative to a personal web site.