Protecting us from the “Only Connect” moves of social platforms calls for a paradigm shift

2010 February 18

Social networks’ integration/diversification of offerings is the new frontier in the war over web dominance, and we may be left wounded in the battle field. It is therefore time to rethink the basic paradigms that dictate our current social communications. After all, it is about us, not about the companies that serve us.

Social networks are consolidating and it will reshape our communication ways. For us our social networks are the town squares, the camp fires around which we share, converse, expose…. All the major players are adding features so that their offerings in order to  capture a larger users’ activity share on their communications platforms. They all want to be the platform of choice over which we manage our relationships, turn it into an ad delivery multi headed monster, and draw the golden eggs of the ad and targeting based revenue streams associated with it. 

The results – borders are blurring, distinction features between the web technology moguls are fading, web based interaction is going one level higher on all fronts – and we users, are faced with situations that demand a new level of awareness – we need a new set of active choices to optimize our interactions in the over exposure to all our social networks’ activities and a stronger privacy lens in our watching eye – we need to protect ourselves, as we are being exposed and targeted on all fronts, since marketers will strive to find us wherever we are.

We can’t control this blurring, or at least it demands a proficiency level that is not intuitive to all mainstream users, and eventually it may cause many of us to lose all the trust we might have had in parts of the offerings they had all together, so that a supposed added app blessing, will turn into a core service curse.

Until today the distinction was quite clear:

  • When I want to answer a dedicated mail message I use outlook, Gmail….
  • When I just want a short comment – I tweet (140 characters)
  • When I want a short personal message -  I use IM, SMS
  • When I want  a one to many  communication channel I use my social network – e.g. Facebook
  • When I want it for a vertical communication channel like profession related – I use LinkedIn.
  • When I want to share my thoughts or muse on an issue – I blog.

With such “communication empire” under my command, each provider wants to become a full scale communication platform, and they all start to look alike. When they all offer me the same, duplication is redundancy, and privacy, segregation and verticalization considerations may leave me more confused and eventually cause me to drop some – so that in fact channels that wanted to do it all for me, risk losing me all together.

Attempts to sort it out primarily focus on comparing their benefits for the industry’s sake, so they will know how to best target their customer in the tectonic shifts that are dynamically changing the balances, not from my users’ point of view of how we may optimally benefit and still feel secure.

First thing first – how is the scene changing? Facebook, Twitter, Google and even Microsoft are radically harnessing the missing components

It started out in a war between FaceBook and Twitter and the battle field was data portability. From FaceBook’s Connect to third party sites, Twitter’s answer, and MySpace following.

Then it scaled up. From basic blurring, like the Twitterization of Facebook to a full communication platform. Facebook ‘s Titan  project – a full fledged web mail system that will make full mailing from the Facebook platform simple and intuitive. This is more strategic, because it makes the lines between Twitter, Facebook, MySpace…. really blur.

Along comes Google’s Buzz and changes the scene. By harnessing a whole social network from millions of dispersed Gmail web mail users into a global social network, integrating blogs,  Twitter, Google Reader shared items, photos and other feeds, Buzz aims for the slot of placing it all under Gmail  - our one to one, one to many, segregated sharing, full exposure – and hence the hegemony over all our web communication.  

Where does it all go? According to Google, to a universal map of monitoring users wherever ( mobile and location awareness), whatever (desktop Buzz integration) with whoever ( social integration) in real time as the fertile ground for an ad based world that will follow us in all our activities and whereabouts, and will pop up offerings in our faces every mile of the way, every minute of the day, every click we make.  

Privacy fears

 Privacy and social networks are not two contradicting hiding and sharing  terms.  The balance and the granularity of exposure and sharing  is a very personal decision. Buzz’s initial fully automated set up option of full exposure of correspondences and contact lists, addresses, activities, scanning mails…..violated its very essence.   No one has the right to assume such a totally ubiquitously naked world. They failed to give us the keys for choosing what, when, with whom, how. They lost the trust of is users’, breaching such basic privacy issues to such an extent is outrageous. No matter how its leaders will apologize for the privacy breach and bullying forcing of the service and allude it to their being novices in the social sphere (is that so?  Do they really not fully understand the market they came to serve or seeing us as means to an end was above all?) It does not matter – they have won their sit in the pantheon of corporate predators we should look out from.

Gmail is an email service. Capitalizing on my mailing list to allow Google to create an active social network on my back without my consent or active optioning is a digital rip off; entangling us, users, in impossible cross options, so that no matter what you do, somehow leaves your private information open and searchable, is a faux pas much more than any other communication platform, because many of us use other Google applications to manage digital life as a commodity. Google Inside has turned into an omnivore that coarsely invades every ounce of privacy and selection criteria we may have. It not only holds us captive, but strips us naked in the town square.

It is inconceivable that we will have to look for ways to protect ourselves from companies who are supposed to provide us service for our own good. Can a “no shame” scale based titan culture abolish all the basic axioms of relations between providers and users and settle for lip service?

This may be the last straw to show how acutely a paradigm shift is needed:

  • No commercial corporate, acting for its own capital gain, should own my data or have the ability to manipulate or expose it unsolicited.
  • No commercial entity should arbitrarily and unilaterally dictate what additional offerings become integrated to the services and what their consequences are to me – and force me to struggle to undo what they decided for me should be automatically activated.
  • The only person that is allowed to have the keys to my personal data and the segregations I want to make about my interactions is me.
  • Ownership of my data, my visibility and my sharing handles should be at my sole control.

Too much demands a context filter as a protection means

From our point of view – this entire saturated social environment is becoming exhausting. Too much diversification, parallel platforms to manage, social duplications.   I can get lost  in the multi management and so can my privacy, jeapordising also sensitivity to  the privacy of the people in my social sphere.

 Less networks with more meaning seems the natural next step. Less is more. Absolutely. Less with meaning is even more.  To me meaning spells context or relevance. When everything is searchable, context becomes a compass that leads the relationship overflow.

The context of what I communicate about and with whom, or the personal relevance of what is being communicated to me – that is the decisive noise selector in the avalanche of web sociality. Contextivity is humanizing. I am in the center and my dynamic personal context is a guiding principle for a new level of conversations. It turns 6 degrees of separation into 6 degrees of connectedness. Once context based interactions’ keys are established, the delivery platform is less important.

This is why context is the next Holy Grail that technology titans will hunt for. I, the user, want a single place (doesn’t have to be a server – can very well reside in the Cloud) where all my info, connections, personal stuff (photos, books, social networks, profiles) are stored and I can manage that.

However, mastering contextual personalization must be in the hands of the only one who should know all about me in order to draw my context – and that is me! Assuming that not all people are techno savvy to mange that, companies that will be establish to handle my profile derivatives on my behalf should be strictly liable  like banks and credit card companies that manage my financial assets and as such are bound to me  and my privacy under strict regulations.

A higher level of manageability will come to be when communities of interest, devoid from financial imperialistic considerations, will become “users’ data bankers” of users’ profiles’ data repositories on their behalf, to assure cleanliness  transparency and inclusion of users’ in all the food chains created on top of their data.

 A catch.

It is not in any provider’s interest to allow me that. Would you voluntarily hand over the chicken coop with the golden eggs? It is all the more reason why context keys must remain in our hands. Our personal context is our asset to expose or share at our will, with the keys in our hands.

We must cry out and ban anti web culture activity that disregards us as the purpose core of the services we consume.

It is up to us – if we all harness bottom up our demands and the way we want it, our voice can serve to help corporates’ leaders and policy to make the right decisions that will not alienate us and will harness a win-win trust and loyalty based modus vivendi between all participants in the food chains. To empower it, an icentered paradigm shift is needed that will establish cleaner meaning based interactions.

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