Pros & Cons of Social Networks

The following was presented at MGCCC on February 19, 2009:

Social Network Services (SNS)

What Exactly is an SNS?

Social network services (SNS) are the online equivalent of physical social networks, such as user groups and book clubs. Typical features of SNS websites include a circle of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, bookmarks, instant messaging, photos, music, videos, forums, and other social software. There are thousands of social networking sites, with MySpace, and Facebook topping the popularity charts in the United States. Their websites, http://myspace.com and http://facebook.com, are among the most heavily trafficked of all sites in the world.

Survival of the Fittest

Although the Web is still a relatively young technology, technologies typically do not have a long shelf life; that is, not without change. In the past few years, the Web has evolved into a virtual social mecca, sometimes referred to as the Social Web. This expanding social structure has lead to new proposals that may enhance or replace the Web as we know it today. In the meantime, microformats, OpenSocial API, Resource Description Framework, and other semantic solutions provide data exchange mechanisms that can be used for linking people, places, and things.

The Good, The Bad, The Oooogly

Everyone is Doing It…Even Your Grandma

There’s no question about it, social software is everywhere and it’s not going away anytime soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was suddenly allowed to create a buddy list on my bank’s website. It’s all about connecting with others and making the Web what you want it to be. Social sites can be a good place to reunite with old friends and meet new people. They have become communication portals, taking market share from webmail services. Why is this? Because having a central place for sharing information, announcing events, and conversing with others is extremely convenient.

Help Wanted

Many job postings now list familiarity with creating and pimping profiles as part of the skill requirements. I started teaching students how to pimp MySpace profiles when I realized the income potential. Someone has to design custom profiles for Hollywood.

Even more recently appearing on job boards is the need for social application developers. You know those little “send your friend a whatever” notices that you get on Facebook? Third-party developers create those. I wouldn’t quit your day job just yet…but a little supplemental income would be good for anyone.

It’s Even Infiltrated the Professional World

Social sites are not just about fun and games. Businesses are realizing the opportunities for exposure and cheap advertising. Social networking services are being used for professional purposes like marketing and mass communication. Politicians are even using social sites as a campaign tool designed to reach out to the younger audience.

They Know What You Did Last Summer

Everyone knows not to post personal information online. Everyone knows that predators are searching social sites for their next victim. And everyone knows about the dangers of meeting online friends in person. But what may surprise you is that employers are now searching SNS sites for information about job applicants. The same is true for insurance companies and university admissions. Law enforcement agencies are using online social networks to gather evidence about suspects. And campus police monitor for unauthorized parties and underage drinking.

Employers are also monitoring profiles of current employees and can fire you for what’s posted online, regardless of whether or not you were at work when the content in question was posted.

Always keep in mind that anything posted online is there to stay. It doesn’t matter if you’ve deleted it or not because chances are that it was already save in a search engine database or during a server backup. You may not be able to see it now, but I guarantee that if you ran for public office or married a politician, it would turn up somewhere.

Imagine What Students Would Say if I Posted a Big Fat Pot Leaf on My MySpace Profile…

Educators must be especially wary of what they post, who they’re friends with, and the groups they join. For example, I am a strong believer in industrial hemp and medical marijuana. I’m even ok with occasional recreational use (not the wake and bake). But if I post too much about this, students will think that I am a stoner…which I definitely am not. Yes, I’ve tried it (on more than one occasion I might add). And yes, I did inhale. That was years ago and it just wasn’t for me. Even if it was suddenly deemed legal tomorrow, I WOULD NOT SMOKE POT because I don’t like the way it makes me feel. However, I reserve the right to change my mind if I get sick and need it for medical purposes.

Find Your Happy Place

Don’t let all the negative aspects of social sites prevent you from enjoying what they have to offer. As long as you exercise caution, these sites can be used as effective communication tools and provide countless hours of fun and recreation. You must weight the good and bad and decide where to position yourself. Learn how to participate without going overboard.

Google Yourself

You need to be aware of what’s out there. You can start by searching Google and Yahoo! for identifying information such as your name, address, phone number, email, user names, etc. If you don’t find anything, try using quotation marks and different variations of what you’re searching for (e.g., “sadie hebert” or “hebert, sadie”). Also explore results provided by people search websites and newer search engines that catalog data found at social sites and the so called deep Web.

The good news is that most search engines and directories allow you to remove your information from their databases. It’s not always easy to find out how to do so but checking the text links at the bottom of the home page is usually a safe bet. The privacy policy, FAQs, about or contact page may also lead to this information.

If you need assistance with this, hire me as a consultant or check out the services provided by ReputationDefender.

References and Additional Information

8 thoughts on “Pros & Cons of Social Networks

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