A little while ago, I wrote up an entry: A Stance on Networks
In it, I argued that social networks can be useful and meaningful, not only on a large--external--scale, but on smaller, local one.
I'm reminded of this because I was recently forwarded a list of business proposals for "how social networks can be used in business." Roughly, that list looked at tasks like:
All of these have in common that I don't want them done to my data--and I doubt you do, either. I really don't want a computer program sniffing through my email deciding whether I have management potential (credit reports aren't bad enough?).
Let's tenatatively call those "evil." Perhaps it's too broad a word, but I take my field seriously. And I need to justify the title of this post.
I tend to think that a good manager would already know about growing schisms--and, if not, social network analysis should be one tool of several to use when an organizational development consultant comes through to discuss how the group can develop. Rob Cross:http://gates.comm.virginia.edu/rlc3w/sna.htm , for example, is a researcher, now at UVa, who comes into groups for specific social network interventions and examinations. The idea of his discrete studies don't bother me as much as being continuously watched does.
There's also the Friendsters and Orkuts of the world: what danah boyd has taken to calling "publically articulated social networks." As she has articulately pointed out, using a tool like Friendster forces you to list out--in some detail--who your friends are and who you are connected to. Worse, it makes you make a bunch of binary decisions (is a friend! is not a friend!).
Personally, I'm pretty bad at those decisions, which is why my Orkut profile has a few people waiting in "can't decide" limbo. (I'm scared to log in at this point. I think it's probably offensive for me to not decide, but I have no idea what to choose.)
Update: Clay Shirky points out that Orkut is now asking you to rate "how good a friend." Great. Now I have five levels of possibly insulting someone.
This isn't so much "evil," as uncomfortable. I feel looked at, captured, in the same way that I feel when I hear about how Japanese teens have evolved conventions, wherein the cardinal sin is turning off your cell phone or running out of batteries. I like having my cell phone off!
Fortunately, I think that there are positive uses. Despite the ominous title of this article, for example, Microsoft wants to know who your friends are , I think the article suggests a much more friendly notion of networks:
People are also key to the work done on computers. In both Longhorn and an upcoming version of Office for the Mac, Microsoft is using the idea of "projects"--or ad hoc groups of people and documents that change over time...
A more tech-savvy version of the handwritten list, Cheng said, would contain all the messages from each member of a person's inner circle. The list would be "zoomable"--meaning that if one really wanted a message from Bruce, but only Anne and Christopher showed up on the list, one could click between the two and get a list of all the Bs that didn't make the inner circle list.
Note the sheer number of people and little networks in this interface: there's a cluster of them in the top left corner, just hanging out; there's another little mass out there in the bottom right, in the current activitie
I like that. People hanging out in the interface. Good place for 'em, too, I say.March 8, 2004 09:23 PM | TrackBack | in Social Networks