Facebook & faces: personas, masks, & me

The old joke used to be: on the internet no-one knows you’re a dog.

That’s less and less true today … today the internet may know that you’re an Alaskan Malamute with a serious flatulence problem. Uh oh.

Who are you online?

I’ve been thinking about this since former-Googler-and-current-Facebooker Paul Adams posted his real life social network deck on SlideShare. In case you don’t have the time to go through all 224 slides, let me give you the Cole’s Notes version:

  • More than one offline network
    Real-life social networks are not evenly distributed, homogenous, and singular … they are unevenly distributed around the various aspects of a person’s life: work, home town, schools, associations, etc. In other words, you don’t have A social network, you have MANY social networks.

  • Different faces for each network
    We generally present ourselves differently in different scenarios … essentially, in different networks. Which is to say, you’re a slightly different person with your friends than your co-workers, or family, or at the school reunion, and so on. Or you choose to preferentially reveal and conceal aspects of yourself to those different sets of people.

  • More than one online network
    A technology-mediated social network that matches your life, therefore, should have the ability to match your offline life … giving you the ability to be how (and who?) you want to be in each of those groups.

Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks
In other words, the college buddies get the salacious off-color joke, the family gets the “johnny’s-doing-so-well-in-school” update, and the professional network gets the note about acceptance into a master’s program.

This has worked heavily into Facebooks’ groups feature … which now you can use to hide and reveal bits and pieces of your life as you choose:

Really?
Is that really going to work? I mean, aside from the existential angst about personas and faces and integrity and reality … will people actually use this?

Right now, I can only go by my own experience, and it seems to be that I segment my online social existence not by editing audiences for each particular message, but by selecting separate social networks for different types of messages.

The difference may look small, but this is the significant part: nothing is hidden. There are no messages that some friends can see and other friends can’t. Everything is available … if you choose to interact with me in the particular forum that I’m engaging.

Segment by service?
So, in my example, most work-related things go on my LinkedIn account. Most internet/technology/web/mobile musings and shares go on my Twitter account. And comments, posts, photos, and movies that are primarily for actual physical friends and family go on my Facebook account.

Kitchen, office, bedroom
It’s not so much that I have different sets of friends on the various accounts … it’s that there are different kinds of conversations. It’s not so much about having multiple personas … it’s about having multiple interests.

Certain conversations happen in the home that would never happen in the office. Others that you would engage in with the boys after the game wouldn’t happen when you visit your parents.

But I don’t want to hide anything … in fact … in the pursuit of integrity, I don’t want to have anything to hide – from anyone.

Really?
I’m an outlier. I have footholds in many social networks.

So you can’t – and I can’t – judge others by myself. It’s silly to think that what I do is what others will do. And frankly … it’s much easier to use one social network (and use the groups feature) than to maintain multiple social presences.

But I like it this way … at least for now.

Future?
It remains to be seen how others will react – and how the major social networking platforms will accomodate users’ desires to have move offline relationships online, in all their complexity. Data and relationship portability across social networks would have an interesting effect here as well.

Simplicity – and laziness – argues for a single solution.

 


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