or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

On Google+ and the Role of Social Networks

   July 5th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Last week I received an invitation to join Google+ (Google's version of Facebook). I don't use Facebook and don't entirely trust Google so I won't be creating an account, but it did get me wondering: does the internet need another Facebook?

Usually when I'm online, I'm looking for an answer to a question or a solution to a problem. To visualize that process, and hopefully provide some context for a new social network, I came up with this Venn diagram that identifies the available various pools of people...

Venn Diagram for finding answers online

Based on this, it seems like Google+'s goal would be to make the green circle bigger - but I don't think that's what happens. Closed networks, like Facebook and (I presume) Google+, at best only make their portion of the green circle bigger, but often don't even make it into the green circle at all*. This can actually make it harder to find answers, as homopholy might keep us using the most convenient resource, instead of the most appropriate one.

The important thing to remember is not to rely on one tool for everything - closed-loop social networks are good for keeping in touch with friends, but open forums like Ask Metafilter, Ask Slashdot, or Quora are better for non-social answers (but okay for those, too).

So with that, the question is: is Google+ a better way to keep in touch with friends? It seems like the answer would be "no" if the critical mass of your friends are already on Facebook (and unlikely to switch, or unlikely to maintain both). But from initial reviews (also this), it sounds like Google+ has some cool ideas, so its real impact might be gauged by how quickly Facebook adopts the best features.

And the next question is: have any libraries started using Google+ to connect with their patrons?


*Note that one of the qualifiers is "people who know what they're talking about" - a social network might make it easier for me to get my question out to people I know, but it doesn't help if no one I know knows the answer to my question (which might just indicate that I socialize with the wrong people).

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35 Perspectives on Online Social Networking

   July 10th, 2007 Brian Herzog

mismash of logos from social networking websitesFound via Slashdot, I like this article detailing 35 different ways to look at online social networking.

I was going to do a sort of annotated list of my favorites, but then realized that I was annotating every one of them. So here's my top five from the first fifteen, but I encourage you to read them all:

4. The identity perspective
...young people are continuously constructing, re-constructing and displaying their self-image and identity. Also, the network sites make them co-constructors of each other’s identities....

I like this one because it shows that these places are not static - a library can't just "have a presence" and think that's good enough. You're either an active part of the community or you're not - just like in physical life. If a library wants to be part of its community, it can't just open a building with a "library" sign above the door. It has to have useful resources inside, interesting programs, participate in town events, etc. Online communities are no different.

6. The paedophile and predator perspective
...Social networking sites are an El Dorado for paedophiles and predators...

This one I disagree with. Although the "El Dorado" reference seem apparently accurate, online communities should be much safer for kids than parks, malls, or even libraries. Yes, I'm sure predators hang out in these places, all of the above places. But in online communities, the biggest danger seems to be giving out too much information. In contrast, no matter how safe a kid is being in a mall or a park, they can still be forcibly taken against their will. Online communities can be dangerous, which is why it is important to teach kids how to be safe (by not to talk too much to strangers, or giving out personal information), rather than trying to insulate them entirely.

11. The network perspective
...learn the crucial importance of being able to network which they can benefit from in their future professional life....

This one I liked because it's absolute true - online communication is the way of the future, and it's important that kids (as well as adults) learn how to do it, and do it well. I'm sure there were people that resisted telephones, fax machines, and email, but aren't these skills fairly crucial to everyday life now?

13. The source critique perspective
...force young people to be sceptical [sic] of what they see and read online. They know that people can create faker profiles which make them extra aware of the identity of the people they communicate with...

Of all the points list here, this one might be the single most important.

15. The democratic perspective
...allow young people to have a voice in society. Here, they can be heard and express their opinions....

There certainly isn't enough of this these days. Online communities let people contribute to something greater than themselves, and collaborate with others to produce something useful together, rather than wasting resources through competition.

As I said, there's much more worth reading in this article.

35 Perspectives on Online Social Networking, Malene Charlotte Larsen, online communities, online community, online network, online networking, social computing magazine, social network, social networking, social networks

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