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Putting It All Out There: Social Networking in 2011

03/01/2011

Today, it is pretty much impossible to think of the Internet without thinking of social networking. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Spoke, Formspring, and MySpace compete with other regional and worldwide networks through which users can connect to other users with similar interests (or disinterests). This study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that the use of social networking sites has increased across every age demographic (including a steep quadruple increase in the 74+ age group), a trend that is not likely to abate in 2011.

At the same time, 2010 saw a dramatic expansion of internetwork sharing (‘Like’ buttons on your favorite Web pages, the ability to share a news story directly from the site rather than copying and pasting the link), as well as a user-driven simplification of privacy controls. We’re encouraged to share more with more people as we’re given the tools to streamline and limit our sharing.

The first big question for 2011 is, will social networking continue to expand into further areas of our lives?

The obvious answer, of course, is yes. Social networking isn’t going anywhere, and it only makes sense that more people will begin to participate in one way or another. Nearly every major brand in the United States has a presence on Facebook or Twitter or both — even television shows or characters from them have an online presence (come on, I know I’m not the only one who follows Sue Sylvester), and the company that ignores this simple fact risks being left behind in the marketing game.

The social networks themselves, meanwhile, will become even more profitable. Goldman Sachs announced a $500 million investment in Facebook this morning; as the money pours in, Zuckerberg and crew have the flexibility to make Facebook still bigger and more influential. Facebook may be the most popular, but is certainly not the only popular platform, however, and will likely never be. There are two reasons for this: 1, competition is essential in the free market. Without other platforms competing for followers and cash flow, there would be no incentive for further innovation. Also, I stand by the bottom line in my post on using multiple platforms (“Perplexing Platforms”, 15 December) — each social networking platform focuses on sharing content in a different way and will therefore appeal to different users on different levels.

This leads to the second big question of 2011: where does one draw the line?

As I mentioned previously, it is now much simpler for users to protect their content and sharing on social networking platforms. Matt Hartley of Canadian publication National Post points out that Facebook’s privacy settings “…at one point had swelled to include 50 buttons, 170 options and a word count that exceeded even that of the United States’ constitution.” (Read: “Year in Ideas: Social networking and the end of privacy”) This is a much-needed step in the right direction, because the inevitable downside to so much online sharing is that some people will seek your information for nefarious purposes. You wouldn’t put a banner across your front door advertising that you’ll be out of town and your home will be unattended, so why would you allow everyone who accesses Facebook (more than 500 million people worldwide) to see the status update you posted that effectively proclaims the same?

Leaving the Land of The Worst That Can Happen, we enter the Valley of Annoyance. Yes, that’s right — privacy settings are what allow you to block every person, event, and application that interferes with your social networking experience. As networks connect more to each other and to other sites, it’s wise to maintain as much control as possible over who can see what. This means advertisers, potential clients and colleagues, and your high-school boyfriend who turned into a washed-up drug addict. (You know, hypothetically…)

So, 2011 should be a year of tailoring your social networking to make it a safe, fun, and clutter-free experience. Explore and expand, but don’t be afraid to cut back on the parts that just aren’t working for you. I know I won’t be.

Note, 1/6/11: TJ the DJ of Elvis Duran and the Morning Show tweeted to NBC reporter Ann Mercogliano last week during New York’s snowpocalypse, a tweet that led to a misunderstanding over the word “cute” but resulted in Ann coming on the Morning Show yesterday and a story on NBC! Apparently the two are going on a date, which should be interesting — and all because of social networking. Keep tweeting, friends.

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