Tag Archives: social networking

Kings, Queens, and Children of a Virtual God

Awhile back, I read  on Gamasutra that Apple’s Game Center was now revealing players’ real names during the initial friend request. After that initial request, only gamer nicknames would be visible. The new policy is supposed to stop players from impersonating other people, but isn’t that the whole point of playing a game in the first place? Who plays a game to just be their real world selves?

This and the whole push to real names online, such as in Google Plus to give one example, feels like the old guard, the kings and queens of “Real Life” (RL) trying to extend their dominion into the online world. I suppose that’s okay if you’re one of them, but the geeks and nerdy folks who built the net and make up much of its most active population are decidedly not.

These children of a virtual god tend to get the short end of the stick in RL. There we are often bullied, mocked, and despised. This despite the fact that much of the science and technology upon which modern life depends was discovered, designed, and built by us! On the net, we are the kings and queens (sometimes both at the same time), and the oppressive rules of the real world are not applied. The net has become a space of the mind, where the human spirit is laid bare. It’s not always pretty, but I think that’s where real human progress comes from, which ultimately leads to greater beauty.

Unfortunately, the freedom and wildness of the net is seem as a threat by those who don’t understand. And in the name of “protecting the children” they push to impose the same broken structures on the virtual world as we do such a great job of imposing on the real one. But it may be too late for that. From Arab Spring, Lulzsec, and the London Riots to the BART protest, the virtual world is pushing back on the real one. The unfettered meeting of the minds online is having real world consequences that cannot be easily suppressed without a coordinated, global trampling of the human freedoms that many of us profess to believe in. That could still happen, but now I’m sure it won’t come without a fight.

Google Plus Me Baby!

Google’s new foray into social networking, Google+, is where all the cool kids are hangin out now. Of course that leaves me out as usual, LOL. While my often cool spouse has received and invite and joined the party, I have not. She put me in one of her circles, I just haven’t received notification from the system which reportedly is currently at capacity for this stage of the roll-out.

I cannot say that I’m a big fan of social networking sites. As I have ranted here before, sites like Facebook just recreate the cliches and awkwardness that left me on the outs growing up. And what’s worse, many of my peers aren’t exactly internet mavens by any stretch of the imagination. As a result I tend to lean more towards Twitter than Facebook, where I can build an identity much less encumbered by the usual social barriers, and much closer to what I consider to be the real me. Or at least the real me in the context of the internet.

So why should I care about Google+? Because it seems to solve one of my biggest problems with Facebook. It allows you to group your acquaintances and friends in whatever circles you find appropriate and share with those circles only what you want to, without leaking. This leakage is why I’m so wary of Facebook. I have a lot of non-mainstream hobbies and interests that I’d rather not share with everyone I know either voluntarily as my own status update, or involuntarily through someone tagging a picture of me I rather not have tagged. I don’t expect complete privacy, but I would like a little more control.

I’m actually very proud of my hobbies and interests. They’re an expression of a large part of who I am. But I’d rather minimize the amount of trouble that may be caused by people who either don’t get it, or flat out don’t like it. I love many of these people dearly, but they really don’t need to know about the wig I just got for my Uhura cosplay last week. Much less spread that information to someone I’m doing totally unrelated business with.

I may not ever become a big fan of social networking applications, but they seem to be a fact of life now. So hopefully, Google+ is the next big step in their evolution.

The Future May Come in Waves

Another article has popped up proclaiming the death of Facebook. I read this with interest in part because I’ve become a bit disillusioned with Facebook myself for reasons I’ve discussed before. And I’d read some of what Phoebe Connelly referenced in her Guardian article. But her comments about the risks of data in the cloud resonated a bit and got me to thinking about possible solutions.

It seems pretty clear by now that social networking sites/services are here to stay. The question being, what form will these take in the future? Popular services come, mature, and go away as people’s interests and technology changes. Can any of this be future-proofed? Probably not, but it seemed clear to me that having all of your eggs or data in one basket is a bad idea. So I started to think about what a distributed, federated social networking service might look like. This would be a service which allows the same kind of sharing we are familiar with on Facebook, but with individual members having their homes on servers maintained by different companies. This would be pretty seamless from the user’s point of view just as it doesn’t really matter what company hosts your email these days.

Well, my rush to the patent office was cut short by the realization that the smart folks at Google had already begun the process of building this as Google Wave! A little Googling turned up this article on New Rowley, Google Wave: Users may need it, but it will be hard to get them to use it. It may well be that users familiar and comfortable with Facebook, and Myspace may eschew Wave based services and stay put. But I suspect that the tech people and the Cool Kids are going to cause a rapid expansion of the Wave space once it enters a wider release. I’m going to try to ride this wave myself,  and the pun was definitely intended!

Now I know why the folks who run Facebook, MySpace, and perhaps Twitter, may be a bit worried. Google Wave may take the bat right out of their hands. In any case, it won’t happen overnight and if they’re smart, they’ll quickly provide their own Wave compatible services and just accept that they have to share some of their revenue with someone else or risk losing more members entirely.

Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanegawa

Ultimately, federated social networking services should give users more control over their social data and how it is used. But like most freedoms, this one comes with responsibilities and risks. Users will have to be more responsible for managing the collection of services they use. They’ll also have to ready for those times when some of those services fail. At least in this scenario, the failure of one provider won’t result in the loss of all of your data! Finally, as always, let the user beware! Not all service providers will be uprigtht and honest. There will be some rip offs! But in the end, I think this is the next wave, so get your board ready, you won’t want to miss it!