Social media networks and services are continually under siege because of loss-of-privacy risks, changing privacy policies, and/or the “permanance” of data and content generated through these sites and services. Facebook, for example, continues to bob-and-weave in a never-ending sparring match between updated privacy terms and user’s dissatisfaction at the lack of transparency when and why these changes are made, all the while still making oodles of money. Furthermore, the “openness” of social networking sites become problematic when young people have the content on these sites used against them by potential employers or graduate schools.
A recent NPR Morning Edition piece by Laura Sydell (New Networks Target Discomfort With Facebook) highlights the the lack-of-privacy issues that are a growing concern, in particular for college students. Of note are the ideas that content from these sites are accessible by anybody from their parents to professionals, and that comments written to their “walls” are not fully under their control. The students’ growing digital literacy allows them to see the dangers in having so much of their lives online and uncensored. As a result, many of the students in these social media classes are limiting the amount of personal information on these sites, or closing them altogether. For those that can’t “disconnect,” they are finding themselves keeping surveillance on their pages to ensure that inappropriate content isn’t being posted by other visitors.
Pip.io is a company that is trying to improve upon Facebook’s model. Leo Shimizu (Pip.io co-founder) says that Pip.io is “about your real-world privacy graph.” This means the user will be able to have channels or groups who will each have access to different content the user is sharing, just as they would in face-to-face interactions. This way one’s mother, or a future employer, wouldn’t be able to see information that you would never consider sharing with them, but you would consider sharing with your college pals. Is this the next logical step in social media? Will it solve the problems that Facebook hasn’t yet solved for their users? It seems logical to be able to partition your virtual life the way you partition your real life.
Finn Brunton, a New York University postdoctoral fellow studying digital technology, suggests that we will look back at Facebook as the “most primitive” form of social networking. That makes evolutionary sense, of course, that the first iteration of a species is ultimately regarded as extremely simple. How fast will the evolution happen? When will Pip.io’s paradigm be recognized as superior with its ability to partition virtual lives? In today’s digital world, characterized by its explosive growth, it might not take very long at all. However, in order to unseat Facebook, a service like Pip.io would have to “convert” a significant portion of more than 400 million Facebook users.
The optimist in me wants to see alternatives to Facebook, like Pip.io, succeed. I enjoy some of the basics of social networking that are offered within Facebook, but I prefer email or text messages because I can direct those at a “target audience.” A service/network like Pip.io that allows content to and from specific groups is very attractive to my way of thinking, and I think it would make more sense to a lot of people. The cynic in me, though, worries that potential employers and graduate school admissions committees (and tech-savvy parents) will figure out ways to “break into” those domains to which they aren’t necessarily invited. If and when that happens, we’ll need to figure out what we want and need in Social Media 3.0.