I have a strong interest in Social Networking Sites because I see enormous potential for positive change and productive collaboration across all dimensions of the social grid. I just wish I didn’t have to use so darn many of them at the same time.
If you’re a participant (or a “joiner,” to use the vernacular of Charlene Li) of Social Networking Sites, chances are you use more than one. I’ll bet you may even use more than a couple of them. For some “joiners,” users have subscribed to multiple Sites because other users and acquaintances have sent them invitations to join networks that they are using. You’ve been “friended” by someone you know. For others, you may use multiple sites out of the necessity to adequately represent the multiple aspects of yourself. I call this the phenomena of “living in multiple skins.”
I have multiple skins. I have my professional skin for my life as an IT Consultant. This skin has a list of professional credentials, accomplishments, experiences relevant to the work I do as a Consultant. I’m also a professional artist, and that skin has a list of credentials and accomplishments as well,… but are completely different from my Consultant’s skin. It also has a portfolio of work that is important to include in the profile of that skin. I’m also a father, there’s another skin. I’m an investor, and I need a skin for that. I play and coach ice hockey, so there’s yet another skin.
I’ll bet you could describe yourself in a similar way, needing multiple profiles to adequately describe all the skins you may wear each day. This is a common problem that everyone shares, but remains unsolved by the Social Networking Sites out there today. Unless you’re satisfied by slicing off a single persona from your real-world life to project into the online world, you’re in the ranks of unsatisfied Social Networking Site users. I, for one, want to take all my skins with me for my cyber persona.
Now, before I’m taken too literally in these comments let me say that the problem is not as simple as developing a site that allows multiple profiles to be linked to a common user account. The Social Grid is very dynamic and needs to remain that way. If one of my skins is that of an authority on early 20th century French films (It’s not, but to use an example), it’s not necessarily a great idea to mash that up with my IT Consultant’s profile on LinkedIn. The Social Networking Sites focusing on film, or should we say a focus as directly relevant as practical for that topic, is the right place for that profile. Similarly, if I’m a user of a dating site I probably want to make sure there’s a separation between that profile and my professional profile.
The Social Network architecture we need is one that leverages an intelligent interface to appropriately link our multiple skins together, much in the same way that the dynamics of our real-life personal interactions dictate the changing from one skin into the next. It’s an architecture that images the dynamics of relationships that exist in our multiple professional and personal lives.