Conflicting social contexts

Conflicting social contexts: Thanks to Susan Mernit’s link to this post by Danah Boyd, I am now able to articulate why I think (and this is an opinion shared by teenaged members of my family) it is a mistake for Facebook to allow me to join. I can understand the desire for Facebook founders/backers to expand beyond their initial audience: college, and then, high school students. And with MySpace (who will also let anyone join) venturing successfully beyond its indie music roots, I totally appreciate the pressure the Facebook folks must be under from their VCs to blow the top off membership. So, the only way to keep charging towards a stratospheric valuation is to allow anyone with Internet access to set up an account.

Danah provides the term I needed to articulate why I think one social network can’t be all things to all people: “Conflicting social contexts.” I believe that in addition to our desire to have public personas and to be members of the community at large, individuals also need to be members of walled-off, defined communities, families and extremely finite networks. Yes, despite my previous rantings to the contrary, people sometimes like their silos. We associate ourselves with specific brands and groups and clubs and societies and all manner of institutions in all aspects of our lives — so why online should there be one massive social network that is all things to all people?

Having just read a few books on the history of Scottish Highlands clans and having traveled the past couple weeks through their now depopulated ancestral homelands, I know their ultimate demise occurred for a wide range or reasons, but two in particular: the greed of the clan chiefs and the chance the “members” of the clans saw in North America, Australia and New Zealand to own land rather than to be serfs at the whim of the ever changing business-plans of the clan CEO and his venture backers. Lesson: When clan chiefs attempt to redefine the purpose of their clans (grazing sheep generate more revenue than grazing people), the result can be a “conflicting social context” for members of the clan, and before you know it, members of the clan are looking for a boat on which to sail off to Prince Edwards Island.

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