'Never Write Something if You Can Say It. Never Say Something if a Nod Will Suffice'
If memory serves, that quote is from former White House Spokesman Mike McCurry -- it's probably my favorite example of the off-the-record attitude that pervades Washington DC.
That "maintain deniability" mantra doesn't apply to today's web, obviously. From the blogs to Facebook to now Twitter and Pownce, it seems like there's now nothing that won't be posted for posterity.
Still, it feels like more and more people are wrestling with the Web 2.0 version of McCurry's dictum: What should I share on my blog? Can I add coworkers as friends on Facebook, or will my college buddies' posts, party photos and zombie bites blow my professional reputation? And what about all these Twitter tweets, Pownce links and other dispatches? Do they serve an actual purpose, or are we taking Bruce Springsteen's media complaint to a new level of narcissism?
I'll sidestep the too-many-channels question for the moment, since that's really a problem only for those of us who are actively experimenting with umpteen different networks -- and one could argue that we're getting what we deserve.*
Facebook, however, seems to serve up a raft of challenges all by itself.
I'm hardly the first to point out the problem of professional and personal networks colliding on Facebook. But I've yet to see any straightforward suggestions for improving upon Facebook's "limited profile" option without making the already-complex privacy settings even more daunting. So here goes:
Facebook needs a three-tier friend system:
- Personal Friend
Each category needs its own privacy settings, and you should be able to apply any or all of the three to a given friend.
There's no need to make this into a visible caste system; everyone could and should still be listed simply as "Friends." But being able to easily tailor one's profile to the appropriate audience could be the silver bullet Facebook needs to claim LinkedIn's turf.
It might even make sense to add a option to "list only other colleagues" when a colleague views one's friend list. I'm not sure that's really necessary, though -- even if it would keep someone like WashingtonPost.com CEO Caroline Little from seeing that the best man from my wedding contends we met at "a penal colony in Guyana."
The idea, after all, isn't to sterilize Facebook -- it's to allow just enough compartmentalizing so that people are comfortable building their entire network in one place.
I'm already tired of maintaining multiple networks -- and I've barely scratched the surface. More importantly, though, the real value of social networking comes from discovering those unexpected connections that span one's various worlds. I want to be able to do it all on Facebook -- and I would think that Facebook would want that too.
* For those of you who care about all those other channels, I've basically settled on using LinkedIn strictly as a rolodex, Twitter as a new publishing channel, and Pownce for sharing with "meatspace" friends and colleagues. Unlike Leo Laporte and the other cool kids, I haven't even dabbled with Jaiku, Tumblr or the other Twitter/Pownce-like services.
As for MySpace... I'm 37 years old, and I don't have a band.