The Unintended Consequences of Social Software (or Putting Yourself Out There)

Putting Yourself Out There Blog Post

With all of this talk about Social Software, it strikes me how much stuff we actually put out online for others to discover, discuss and develop into their own stuff. It’s like a huge ocean of folks’ professional and personal information, that some have found to be useful and somewhat addictive!

I’m amazed by the glimpses into our lives we put forth — especially with flickr. We see folks’ homes, spouses/SOs, families, children, cars, dogs, cats, vacations, as well as happy times and moments of intense heart-breaking emotion.

Throughout the Public Libraries track at IL05, many of the speakers referred to their bookmark sites or flickr account or other means of virtual presence.

How easy has it become to find out so much about a person’s likes and dislikes, and even their hopes and dreams. One of my students remarked during our discussion of social software that the line between the professional and the personal is blurring. This fascinates me. In the hiring process, it used to be someone might google a candidate for a job and find a personal Web page or two. Now, that candidate may have all sorts of presence. If I was hiring a new librarian, how much could I glean about their personal life from a visit to a few sites?

For example, here’s a sampling of my personal presence:

My Flickr account:

My 43 Things Page:

My Last.FM Page: (and yes, some nights, I just have to play the same song over and over again…)

Seems innocuous, yes?

Is it me, or do some of use librarian/blogger types really put a bunch of stuff out there? One of my favorite researchers, Prof. Nancy Van House, School of Information Management and Systems, University of California, Berkeley, found that bloggers have a high degree of self-disclosure. (See I think I fit the bill as do many of my colleagues.

I wonder if the same idea could be applied to the other social tools. I think so. I also think that putting yourself out there is fine and dandy, but be ready for occurences such as these:

An e-mail in 2004: “Good afternoon Michael, upon completion of a search for “Spider Lake” I found your blog. I have been a regular to Spider Lake for the last 29 years, never missing a year along the way. I first viewed your “AtHome” pictures, all brought back a flood of memories from years gone by; fog-laced sunrises, winter treks out to the islands on the ice, and many, many others. I know exactly what you mean when you wrote about finding your own place where time slows down, and life is better.” Nice.

Suummer 2005: I am floating on my floatie in the middle of Spider Lake on a HOT day when two kayaks approach. “Hello,” says the younger of the two fellows in the craft. “Are you the guy that has all the pictures up on the web of Balsam Circle?”

“Yes,” I say, glancing around and feeling suddenly vulnerable.

“I googled Balsam Circle and Spider Lake and found all your pictures. We wanted to FIND YOU.”

We spoke a bit more and they paddled off. We chit chat when they pass by in the mornings now.

Fall 2005: I am lugging groceries out to my car at the huge Meijer store in Traverse City. A fellow approaches in the distant and I see the glimmer of recognition cross his face as he gets closer. “Hey…” he says as I try to remember if we’d met. “I’m your flickr contact Farlane…nice pictures.” Wow.

October 2005, in London: I’m participating in a panel on tagging and folksonomy and demonstrate some tagging at fllickr. I’m feeling pretty good about it all. Then, as a total surprise, the next speaker Brian Kelly, offers a counterpoint: tagging can be sloppy and meaningless to others! He pulls up my flickr tags and procedes to make the point that I’m a messy tagger! (which is fine, I get his point) “What’s a Jake he asks??? What an experience and boy did it get me thinking. (Also for one intense second thought: “what’s the most embarassing image I have on flickr — my 90’s mullet??— and will he pull it up?)

Finally, a few weeks ago: I am doing some evening computing and a request for a video iChat appears from name I don’t know. Feeling adventurous, I accept. A young lady appears in the window and says “Hi, I have a question about my Mac…” She’d found my screename on some page at TTW and knew I used Macs so…. we chatted and I tried to help but I think it was a repair issue.

Does this freak you out? Is it intrusive? Nope, because I asked for it by “putting myself out there.” The contacts I have made in my professional life and personal life are incredible, due to the tools we’re bantering about.

Do not be afraid of this. As we shift to a landscape of continous computing there will be unintended consequences. But folks have had web pages and the like for years. It’s just getting easier to make these connections and I’m really glad. Who knew, for example, about Michael Porter’s illustrious history as a performer and hair product spokesman?

So don’t be shy. I would never advocate for someone to go beyond their comfort level. Try a group activity first! I love this profile page at Steve Lawson’s Library’s flickr site: We are the fun, friendly librarians of the Tutt Library at Colorado College, Colorado Springs. Our icon is a picture of a statue of Charles L. Tutt, the library’s namesake.” Checkout the info they present there as well: IM, e-mail and some flickr contacts! HOT!

No matter how you get started: let’s grow communities — all kinds, professional and personal — from Librarians who make trading cards and folks who like Macs and people who love their dogs and let’s meet up and swap stories – online and in person!

Come in, the water is fine.