For all the hype MySpace and Facebook have generated, social networking will only become more appealing to a wider group of users and to businesses if it embraces a culture of openness.
As this great Wired News article shows, both MySpace and Facebook thrive on a concept of sharing, yet you can’t view people’s profiles unless you are a member of their service. It’s only a culture of openness if you are a member of the club, so to speak.
Now, services like Plaxo’s Pulse (which just launched in Beta) will allow people to build the same types of sites to store their data, but won’t require viewers sign up for the service in order to see them. Pulse could represent the future of social networks – one where openness is truly the name of the game.
This news should be welcomed by folks who have criticized social networks for two main reasons. The first is a rather common one – that’s it’s nothing but an electronic receptacle for insecure adolescents and college kids who are worried you don’t think they can drink alcohol in large quantities or make friends and desperately want to show you they indeed can do a lot of both. The second criticism has been a slightly more significant beef – that these sites haven’t been flexible at all in their usability or their openness to the rest of the internet using world.
To the first criticism: Open social networking sites could help address the lack of diversity in the social networking demographic. Since anyone can access your page, people might be inclined to make their profiles more insightful and less of an inside joke for a select group of people.
The second problem has been a real detractor for many, including myself, who view the interface of a MySpace as grossly unworkable and too uniform. A more open social network would allow people to truly customize their page (beyond things like changing background color and text), perhaps even using the tools they prefer rather than lousy homegrown ones provided by the site that don’t work well.
The opening of social networks could also be a good lesson for business. If you set up a corporate social network, you need to decide what information can be viewed by
the general public and what can be viewed only internally.
As MySpace and Facebook have shown, opening up nothing at all outside of your network flies in the face of open collaboration.
Such exclusivity would be a mistake, since people who don’t work for you might have better ideas than the people that do.