Identity Crisis

I have an identity crisis when it comes to Facebook. Bebo and LinkedIn are easy. The language I use to describe myself on my Bebo and LinkedIn profiles is quite different. LinkedIn is clearly for networking with professionals, in a work context. I do a lot of voluntary work with teenagers and Bebo is very clearly oriented to that age group. Almost everyone I’m connected to on Bebo is a teenager whom I’ve met through that real life voluntary work.

Facebook is different. People in a number of my different networks are talking about it. I’ve gotten friend requests from a number of different people from different communities I engage in. I don’t particularly want these different communities connected. A colleague of mine recently mentioned to me that her boss wanted to connect to her on Facebook, but she didn’t want to because her Facebook identity was for the community she engaged in for one of her hobbies.

Dave Snowden and a number of other theorists in the KM field have discussed the notion that people have multiple identities (backed up I’m sure by much underpinning research in philosophy and psychology). We have identities as a partner, as a member of a family, as a professional, as a member of a group of friends, the list goes on. We dynamically and effortlessly shift between these identities, using different language, different facial expressions and different behavior, as is appropriate to the community or relationship we’re engaged in at the time. I even consciously speak and act differently with different organisations that are my clients. To work effectively within the culture of an engineering firm you have to behave differently than when working with a government department.

Currently online social networks assume we have just one identity. They assume we either want people to see that identity (i.e. be our friend) or not see it (not be our friend). They don’t adequately represent the granularity and complexity of the way we manifest our multiple identities in the real world. Facebook is getting there. It has a concept of ‘networks’. You can join particular networks and choose to have parts of your contact information, and parts of your profile, viewable to only your friends, or only to particular networks.

To me this still isn’t right though. I don’t want to just hide and show particular details, I want different details based on different networks. I want to be able to define multiple profiles based on my multiple identities. It’s either that or set up multiple facebook profiles, which would be time consuming and confusing to maintain.

On their ‘In the Works’ section Facebook says they have coming:
“Sort out your friends.
We’ll let you organize that long list of friends into groups so you can decide more specifically who sees what.”

This might be enough, but not if they only do the same kind of granularity as they do with networks. I think they need multiple profiles on one account. Perhaps they should call them ‘faces’.

Footnote – I’ve just read this very intriguing article which discusses viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace.

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We need to start from the cold blooded premise that almost everyone is a genius - not that almost everyone is worthless.
John Taylor Gatto