The Value Of Social Networks And The Cost To Users . . . Are We Connecting?

Social networking services like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, FourSquare  and the like, are all about sharing information with friends and family – further even, the world. It is called the World Wide Web, after all. Often we do not think about the people who gain access to our information beyond our circle of approved friends, or how those publicly posted status updates may be used. There are a few points that give me pause in an increasingly connected world and have me wondering . . . what is the true cost of social networking and do the networks deliver enough value to make it worth the cost?

Graphic Courtesy of Pietro Zanarini

Let us look at the hot button issue for a moment – security. As social networks continuously roll out updated security settings, we users cling to a false sense of security.  Every week or two we log on and check our account settings in an attempt to limit our public exposure beyond our selected friends and followers. Those that would see social networking become more pervasive and truly inter-woven into daily life would argue the additional information is assisting in creating more useful solutions. In some ways this is true. The more information that is made public about where we go, what we do and what we like, the more opportunities for apps that can customize their service offerings to our individual needs and desires. Is it worth the trade off?

Consider for a moment, who has access to the information you share in your profile? To begin with, the social network itself certainly has access. Some networks go so far as to claim ownership of media you upload and share through your profile. You cannot forget the third party app developers and any subsidiary or sub-contracted service providers. Without access to your information, how can they effectively tailor and market their improved offerings to you? Take it a step further and throw into the mix the idea of a universal log-in. If you already have a Facebook account, you will be all too familiar with this concept. Simply register on a new app using your Facebook log-in. Of course, you are probably thinking, “Great! one less log-in and password to remember,” and with a simple click you connect your Facebook account. Presto! you have granted that app and its developers access  to your information.

I am certainly not saying I am against more solutions tailored to my individual needs. In fact, I personally test new location-based apps regularly. Well designed location-based solutions can make it easy to increase your productivity and enhance  your social experiences. However, with each download and log-in, we must ask ourselves how much we value our privacy and how much of ourselves we are willing to “sell” for use in advertising schemes.

Perhaps I am asking the wrong questions. Do we care about the information we share? Rather, do we care about the information others share with us? There are many that would argue all of this sharing has resulted in diminished filters. Perhaps we are eager to share too much information with our online communities far too often. In most instances, people are sharing what they perceive to be inconsequential information – what they ate for breakfast, what movie they are going to see, what television show they are watching or other minutia of their daily lives. All of this updating is an effort to share experiences or keep those important to us up to date. Has the intent been lost in a sea of information?

Graphic Courtesy of Will Lion

With so much information assaulting our senses at any given time, have we gone numb? Are we capable of distinguishing quality information over quantity? Social networks are supposed to help us connect . . . to friends, family, co-workers, collaborators and, in some cases, potential mates. Are we truly connecting?

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