Panelists: Kimberly Blessing (PayPal), Stephanie Liu (Google), Susan Miller (Sun Microsystems), Jessica Mitchell (Cisco) [moderator].
In this panel, a number of social networking tools were mentioned, including Flickr, Last.fm, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace,Twitter, blogging, Orkut, FriendFeed, Plaxo, wikis, and virtual worlds. Not everyone uses all these, but social networking and having an online presence are increasingly important, especially in some areas. Companies and professionals use tools to reach out to customers, generate interest about products, or bring in traffic to their website. A person's use of social networks also ranges from being connected as part of her job, to networking, to staying in touch with friends and family. This raises the questions of what information about ourselves to make available, and how.
People's answers for "how" varied according to their own preferences. LinkedIn was recommended as more tailored towards a job search, but some mentioned having to be on Facebook because so is everyone else. Micro-blogging was considered great for mass communication, needing less effort than email. Aggregating services like FriendFeed were also suggested. One result is that your network of people acts as a filter for information -- you can check their updates rather than the news, to find out what's really important to your community.
Regarding what to make available, one goal is to create a brand image of yourself, yet still retain a personal touch. Thus it helps to focus on your area of expertise but also include some personal details. So what about separating your professional and social lives? While people seeing you as a real person beyond work can strengthen connections, there is also the danger of too much information. One can address this by having limited profile access for some contacts, or separate work and social profiles.
Other privacy issues also came up. For instance, you may want to protect your name in the internet space by creating an account on a new service before someone else can impersonate you there. It's also possible that an information source you're following is actually an impersonator. Furthermore, once you put information about yourself online, you no longer have control over it (beyond some amount of deleting or blocking). Friends may choose to publicly re-distribute your personal information, and it is quite possible for "everyone in the world" to know it eventually.
This last issue is my biggest concern with social networking. I see a conflict between needing to have some online presence freely available to prospective employers, and not wanting the rest of the world's strangers to have any information at all. If would-be employers don't find you on the web before formally being in your network, you may be dismissed as nobody. But any information you put up can be swallowed by questionable parties with loads of free time, and used in ways you had not imagined. As far as I can tell, there's no real solution. To paraphrase one panelist, you can't really live your life in that much fear. So perhaps the only thing to do is to find a balance that works for you. On that note, I'm curious about what balance works for you, and how you handle this conflict. Thoughts?
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10 months ago