Social Networking - A Matter of Perspective
Last night, I had a long conversation with my wife about my online identity. She told me that I did not mention my family enough in my blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. She said that all I ever talked about was boring technical stuff, home theaters and sports. I nodded in agreement and really had no answer to that statement that would make her feel good. I was accused of not presenting myself online like everyone else she sees on Facebook. Facebook is her first foray into social networking sites. That got me thinking about why this is the case because frankly, the way my online personality has evolved just happened naturally and I couldn't understand how these accusations were laid before my feet. The statements were true but no more meaningful to me than stating the sky is blue. I was confused to say the least and at the same time curious. I've told her that my recent registrations with Facebook and Twitter were trials and that I was still looking into how they fit within the context of my online profile. Needless to say, last night's conversation forced me to sit down and think about it more.
I came to the conclusion that social networking is a matter of perspective. Each individual comes into social networking from one of two places, Anonymity or Familiarity. I come from the former, having grown up with MUDs and now MMOs where your personality is projected through an opaque avatar. My avatar is nothing more than a collection of game skills, items, behaviors, achievements and actions. It's a proxy of sorts to express who I am. More people online know me by the name of Kressilac than those that know me as Derek Licciardi. More people remember what my avatar did in some game or what my avatar said on some forum than those that know the same as connected to Derek Licciardi. To those coming from the Anonymous side of social networking, avatars are as natural as putting on a jacket to walk outside when it's cold out. In my mind, that's where the conflict with my wife arose.
You see, she came into social networking through Facebook. Facebook actively makes sure that the name you register on their site is who you are in real life. They ban names like Kressilac because no one is named Kressilac and allow names like Derek Licciardi. The whole purpose of Facebook is to connect with people you've interacted with in real life. When you log into Facebook, you see pictures of people's friends and families, many whom you recognize. You see people they know and their pictures along side some simple statement about what they are doing right now. Facebook connects online users under the assumption that their offline self and their online self are one and the same and familiar to the other members of your social network. On Facebook there is no avatar or if there is one, it's very thinly veiled so as to be non-existent in reality.
MUDs, MMOs, Xbox Live and online forums almost always connect people under the assumption of anonymity and through that anonymity, users craft an online presence that fits his or her designs for how they want to use the social network, be it Xbox Live, a blog community or the entire Internet itself. That's where I came from. My blog is specifically tailored to discuss programming, home theater and game design with a sprinkle of politics and sports for good measure. It's more a personalization of Kressilac than it is an extension of Derek Licciardi. That's also why I located it at blogs.elysianonline.com instead of a family web site or blogspot.com. Has it ventured into personal territory? On occassion but those posts are the exception rather than the norm. Twitter is the same as my blog, only shorter and more frequent. Facebook, on the other hand, is me first as I rarely mention anything about the topics on my blog within Facebook. To me they are different and distinct. To Google they are one and the same. To someone that comes from Facebook, my avatar based alter-ego is hard to understand.
Frankly, Twitter is the one that caused the problem. Blogging was always a specific thing I did and the act of doing so made me shift into a Kressilac mode of thinking. Twitter is too casual and I made the bigger mistake of connecting it to Facebook. Facebook and my blog are at odds and Twitter is the spark that lit the fire. What happens is that I blog/twitter about something as Kressilac and my wife reads it on Facebook where the context of what I said is decidedly out of context within Facebook and she becomes confused. In retrospect, I can see how this would confuse every member of my social network within Facebook because they are not familiar with my avatar from outside of Facebook. I can only assume then, that somewhere along the communication chain that expectations shifted, audiences changed and that how one views the social network they are participating in is entirely a matter of perspective. First thing to do here is break the connection between Twitter and Facebook. Then I'll address if Facebook is even a place I want to be online.