Facebook Wants My eSoul

Like many adopters of social media my age, I have three very different approaches to using LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

LinkedIn is my rolodex (link provided for those born after the paleolithic era)  The employer independent contact database of my professional life. These are people that I have an interest in maintaining a business connection with long after or long before we work together. That is code for – if I ever need a job I’ll have your current email.

Despite all of the goodies they are trying to add I have a hard time thinking about it in any other context. I will say that the Company tracking is very interesting – I have a theory that analyzing the recent departures has the potential of being a useful predictor in the fate of an organization but that is for another post. Still – it is just a tool.

Twitter is my cigarette. In my parent’s day you would routinely walk up to a complete stranger, bum a smoke and have a conversation. These casual sidebars create connections and relationships that would never otherwise exist and for me at least are usually business focused.

Because I work from home I am largely isolated from the off task but still useful conversations that we take for granted in the workplace. For example, all of the smoking coders I knew back in the day solved their biggest problems standing under the eaves out of the rain sucking down the nicotine and talking through an algorithm. Even though I don’t smoke, when I was just learning I would stand out there drinking my coffee and listen. I learned more about problem solving in the rain than I ever did from formal training.

The main thing missing from Twitter is a Surgeon’s General warning as it is highly addictive and too much of it will kill your career.

Facebook is different among these because up until now it has remained strictly personal for me. I rarely connect to business associates. It is not because I don’t like them or that I don’t consider them friends – it is just that FB connections are people I have something other than a professional bond with. Family, common background or interest, church, neighborhood and community. Basically – areas that are not associated with commerce or employment.

I have been very happy with this arrangement. It feels clean and the rules are simple but the creeping presence of corporate entities on Facebook makes me uncomfortable. I recognize the privacy issues and have been cautious about embracing new functions but one of the latest features is finally making me afraid of the beast it has become.

Recently Facebook added email addresses to their messaging system. The simple question popped up asking if I wanted to reserve mine now. Of course I did. I already lost my name as a domain to a real estate guy with a crappy site and I wasn’t going to lose my Facebook address to some goth Irish teenager who just happened to share my name. But if email is dying as all the prognosticators say why would the most successful social networking site bother with it.

Then what should have been obvious hit me. This feature has nothing at all to do with messaging. It has instead everything to do with identity. Internet persona. My soul on the internet – and Facebook wants it.

As Pie and others have noted, identity is the next big problem to solve on the internet. Email address has evolved from a short cut to uniqueness on a given site to being the defacto standard of identifying oneself on the web. A development due in no small part to Facebook itself. No one ever really wants to use their work email for anything out side of it because of portability. Eventually however your external persona will creep into the enterprise and I suspect Facebook wants to go along for the ride. If they control not just your personal profile but how you identify yourself to the outside world then you become not just addicted but dependent on the site for the most basic functions.

Google with Gmail was already out ahead of this trend but they have yet to gain traction enticing people to provide the kind of intimate details Facebook has been gleefully collecting. It does not take much imagination to think of a time in the not too distant future when commerce will be next to impossible without some kind of internet identity. What internet nation you identify with I believe will grow in importance. Facebook has a 500 million user head start on the list and growing every day. This means if FB were a country it would be the third largest in population on the planet.

There is no shortage of parodies of Facebook encroachment into our lives. This one, where Facebook is revealed to be a CIA operation born out of the Patriot Act is funny because of the disturbing plausibility. It is one thing for me to publish who I am. It is something altogether different for me to integrate it into how I define and identify myself to others. Especially those I have never met or simply want to buy a shirt from.

By adopting their email address my FB persona might slowly become the default view of me in all public, private and financial relationships. Perhaps integrating or one day eclipsing even my credit report. How long will it be before Intuit offers a FB app to file your taxes? (hopefully not before they give us a Dislike button)

I know my concern is partially a generational thing and a relic of the way I was raised. Finances and Friends are not supposed to mix. Still I have an innate suspicion that no good can come from my corner gas station having a Facebook page. Nevertheless I will ‘Like’ them anyway just to get the discount. The clean lines are erased and I have my email at facebook.com.

I use LinkedIn and I need Twitter either for catharsis or from addiction. On April Fools day 2010 Game Station was able to collect 7500 souls by people clicking though the famously ignored End User License Agreement.  Silly as it seems my fear is that soon Facebook will go beyond a simple diversion and own mine outright – or at least the digital version of it. Surrendered one wall post and account ID at a time.

One thought on “Facebook Wants My eSoul

  1. Really enjoyed this post, absolutely agree I too try and maintain separate social communities of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn exactly as you describe. I especially like the reference to Twitter and smoking.

    Agree, in my experience the edges start to blur as these services try to push into different parts of my life, especially FB, as you observe wanting a piece of the professional me.

    What concerns me is the idea of “what internet nation you identify with” – that we still get a choice. Will we soon be faced with ‘access this service with FB or go away’?

    Nice post!



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