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{ Tag Archives } identity

privacy on twitter vs. privacy on facebook

In a post describing some teens’ use of Twitter and Facebook (Twitter is for friends; Facebook is everybody; some teens are using private Twitter accounts for communication with friends because Twitter is too public), danah boyd poses the following question:

My guess is that if Twitter does take off among teens and Dylan’s friends feel pressured to let peers and parents and everyone else follow them, the same problem will arise and Twitter will become public in the same sense as Facebook. This of course raises a critical question: will teens continue to be passionate about systems that become “public” (to all that matter) simply because there’s social pressure to connect to “everyone”?

I believe that Twitter may actually be much more resistant to both this pressure and subsequent switch to less “public” platforms than Facebook for two reasons: account norms and Twitter clients.

Account Norms, Privacy, and Collapsed Contexts
On Facebook, everyone pretty much gets one account.1 This leaves me with a choice of collapsed contexts (same profile for everyone) or only friending people from a particular context or set of context. There are many fine-grained privacy controls, but this all adds up to a more-is-less experience, at least for me. There are enough many controls that I don’t particularly remember what I’ve set to be visible to whom. When I comment on something in friend’s profile (or am tagged in one of their photos), I don’t know who can see that.

With Twitter, people can have multiple accounts, and for private accounts, they know exactly who can see their posts: only people who I give permission. This is not to say Twitter is not without some privacy pitfalls – e.g. plenty of private tweets get retweeted or replies on others’ public accounts – but I have a much clearer idea of who can see a status update or reply on Twitter than I do of who can see similar content on Facebook at the time of posting. I suspect that many users of private Twitter accounts do so just to avoid the “what if so-and-so sees this?” question. So it seems reasonable that people could have different accounts for their work, family, friends, etc personas, though there’s a point at which it probably would be too many.

Twitter Clients
Having multiple accounts wouldn’t work well without an appropriate interface, and here Twitter benefits hugely from its API and the many, many Twitter clients available. Using more than one Facebook account, especially simultaneously, is an ordeal – multiple web browsers, no aggregation. With the right client, reading from and posting to multiple Twitter accounts is a breeze.

So while there may eventually be an exit from a more public Twitter, I think there is more room to move within the same service, diversifying accounts, than there might be on Facebook. This will only, work, though if people are willing to set boundaries and accept boundaries – and probably not if mom and dad insist on following the Twitter account their kids use to communicate with friends from school, or if colleagues regularly feel insulted when a coworker-acquaintance declines their request to follow an account they use to communicate with close friends.

1I believe this used to be part of the terms of service, but I don’t see it anymore and can’t be sure that it was ever there.

just for fun: people markup

For one of our Networked Cities projects, we were asked to explore urban markup. While looking at existing projects, my teammate David Hutchful and I got the feeling that tagging spaces is a pretty crowded space. Tagging or otherwise marking people with the intent of learning more about them or feeling more connected to them appeared similarly crowded.

Inspired loosely by Steven Johnson’s work Everything Bad is Good for You, we began thinking about intermixing the ideas of place and people markup with play. This led to imagining a game in which you tag other people. If tag from two strangers match, aside from some stopwords, within a certain range of time and place, each player might get points.

The idea of being tagged by strangers ultimately feeds into peoples’ curiosity of what others think about them. This became our focus for the project, which we are calling Mirror. We built in anticipation (you can only check how you’ve been tagged once per day) and ambiguity (tags, for you, are only localized to the resolution of a cell tower). You can only be tagged by people who are not in your social network.

These tags also build identities for places. Imagine a space that displays the way people currently in it have been tagged — reflecting its current occupants. Browse a map that shows the way people have been tagged in a neighborhood. We also imagine games, such as scavenger hunts in which the goal is to go out and get tagged in certain ways.


We tell show some of the possibilities in the above storyboard. There is another write up on the project’s page, as well as (an admittedly hand-wavy) tech/design explanation (pdf).

We actually believe that such a product could be bad for both you and community in general, but that doesn’t stop it from being fun to think about.

openid and social networks

As an ischool student, I like to see what folks at other ischools are thinking about, and I had experimented some with claimid in the fall. In the developers’ own words,

One of the greatest things about having a claimID page is that you can easily provide people searching for you with a real picture of your identity. With claimID you can claim your blog, your website and news articles that mention your name into a central place. If someone is searching for you, they previously might not have found all of those important pages. With claimID, you can put your best face forward and let people see the identity you wish to present.

It’s an interesting idea, but I had a lot of trouble figuring out the right way to use it. I manage my online “identity” through my website, including this blog, and various sites including flickr, linkedin, upcoming, and even Links to things about me can sometimes go on under the aboutme tag, but that’s something I try not to do too often. ClaimID, aside from providing an OpenID account, did not really fill a new enough a niche for me to continue using it.

Earlier this month, ClaimID added an OpenID and XFN based contact system. It is a first step, and in its current implementation the value proposition is pretty thin. The blog post announcing the new feature talks about the relationship between contacts and reputation — fair enough, but LinkedIn seems to have staked out that territory already. That does not stop me from being a bit excited about the feature and its potential, and it makes ClaimID’s territory a lot more interesting.

My optimism for OpenID + XFN is that it can enable a single-sign-on version of social networking. This isn’t a problem whose solution can be distributed as easily as OpenID style authentication — everyone’s OpenID server could start serving up a list of the OpenIDs of their friends, but with such a decentralized approach, identifying people that are more than one degree away starts to get very expensive — but it has its appeal.

Imagine an eBay or Amazon Marketplace style transaction, only know you know that you are a 3rd degree contact of the seller — someone in your network knows someone in their network. This changes the transaction experience. This is the basic idea behind LinkedIn’s hiring and B2B services sections. There are many web applications where knowing users’ social networks can add value, but it might not add enough value to get users to go through the process of adding their contacts. Importing social networks (privacy concerns aside) might also allow a site to identify n-degree connections between the site’s users, even if someone in the network is not a user of the site.

Importing social networks also can help handle the cold start problems on many social sites. Going back to the eBay or Amazon example, adding social information to a transaction may be most important for first time sellers and buyers, but these are also the people are most likely to need that added bit of reputation since they have not otherwise developed one on the site.

Of course, there are some challenges to this use of social networks that go beyond implementation details. My Flickr contacts are not my LinkedIn contacts, and I don’t really want them to overlap. I doubt that the current XFN profile offers users enough flexibility to manage who gets to be a contact on which website just by filtering values. This may mean that an OpenID approach to social networks may be limited to websites in which social social networks are not a central feature.

I’m not the first person to get excited about the combination of social networks and OpenID, and claimid is not the first OpenID service to manage relationships. It’s an encouraging sign of things to come, and I’m hopeful that there is some good momentum building in this direction.

you will know me by my consumption

Sam Anderson’s article “Judging Your Friends by their Netflix Queue” made it onto a few blogs and the like over the past week, often with comments along the lines of “This article is totally true.” Anderson describes his initial reaction:

When I first started looking at my friends’ Netflix lists, it felt a little creepy. The records of our cultural consumption (video rentals, library checkouts) have traditionally been protected by law. for all kinds of excellent reasons—tyrants, stalkers, mothers-in-law—so even though I’d been invited to look, my conscience kept telling me I’d crossed into sacred territory. I felt like an information-age window peeper, like I had dipped my toe into the shallow end of a pool whose deep end was Watergate. This feeling only intensified when many of my real-life friends refused to accept me as their Netflix friend. Though they’d talk to me all day about their DVD-watching habits—their three-month Buffy binges and methodical screenings of the entire Owen Wilson catalog—for some reason they wouldn’t let me see an actual list of the actual films they were actually renting.

This paragraph caught my attention. Like many people who find something interesting but are not actually knowledgeable about it, I will now proceed to climb on to my tiny digital soapbox and talk about it for a moment.

A few thoughts came to mind. Anderson’s initial reaction caused me to remember when I showed some colleagues this summer — they were first almost repelled by the idea that I and others would share our music history like that, but within a few minutes they started saying “show me that chart.”

Much like the Netflix’s Friends feature, profiles show a user’s actual behavior rather than a reported behavior. Compare this to what users list on Facebook or other profiles for their favorite music and movies. Those are representations users choose, and what people say they do is rarely exactly what they do.

I’m curious, then, if services like and Netflix friends will change how people express themselves in listing favorite music or movies. I used to think a little bit before filling in my favorite music or answering what track is currently stuck in my head. Music that I considered to be a guilty pleasure (generally music that is catchy but not necessarily of great critical value, c.f. some songs by Coldplay) would usually not make these lists. This all stopped one day when I noticed that my Facebook list of favorite music had grown a ways apart from my profile. This was partly by design — the same sort of decisions that people make when deciding what books to put on office or living room shelves — and partly because what I thought I listened to most wasn’t necessarily what I do listen to most. I decided to fix it by just copying over my reported top tracks.

My new method didn’t last very long. I started thinking that certain artists seemed to be missing, and quickly tack them back on to the end of the list. Sure, I’d rationalize it by saying “oh, she’s new,” or “well, they’ve only put out one album, so of course they get overwhelmed by more prolific artists.” The truth is, there was a discrepancy between what reported and what I wanted to list, and I felt a need to fix it.

Are tools that report our actual cultural consumption at odds with our ability to choose how we express ourselves? Does it matter?

I can’t say that I’m going anywhere with these thoughts (and I can say that I don’t know the first thing about self expression and identity), but I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a few days.