I'm a social person. For as long as I can remember I've always had lots of friends. Back in college I had multiple groups of friends that I had met in pursuit of different jobs, interests and hobbies, and I was often the glue that tied together people in these groups. In a way, you could say that I was an early form of a social network.
And when it comes to how I interact with my friends, co-workers, business contacts and brief acquaintances, I have a very specific preference and process for handling these diverse groups. It's the way that I like to be social, which is probably in many ways different from the way that you like to be social.
But that's the problem with the big social networking sites that are out there on the Internet today. For the most part, they are a one-size-fits-all tool, and if your preferences for social networking are different from theirs, well, that's too bad.
At the beginning of the social networking craze, this wasn't such a big deal. If you were an early user of Facebook or MySpace, the way that they dumped all of your different types of friends together wasn't too big of a problem.
But now networks like Facebook are being employed much more often for business use, and that is where the problems start. Now all of us who use these networks are feeling more and more pressure to combine our personal-life friends with our business contacts, and for many of us this isn't an ideal situation. To be honest, I probably wouldn't invite all of my personal friends to hang out with my business contacts in a real-world social setting, and I'd rather not do it in a virtual one either.
The ideal fix to this issue is to make it possible to filter our friends into specific groups; for example, I could have personal friends, co-workers, business contacts, readers I correspond with and acquaintances.
But currently there is no easy way to do this using the top social networking tools. Like many people, my first solution was to use different networks to handle different tasks, which in most cases meant that business contacts were managed in services like LinkedIn, while personal friends stayed at Facebook.
But as the profile of Facebook has increased, along with the ability to build and add custom applications to Facebook, like many of you I have had more and more business contacts seek to network with me over Facebook.
So now I'm struggling to maintain both types of contacts within Facebook. One solution I considered was to create two accounts within Facebook, a business one and a personal one, but this is actually a violation of the Facebook terms of service and is really a poor fix in the first place.
The real solution to this dilemma, and one that Facebook is supposedly working on right now, is to make it possible to sort and classify your friends. Ideally I would love to be able to create groups for my types of friends, assign each Facebook contact to one of these groups, and then define access and profile settings for each group, controlling everything from what these visitors can do and see to the photo displayed in my profile.
With these types of settings I would be able to do in a social network what all of us do in the real world: control the face and appearance that we display at work and at play.