In his weekly email newsletter, George Siemens wrote/quoted:
This is one of the more insightful statements I’ve come across recently – What Google Could Learning From Goffman: “When we merge social groups together, we are challenged to manage our disclosures across these groups, which have different norms of propriety.”
The social software I use regularly – Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin – allows me to form different social groups. I have different interactions with different people in each….
Google, however, smashed together different social groups with Buzz, forcing information to flow between groups that were previously distinct. Buzz’s failure was not one of only disrespecting privacy, but rather one of dishonouring social clustering.
This really hit a chord with me and I can’t help but relate this to a Seinfeld episode where George Costanza sees his ‘Worlds Collide’ when people from different social groups connect.
It gets very funny when George declares that ‘Independent George’ will cease to exist by an encroaching ‘Relationship George’.
Although Google Buzz isn’t causing my worlds to collide in such a dramatic fashion, I am keenly aware that it opens up my social communities and combines them in a way that I am not sure I’m prepared to do. Fred Stutzman calls this ‘context collapse':
When you create a profile in a social network site, or share a stream of Tweets, you’re essentially creating a representation of an identity. As we’ve seen time and time again in Facebook, we run into problems when identities collide during “context collapse” – when people from a different segment of your life view an identity you’ve constructed for your friends.
For instance, I tried linking Twitter to Facebook and all I did was infiltrate my non-twitter friends Facebook timelines with context-less tweets that really meant nothing to them… it lasted about 24 hours. Similarly, Buzz came out and I started chatting with a few people in it, then my daughter (a Gmail user who was quicker than I to figure out Buzz) said to me, “Dad you sure talk a lot about buzz with people.” And this got me thinking about how I’m normally very purposeful with my online identities. I think about where I say what, to whom and why… I contextualize my conversations to the tool.
It’s not that I’m hiding anything… My tweets are open to the public, so is my LinkedIn profile. Meanwhile, except for my recent updates to Facebook while on holiday, I keep that more candid, limiting my profile to students that I’m connected to, and being selective about what information I share in my profile. That said, there is nothing in my Facebook profile that I am ashamed of or that I wouldn’t want others to see, but I talk differently there to my family and friends than I do on other networks. I tend to share my blog everywhere and so that too has a different voice than with other tools in other contexts.
In essence, Goffman argues that identity and interaction are performative, a concept that maps very well onto social network sites. By “creating” identities, we’re not living dual lives, but rather engaging in a well-established performance of identity that lets us share the proper “front” in context. We act differently on LinkedIn and Facebook because these sites have contextual norms, not because we’re duplicitous.
Later in the article Stutzman continues:
…it was simply too much to ask us to configure ourselves to the technology.
By fabricating new social groupings, Google ran head-on into Facebook’s biggest problem – that of context collapse. When we merge social groups together, we are challenged to manage our disclosures across these groups, which have different norms of propriety.
Google Buzz has mashed all these ‘worlds’ together. I don’t really want my daughter or my LinkedIn network to see me telling Seth Bowers (in reaction to him asking when I’m going to finally get on Buzz) to ‘Buzz off!’ On Twitter, with an @reply, there is context and even appropriateness in the comment (as poor as the humour may be). To my family and Facebook friends, that could easily be seen as rude, and more to the point, irrelevant when it is ‘pushed’ at them in a different setting with different norms than where the message was intended to reside.
As Seth said in his only two Buzz comments so far:
I don’t know if I need my inbox to be social…
Man Google sucks at social…
I may be wrong, and perhaps Google Buzz will catch on, but I think it has a bumpy road ahead, because the social web requires socialization, which in turn requires contexts for appropriate social norms and behaviors.
I’m not freaking out like George Costanza on Seinfeld, but I really don’t want a tool that merges my digital identities and forces my worlds to collide.
Cross-posted on Fireside Learning Ning: Conversations about Education.