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Maxvoltar - Social Network Portability: Thanks, but no thanks.

Maxvoltar is the personal weblog of Tim Van Damme, a freelance interface designer at Made by Elephant.

50° 54' 47" N, 4° 25' 50" E

Social Network Portability: Thanks, but no thanks.

You know the drill: you join a new so-called social network, and the second thing you have to do after filling in some details about yourself, is adding all your friends to your contacts. We’re not going to discuss the fact that not everything needs to be a social network, but we’ll dive into the debate about Social Network Portability, and why we don’t need it.

To prevent people from tripping over the name “Social Network”, I’ll be referring to it as “SN” from here on. Also: this isn’t an attack on the great people behind Microformats. I respect what they do, and am just playing devil’s advocate.

I love re-adding all my contacts. I love reconfiguring notifications and privacy settings. I love re-blocking assholes.

Is it a burden to repeat these steps every time I sign up to a new SN? Yes, without a doubt. But you’re looking at it from the wrong perspective… Allow me to rephrase those statements:

I love re-adding contacts I think might be interested in the information I’m sharing on this SN.
I love reconfiguring notifications and privacy settings, as I put more value into following up activity from this SN, rather than from another.
I do not love re-blocking assholes. But I’m afraid they’ll always be around. Trolls are a part of the internet (sometimes even part of the real life).

The result of going through all this trouble? Every SN I joined is tailored specially for my needs. Not only for my needs, but also for my friends’/family’s/co-workers’ needs.

I don’t want my family to be bothered every time I write a tweet. And why should they be interested in my Flickr-stream? They don’t care about the (mostly geeky) screenshots I post, and have probably already seen the actual photographs on my laptop, fullscreen. Occasionally, I’ll check out some pictures, or reply to their status on Facebook, but that’s about as far as my family will go on the internet.
Checking out my or Readernaut profiles provide no added value for my friends; they know what kind of music I like or which books I read.

My main rules are:

  • Facebook is for friends and family, for that’s the only SN they know.
  • Flickr and are for online friends.
  • Twitter is for both online friends, and (potential) customers, but especially for the former. Keeping in touch with people you’ve met at conferenceshas never been easier.

There are parts that overlap each other (Facebook imports my Twitter-status, I link to Flickr on Twitter), but besides that, each group stays on his own playground.

So how do you manage your Social Networks?


  • Joel Helin

    5000 days ago

    I connect with friends and family on Facebook, just like you. The problem is that Swedish sites are copying the concept of delicious, twitter and flickr and are more popular than the original sites (which I stick to, since I signed up there before the copycats came up). So instead of having 2 accounts of basically the same sites, I only use Facebook for “real life” and everything else for my online presence. I hope that made sense…

  • Phil Bowell

    5000 days ago

    You put forward some interesting ideas that actually, the more I think about it, is the same thing I do. I use Facebook for real life friends, I have the odd real life friend on Twitter but generally the people I follow are people’s blogs I’m interested in or whose talents as a designer I respect. My “cross over” is with Flickr and Facebook, I have a pro account and so I’d rather use the site I pay for to host my images than one that’s free.

    I was initially for this data portability, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t think it’s necessary. None of my real friends use the “social” sites I use so it would be pointless anyway!

  • Matthew Smith

    4996 days ago

    I think that’s a decent point for you, but its not just about your preferences, its about allowing the OPTION of preferences.

    Data Portability means its yours, it doesn’t mean you have a lifestream. Right?

    Also, can I have your data when your done with it? My whale was asking for some elephant last week, and I can’t keep him waiting.

  • Tim Van Damme

    4996 days ago

    Send your whale my way, I’ll forward him to my elephant!

    I’m not talking about data-portability here, but portability of contacts and preferences…

  • Ash

    4975 days ago

    You’re probably right, but portability is a good thing. Just because you do things slightly different doesn’t mean others won’t get use out of having their data out there. I for one am completely sick of always having to fill out my personal details over and over, and if I could specify my privacy settings with the touch of an OpenID I’d be in heaven.

    I’m not sure how useful a Microformat solution would be, but I guess it can’t hurt.

    PS: This comment box is tiny. :-P

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