A good use for Social Networks

Excerpted from:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/technology/13social.html?hpw

“A growing number of start-up companies are making use of Facebook Connect to recruit a healthy crowd of users in a hurry, and help them find their friends on the new sites.

“Blippy, for example, allows members to show purchases made through iTunes and Netflix and on major credit cards. Quora uses new members’ Facebook profiles to flesh out their Quora accounts. The Huffington Post uses Facebook Connect to allow readers to comment on news articles, and Yahoo recently built Facebook Connect into a handful of its products, including Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Answers.

“Amanda Lenhart, a researcher at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said that services like Facebook Connect could help people cut through the noise online.

“In a way, these services are a response to the ever-increasing amount of information on the Web,” she said. “How are you going to filter it? We need our network and like-minded people to connect us to the information we need the most.”

***

That’s the part I really like. I have never been down with the time and energy spent on sharing trivia via social networking. But at last I see the power of these new technologies: people sharing with friends and neighbors some of the important information they’re following. If everybody were being made even peripherally aware of their own social network’s news and information, eventually this kind of information exchange might wear away at the barriers that now exist between Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative, Racist and Non-Racist, etc.

The problem, of course, is that there are so many separate conversations going on in this country: not just the quilters keeping up on quilting news, and peregrine falcon flyers keeping up on peregrine falcon news that the rest of us never know or care about, but the major conversations that seem to stay encapsulated. Most obviously, Progressives railing to each other about the transgressions of Conservatives as they strive to defeat Health Care Reform, Tea Partiers railing to each other about the transgressions of Democrats as they strive to pass Health Care Reform, and so forth. Very little of this information crosses the barriers between these groups, and each little conclave remains smugly secure against any pushback or alternate interpretations of reality.

But imagine if my sources of news and information were automatically reflected somewhere in your world. You might pick up on some of it, and I might pick up on some of yours. And some of mine that you pick up on might get reflected somewhere in the world of a social network contact of yours with whom I’d never exchange information, and maybe some of it resonates with her. And then maybe some of that gets reflected on the “wall” of one of her social networking contacts, and sticks. And so on and so forth.

At a minimum, this kind of a mechanism would begin to breach the barriers between the various insulated communities within our tiny nation and crowded world. Some of us might open our eyes and see that our own points of view are not 100% correct and unassailable. Some of us might even admit the value of the other guy’s point of view. And some of us might even change our minds!

And to my way of thinking, that’s a lot more valuable than using social networks to keep up with your friends’ latest mall acquisitions or opinions on Hollywood blockbusters. It might even make the world a better place!

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