Building Who You Are Online

mapping connections
Mapping social connections thru social networking (image by blprnt_van)

When the internet really got going the ability to be anonymous was really the natural state of interaction. As the web has matured this ability has slowly eroded. For social scientists, social anthropologists, and just plain old people watchers this is a burgeoning market.

I would argue that we used to be able to classify people in three parts. The person you are at home, the person you are at work, and the person you are online. These different persona’s are quickly coming to an end. As we take our real world connections and connect online suddenly this opens up the ability to build out a full 360 degree person.

There is a lot of conversation about what this means for people, transparency, the future of the workplace, and that it will foster a better society. The more open we are the more likely we are all going to act responsibly. That’s great but I just don’t find that interesting. Here’s what I find interesting…

Mapping and Connections

Just how can mapping connections and interactions from people can give us insight? I Bet if we wanted to we can build a web of each individual and measure relationships as data points. I guess that is pretty scary for some people to imagine that we have actually reaahed a point where we can virtually track interactions amongst some of your closest relationships.

While that might be interesting I bet we would find out that as a whole we are pretty boring people. I bet this insight would show just how consistent we are as human beings. We love consistency. Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation said something in a talk that really strikes true:

Humans love consistency. Nobody wakes up in the morning and hopes their car or coffee pot is in a different spot than the night before. Just like in traditional media where everything is published on a calendar, social media works best when you deliver a consistent stream of content.

Isn’t that true? Think of your daily life– how many things are consistent from day to day? Do you put your keys in the same spot, park your car in the same area, or sleep on the same side of the bed?

But We Aren’t Consistent

Yes a true puzzle. On one hand we are consistent but on the other we aren’t. If we were consistent wouldn’t it be easy for marketers and people who want to sell you things to make that happen? Of course there are elements of what we do, our make up that are consistent. If you’ve read the books Why We Buy, Buyology, or Influence this is ever apparent.

So does new media interactions, this new form of communication that we participate in make us more consistent or less consistent? I saw a story the other day asking if Twitter can be used instead of polls to figure out public sentiment. While interesting I still think there is a little bit of snake oil here…

The Danger in Relying On New Media Data

Why this data is tainted? It’s simple, I still have to give permission to share this data. Not in a privacy sense but I have to consciously share what ever I am sharing. These aren’t natural expressions like facial responses or being hooked up to a fMRI machine. I’m my own editor either consciously or subconsciously.

Just as when polls that are taken by telephone have an effect on the answers given– especially when the subject is about race or fairness. No one when asked a question by an interviewer wants to appear to be a racist in anyway or outside of the norm and go beyond what is political correct in this environment. I would argue the same can be said about data in the social space.

Who Are You Really?

I remember I read once that a detective said it’s tough to tell if someone is lying over the phone but put me in a room with the person face to face I can tell you 90% of the time. I’d do the same thing with social media, put a social graph of someones life in front of me and it’s tough for me to tell you who that person really is but put them in a room with me and I still wouldn’t have a clue…