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Get Social, but Ask Questions

There are important social questions that must be raised, too. In his seminal work, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, Joseph Weizenbaum writes that "...a highway permits people to travel between the geographical centers it connects, but, because of the side effects that it and other factors synergistically engender, it imprisons poor people in inner cities as effectively as if the cities were walled in."

Are we leaving people out that should have easier access to social networks? I think about the comment that Matt Haughey once made about how the community web site Metafilter was purposely made difficult to navigate to keep out the less-technically-inclined. Do we risk controlling communities too tightly? Who makes such determinations?

Another issue is whether we aren't just littering the Web with Internet junk. I can understand the importance of social network web sites; for example, I enjoy them to a certain extent because it really is interesting to watch how people map to one another. But after joining a few of them, I got really exhausted trying to keep up with the entire experience. One such site would be enough!

Finally, concerns about privacy and appropriate use of personal information raises numerous questions that only time will reveal answers to. A word of advice, though. If you're going to use social networking web sites, read their Terms of Service (TOS) carefully. Orkut, for example, owns everything you post. Many critics of social networking web sites point out that avoiding their use and sticking to weblog-related networking provides far more protection to authors.

One thing is certain: Social networking isn't just a fad. There's no doubt that some of the web sites and technologies we're using now will become radically different or fall off the radar altogether. The advancing connection between computers and machines is inarguable, but whether we use these tools for the benefit of the greater social good is still very far from view.

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