in Digital Web

The peril of being “social”

Welp, if you enjoyed using the social network Foursquare (like me), prepare to lose all of your mayorships and expect to contend with a ton of new traffic, as the NY Times has profiled the new service in today’s paper: (I’m mostly kidding, btw.)

Just seven months old with about 60,000 users so far, Foursquare is still getting off the ground — especially when compared with supersize services like Facebook and Twitter, which have millions of members. But that underground status is part of Foursquare’s appeal, its fans say. It is not yet cluttered with celebrities, nosy mothers-in-law or annoying co-workers.

“On Twitter, there are more than 3,000 people that follow me, and Facebook is more of a business community now,” said Annie Heckenberger, 36, who works at an advertising agency in Philadelphia. “Foursquare is more of the people that I actually hang out with and want to socialize with.”

That brings up a point that Michael Stoner touches on in his recent post, where he coins the term “engagement fatigue.” In short he says:

The disorder is engagement fatigue. Engagement fatigue will occur when mass numbers of people participating in social networking—everyone who is making marketers salivate because they’re swarming to Facebook, Twitter, etc.—get tired of brand engagement marketing and tune out.

What happens when you get tired of hearing from people? Don’t want to see their photos, don’t care what their kids are doing potty training and feel the need to create a nebulous profile blocks to ensure that certain people can’t see everything? What happens when the tools we use become too ubiquitous to be useful anymore? Well we know what happens, we move on to other things. But when those tools become a big part of our lives? I know my answers to this question, but it’s a bigger one I’m putting out there for the wider audience.

Is this some sort of permissive intrusiveness that we’re sanctioning through permissions on a web site? How far does it go and for what aims? I realize this is almost a backwards argument, given how far we’ve gone with most sites these days, but I wonder exactly what we expect to be doing with our Facebook profiles in five years.

A modern bobsleigh team, the 2006 United State...
Image via Wikipedia

At least when I used AOL in the 90s, you knew when you deleted your account, your profile and screen name went away too. As it turns out, those profiles weren’t all that interesting anyway. But now? Facebook is better than any family photo album you can find. I guess this is just part of their longevity strategy, but I really am mulling (and no, there’s no real punchline to this post, sorry..I’m just musing) over where we’re really headed with all of this and how profound an effect it’ll have on our social interactions over the next half decade or so.

It’s already affecting us, but I think we’re just scratching the surface. So much of what we talk about in these contexts almost becomes solely focused on how we can profit from these intimate details that people give up freely and I’m really wondering about the ethics of this and whether we’re not riding a bobsleigh towards a place that none of us really want to go until it’s too late and we’re already at the bottom of the course.


  1. You’re so right! I’ve pretty much avoided Facebook because I have a fairly high profile online and there a lot of reasons why I don’t want masses of people knowing too much about my personal life. I’m wondering now if I can just un-friend people that I don’t really have a personal relationship with but that I was guilted into friending. Anyway, great points and thanks for the shoutout!

  2. @ Sean: Thanks for the re-tweet!
    @ Curt: You are right. People don’t really establish their purpose, but I think the problem with that, is the boundaries can become blurred quickly. While the social networks do have tools to “block out the noise,” it can not only be a lot of work to set this up, but it doesn’t always work as easily as intended. This is especially a problem for early adopters. If you’ve got several hundred Facebook friends, creating neat groups for each one of them can be onerous and even once you’ve done this, you find that it really limits the functionality of the tool to a degree once you’ve done it. It’s a conundrum to be sure.

  3. The problem is that people fail to set up their own boundaries within the social networks. Most of the social networks offer the appropriate and necessary tools to filter out all of the noise, but few people use them.

  4. Valid point.

    You have to be aware of your online profile and the information that you make available publicly.

    By the way I’ve retweeted your post.

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