For my Social Media class

Originally published at Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I need to put this to bed.

First, the outcome of my project is my new social networking site based on Drupal, an open source project. Being anti-capitalist, it’s a lot easier for me to institute a real privacy policy. You all should have received invitations to join; so far, in this class, only Howard actually has.

This site incorporates notions about friendship and privacy in social media which have been topics in this class. It is also a platform from which my earlier project idea–setting up an economic system which is not based on exchange–can be implemented. For this, there is exactly one thing missing, a system for recognizing when participants actually do something that fulfills needs. Other parts, a points and karma system, are present, so what’s missing is a way for the recipient of a service to acknowledge it by awarding points. It would still be an exchange of a sort, but people would have a means of getting their needs met without having initial capital.

This site was informed by results from a social networking survey which I conducted of my on line “friends,” “connections,” and “followers.” I know at least two people in this class participated in that survey. But from such a group, one would expect a higher response rate than I got. Yes, that says something. On the other hand, it probably also means I won’t need to upgrade my virtual server right away–that would be expensive. [As promised, the data and results from this survey are being kept private.]

Howard, I did consider the Kaltura Community Edition–for which there is a Drupal module–for presenting these results that I saw crop up on your Diigo feed, but was concerned about the resources that would be required on my rather minimal virtual server, particularly as I got into some real trouble with site performance while I was bringing it up. There is also the one-month trial using their server, but I seem to have real problems remembering to cancel these subscriptions and I already have to remember to cancel the Surveymonkey upgrade–which I had to do in order to download the survey results.

The principal innovation with the new site is a recognition of multifaceted relationships. I recognize friends, acquaintances, colleagues, students, teachers, professors, significant others, and supervisors. I was hoping it would be possible to control content sharing on the site so that only people with particular relationships could see certain content. That way, your boss wouldn’t be able to see the evidence of your true personality unless you choose to reveal it. A facility called “user relationships node access” makes this possible.

This site has a long ways to go before it would be anything like Facebook. Facebook has been getting a lot of attention lately for its eroding privacy protections. In the privacy policy, which is accessible via a prominent link at the top of the page, I quote both Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Eric Schmidt saying problematic things about privacy, and the fact is that their revenue models depend on these compromises. Applications such as Farmville, Mafia Wars, and many, many others aren’t created just for fun but as back doors to personal information–not just your own, but that of all your Facebook friends.

And in the name of the so-called “war on terror” (yes, I know, we aren’t supposed to call it that, anymore), many governments are attempting to gather ever more information on their citizens. Naomi Wolf (2007), in The End of America, highlights these efforts:

If our government’s only goal were to fight terror, most Americans would have no major problem with this kind of surveillance. They would feel that the benefit of being spared another 9/11 outweighs the discomfort of being listened in upon. Whitfield says that people often remark, “If I am not doing anything wrong, why should I worry about it?”

That faith presupposes that no one can get away with using your words or actions against you unfairly. This is a good assumption in a working democracy–but disastrous naïveté in a fascist shift. (pp. 84-85).

In the present environment, all information held by any corporation about you can be assumed to be in government hands. That worries me about Facebook, and in creating my new site, I have opened up an avenue for people to continue to interact with me via social networking should I choose to close my my Facebook account.

But the site does offer the possibility of a gathering place for people who share my interests. I have news feeds updated every fifteen minutes, so it is becoming a pretty decent place to find news. And of course it has forums where all this can be discussed.