Network Vs Identity

On some social media platforms, it appears that the development of a “network” preceded  that of an “identity.” The biggest, most popular web services, Facebook and LinkedIn, concentrated their efforts on building networks, vast connections of professional and personal relationships that transformed how we interact with each other.  However, only in the past year have Facebook and LinkedIn really begun concentrating their efforts on building the “identity” features of their services. For example, Facebook added educational and employment experiences to their profile and a time-line this year. Likewise, LinkedIn significantly increased the depth of their profile by adding skills, sections, and much more. As network theory suggests, building the network first was an effective strategy to increase the value of their platform and services; the importance of individual profiles was secondary.

But does that put the cart before the horse? I suppose it depends on what you are aiming for, what type of network you want. You can look at a network traditionally – connections produced by a particular web service. Facebook has its network, and LinkedIn has its network and each finds ways to leverage the information they collect about you, your preferences and connections to generate revenue. But what if the notion of “your” network was much wider in scope – covering the entire internet; then web service networks are simply sub-networks. Moreover, on “your” network , you own your content. If this is the type of network you want, then your objective with an identity is to manage your information across the internet, including a multi-faceted strategy for all social media and online profiles.

Managing multiple identities across different web services causes the following problems: redundancy, confusion about who owns what and whether or not what you do is private or public, difficulties in managing relationships with others, and (over) inclusiveness. First and foremost, redundancy: there is unnecessary duplication of effort and content. For example, Google +, Facebook, and LinkedIn all prompt you to add your educational and employment experiences. This clear inefficiency is not only time-consuming, but could also lead to mistakes. Second, ownership:  it is difficult to maintain ownership of your content.  The terms of service often require you assign ownership or license your content without restriction. Every web service has their own “privacy policy” and “service agreement” with you. Most of the social media services ask for you to give up some of your privacy in return for providing you a free service. Third, managing relationships: each social media or profile web service has their own way of presenting profiles and interactions, so they require your specific attention. Facebook has a personal approach – so you may be more willing to intimate content like images, stories, etc.. Alternatively, LinkedIn has a professional approach – so you are probably only going to share information or make connections that advance your career or reputation. Finally, inclusiveness: a single web service profile cannot capture all of the information about you.

With the rise of social media, it has become increasingly important to develop your own online indentity– something that interacts with social media and profile services. You should have full control over your content and choose how it gets disseminated to various web services.  A well developed personal, professional website could be the answer.

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