Village vs City

Researchers Help Define Next-Gen Social Networking
IDG News Service (07/28/08) Gohring, Nancy

Academic researchers predict that the next generation of social networking will give more people tools for defining smaller online communities in a way that mimics the real world. Rochester Institute of Technology’s Liz Lawley, speaking at Microsoft Research’s annual Faculty Summit, says current social tools are broken in regards to context and establishing boundaries over who to share information with. Many social network sites require users to become a part of a huge community, or force users to choose whether someone is a friend or not, with no subtleties defining relationships.

“People want to create villages and they’re being forced into cities,” Lawley says. “That’s creating a huge tension in social interactions.” Academic researchers could help develop tools to allow for such specific social networking, but first they must start using the tools, Lawley says, as many have no idea how to use online tools such as sharing a bookmark with other people or moderating comments on a blog.

Lawley also objects to some of the restrictions that separate children from adults online. For example, Lawley says she cannot interact with her 14-year-old son on Second Life because he has to be in the teen grid and she is in the adult grid.

Shutting down sites or isolating people will not solve the problem of sexual predators, she says. And although there is merit in age verification online, it should not be used to segregate users. Instead, Lawley says it would be better for parents to teach young people how to interact safely with adults online.