Bed Time Story
Jeff arrived a bit early that morning. This was nothing uncommon, he did so every Monday morning. That way he could go on Facebook and chat with friends, get energized before the crazy day ahead. He had taken some funny pics of him during the weekend. For example, that one of him falling down the stairs at the bar… Sure to get a tone of “likes!” He couldn’t wait to upload it. Already smiling at the idea, Jeff powered his computer. You’ve got to love the “Standby” function on your PC: before he even realized it his computer was on. Jeff plugged his phone to the computer, double-clicked on his favorite web
browser desktop icon, entered the Facebook URL, clicked the Upload a Photo link and uploaded the picture to Facebook and added “Stairs Surfing” underneath the photo. He had just created with a new expression! Finally, he clicked on “Share”. He then deciced to hurry to the cafeteria and pour himself some coffee. On his way there, his cell phone started ringing. “Must be Alice, she’s probably calling to laugh at my pic”. Jeff picked up the call and… on the other end of the line he heard his boss’ voice: “PLEASE TAKE THAT PICTURE OFF YOUR FACEBOOK WALL!”. Jeff stuttered back “but… but, I put the photo on “my” profile, not the one I use for the company. I don’t know how…” Then it hit him, what if… Jeff rushed back to his desk, while the boss was still blasting words out of the cellphone speaker. There he clicked the “Account” link on the Facebook menu. His jaw dropped as he realized that he was using the profile he had set up specially for office related work. All that left to do was to quickly remove the offending picture. He
did so, then sat down as the extent of the mistake, and the damages to the company’s reputation, was slowly downing on him .
It’s a Scary Web World Out There…
- FACEBOOK FIRED: 8% of US Companies Have Sacked Social Media Miscreants (read)
- Employee Fired Over Facebook Comment Settles Lawsuit (read)
- Facebook: Job Hunters Over 30 Beware (read)
- Facebook and Workplace Privacy: New Developments and Implications for Businesses (read)
Those stories, less convoluted than the one I made up above, are about employees making derogatory remarks about their employers or companies. From the employee’s point of view it’s a matter of freedom of expression. Yet, seen from the employer side, there are issues such as branding, corporate culture and trade secrets. What interests me here is not really the “ethical” or “legal” aspects of the issue. I more interested in the way the social web has broken privacy walls and how it forces employees to watch over their shoulders for eavesdroppers. I am also thinking about what all this “coming together” means for business. Let’s be real: who doesn’t like a good “rant-together” moment with colleagues? You get to tell each other about how you think you know more than the boss. You talk about how his MBA certification is not worth the paper it’s written on. I mean, isn’t that what friends are for? To paraphrase Aristotle, We are gossiping animals, after all. Playing the boss’ advocate, protecting the company’s hard earn image against the misdirected (?) ramblings of disgruntled employees is a must. Shareholders would not expect less.
…And It’s About to Get Scarier
I am smiling now because if we thought that controlling privacy and company brand assets were problems in the context of social networking, well we are in for an extremely rude awakening. Guess what? It will only get “worse”. Pandora’s box is about to open in the form of “Distributed Social Networks.” And no, this is not a mere buzz word. As defined on Wikipedia, a distributed social network is “an Internet social network service that is decentralized and distributed across different providers”. Such a network is enabled by protocols that allow portability of a user’s data and as well as interoperability between the social network providers. What does it mean for the, possibly disgruntled, employee? Well it means the employee can now freely move all his contacts, and data, from one provider to the other in case his actual provider enforces policies he finds to be too stringent. This is already possible with open source projects such as StatusNet and Friendika. For example, here are some of features Friendika “boasts” about:
- Server-to-server message encryption (without requiring SSL and server ceritficates) on supported networks
- Visibility of items (status posts, uploaded photos, etc.) can be allowed to selected persons/groups – and/or denied to selected persons/groups
- Participate in private conversation groups – keep your conversations with drinking buddies away from your employer and ex-girlfriend
It means, employees will be able to talk about their bosses or companies in the manner they chose without anybody being able to do anything about it. Here is another “top-management-hair-raising” feature:
- Post your status updates to your accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Status.net/Identi.ca
That is, the user ability to spread news has been increased almost exponentially. The Friendika developers must have read Seth Godin.
It’s The Open Source Community’s Fault
Users have complained for a long time now about privacy issues when it comes to the current social network major players. One thing open source has shown us, over and over again, is that given the right tools, people will cooperate and solve the problems they have. It’s no different with the social web. To allow for accrued privacy control, but also for interoperability and portability of data, online open source communities have devised the protocols that support the distributed social networks. Those protocols lay down the building blocks of the new distributed social network infrastructure in term of:
- authentication (OpenID, foaf-ssl)
- data format (foaf)
- conversation unification (Salmon Protocol)
And they mean business. You just have to take a look at the Social Web Acid Test – Level 0 (SWAT0) to understand that the open source community is bent on making distributed social networks an, ever improving, reality. What those protocols bring to the table is an effective set of tools to break down the walls of siloed social networking and free the potential of millions of web users out there. I have always wondered what it would mean for me to be able to integrate my Twitter account, with my Facebook account. Why not add in my Gmail account? Well this is already possible with the help of a few iGoogle gadgets. What the open source community is bringing is the possibilty for any social network adhering to the SWAT0 integration use case to be part of the distributed social inter-network.
What will distributed social networking mean to your company? Can you harness it? Were I a business owner, the first question I would ask myself is “Do I have a social media strategy?” Then I would I have to think about how well my social media strategy scales in the distributed social network context.
Oops, I almost forgot: your customers are looking at ways to replace CRM (Customer Relationship Management) with VRM (Vendor Relationship Management). They want to control how you relate to them. Ask Markus Sabadello of Project Danube, he knows one or two things about VRM.