11 Suggestions for (Social) Network Heaven (from a teacher’s view)

a simulpost with TechLearning

I've been enjoying facebook and learning about social networking since Thanksgiving. I think that there are some things that need to happen in facebook and other social networks before we can head over there en masse and use it as the nexus of our life's network.

(Author's Note: From this point on, I'll write (social) network to denote the network of the future because I believe it is about networks for everything not just social.)

Until they fix these things, we will continue to see news articles as people make a melting pot of their work and social lives that was never intended to be and is not what people really want.

1) Multiple connection types

Finding me
On social networks, you're either unfindable, hidden except for your face, or you're naked!

What I mean is this:

There are basically 3 flavors of access icecream on facebook:
1) No access (unfindable)
2) Limited Access (just your face)
3) Full Access (you're naked, well, not literally if you're smart.)

Additionally, I can remove my picture and name listing from the main facebook search, but then I cannot be found.

I'm either lost or WAY TOO FOUND!

Friend of a Friend, or is it?
Now for me, I'm facebooking professionally but I'm also finding family and friends so here is the inherent problem in this.

I have 100 or so readers of my blog as facebook friends, but I also have my cousins in there. I might really want you to read all of my information, but do I want you to know who my cousins are?

Or my husband?

Or next year, my children?

And I might want to talk to them about some private family stuff, but should that show up for you to read?

You get a window to my family, a window I might not want you to have.

Daughter of a Blogger not Friend of a Friend
For then, you can say,

“Hey, Vicki's first cousin, Vicki told me to add you.”

And then they add without asking and “Bam!,” there is a link there I might not want. My cousin assumes “any friend of yours is a friend of mine.” However, you're not my close friend, you're a reader of my blog. And there is a difference! So, it is not really, friend meet friend. It is blog reader meet cousin. Or blog reader meet child of blog writer. And I have a problem with that!!!

So, for me, I might want something that looks like this:

  • Professional Network
  • Social Network
  • Community Network (my hometown)
  • Classroom Network
  • Family Network

And yours may look totally different. I don't know why there can't be a method to set several different connection types. Then, you can add friends to one group, or another, or all of them. I mean what if Leo Laporte or Robert Scoble actually wanted to use facebook to connect with their friends. They can't! (I mean, can't famous people really use this stuff to make their lives better?)

I'm not my student's friend

We're going to have to use a private group on facebook for me to communicate w/ my students. They don't want to add me as a “friend” and honestly, I really don't want to add them as a “friend” either. I'm not their friend, I'm their teacher. There is a professionalism I have when dealing with them and I'm not their friend nor do I want that implication. Plus, there would be something about my daughter's math teacher being on her myspace friends list.

(Don't get me wrong, I love them. I enjoy being with them, but I am still an authority figure in their lives and not involved in their social lives.)

However, I do want to communicate with them on facebook (particularly for summer assignments.) And I cannot.

Until social networks realize that we cannot divide our lives up into three or four levels of connection, they will be limited and continue to have criticism from educational groups. (Which is often well intended but misguided.)

One (social) network doesn't fix all. There are problems when we mix things, however facebook and myspace are simply too popular to say that “Oh, I'll use facebook for social and then ning for professional.” What if someone is only available on facebook and doesn't do the “ning thing.”

And what happens when Granny joins myspace and she wants to date!? We need networks!

Note: Now, the Open Social standard is supposed to help us move our profile and settings from place to place, but their remains the fact that if one person we want to connect with professionally is only on Facebook and not Linked in, that we'll have to connect on facebook even if we use that for family. So, I don't know that Open Social will solve this problem.

2) Adding appropriate apps

I enjoy networking on facebook and communicating, however, I don't want to be bitten by a vampire nor do I have time to play scrabulous. And to be asked to install these apps on an ongoing basis is a little bothersome. In the rush of everyone and their brother to build apps, sometimes, I just don't have the time to be bitten and super poked!

So, how do we delineate apps that are gaming apps and say… don't allow invitations to gaming apps to be delivered to me? Can't the apps have categories and I express my interest in categories of apps to handle some of that for me as sort of a prefilter?

Kill App Spam
Or, we have a way to filter e-mail spam that if someone has sent it to more than a certain number of people, don't deliver it to me. Can't we say, “If someone has sent the app to more than 5 people, I DON'T WANT IT!!!”

It's App spam. Keep the spam in the can! But newcomers can't help it when they don't know better! (I mean, how can you tell a newcomer has e-mail, they start sending hundreds of forwards that they probably never read! It is the same with newbies in facebook.)

3) Language filter / Ratings System

I just don't want to see certain words. I don't want to be asked to join a group with the F word in it. (And I don't mean the word “fun” there.) So, if a person or group chooses to list smut or (god forbid) change their group name on me so that it shows in my profile, I won't have to unsubscribe on it, my settings will do it for me. If someone tries to post a “bad word” on my wall, it will say, “Oops, this page is rated G” and not allow it.

Some of the problems that people have is that things get posted on their page and it could be a lie but its there. And they don't check their “walls” and notice to delete it. Guilt by association.

Or in the case of my students, they say that they don't want to make enemies of their friend when they delete it. It shouldn't be a complete moral discussion when someone posts something that is not acceptable to another. We have different levels of tolerance for those things. We should be able to rate our pages. (Now, wouldn't this help with filtration 2.0?)

And why couldn't we set these ratings by connection type? My professional life is rated G, college buddies PG-13, and maybe my discussions with my handsome husband might be rated X? (just kidding, but you get my point.)

4) Better Group Search

After getting on facebook, I had some friends ask if there was an edublogger group and I looked and couldn't find one, so I created one. We now have over a hundred members. Oh, but oops, there was one listed under philosophy with the same name!!!! — it is because I typed “edublogger” and the name of the group was something like “edubloggers.” When I started to create a group with the same name, I wish it would have told me.

OH, and there is global edubloggers too. The search app should have caught it!

Nothing New Under the Sun
There is a growing frustration among us Web 2.0 educators with duplication of efforts. Why can't we work together? Why did we do all this and realize that others were already doing it?

It is a frustration. So, if a platform facilitates groups, we need to be able to make sure we're not duplicating things. A more robust search and notification system needs to be in place before we create a group that is already there. We go from elated pride in creating something new to frustration that we wasted our time and that of our friends.

5) Multi Purpose Contact and Activity Management

Many students say, I don't know if I can use facebook at school b/c I'll be distracted by my social life. So, perhaps I could log in and say,

“OK, right now I'm working. And when I'm working, I only want to see this sort of activity. Activity for my job, my network of professionals, and my intimate family.”

and then on the weekend

“OK, right now, I'm not working, I”m going to rock the house. I want to link up with my family and friends and forget that 9-5 work stuff!”

But, if its super urgent, perhaps certain types of people could “nudge” me.

It is the mix of work and social that causes many of the problems that we have. I want to plan family vacations and encourage family members, however, if my sister his having a hard time and I leave her a message that “I hope things go better with that jerk of a boss” and she's using her facebook for mostly work, then I've just made a mess for dear old sis!

I know that this will be hard, but goodness knows, it is what I and all of my students want to do! They want to talk with me about summer assignments but NOT about their Friday night plans.

It is about social networks.

6) Level of access
I get frustrated with this one. Someone wants me to add them and I have to decide if they get to see the limited profile or the full information. And suppose I get closer, I don't usually remember to “promote” them.

If (social) networks implemented connection types as proposed in item 1 above, then I'd like to say, “OK this person is a blog reader” and then automatically set the settings for what they see with me. This sounds like the same as #1 but its not.

Right now on facebook, you say two things 1) How you know a person and 2) What level of access do they have to your account, limited or full. For me, I'd like Question #1 to determine #2 and I want it to be the same for everyone so I can be consistent. I don't want mistakes. My family's safety depends on it.

7) Personalization

If you can't customize your background and a little bit about your own page, then it is frustrating. Graphics may be taxing on the server (and hard on the eyes sometimes), however it would be nice to customize Facebook an itsy bitsy bit without having the garish look of many myspace pages. (I think Ning does a pretty good job of this. If you look at our global collaborative Flat Classroom Ning, you'll see most students do customize their pages.)

My students came up with this one today when I talked to them about this post. That was their #1 complaint w/ facebook. And although they like myspace, it is easy to get “tacky” quickly they say.

And should I be able to customize the look of my page depending upon their connection type?

8) Ratings system
Now, this may sound a little bit over the edge for some folks, but if someone is a known “spammer,” I don't want to have to figure it out. If a person has never had a bad “report” of spam is important to me. So, I guess a “satisfaction rating” or something of the sort would be nice like they have on ebay. A non-pest rating? 😉

While the “rating” of people's habits might be over the edge, we should at least be able to do it with apps. Right now, the app writers have all of the power. If an app is unethical or has a problem (like Beacon), when I'm asked to install it, it should give me some “customer reviews” and star ratings like Amazon does. (Apps have fans, but not when you're looking at the add screen.) Then, the best apps rise up and the not so great can be cast off like an old shoe.

9) Name Notification System
When you create your “name” and location, I believe that if another person sets up a profile with the same name and location and other information, that you should be notified. This would help with impersonation and would get people to go ahead and get a myspace or facebook if only to “hold onto” and claim their identity.

10) Identity Verification System
I would like to have an icon that says “identity verified” that you could get. They would have high standards of verification, like ssn, drivers license, etc. (Kind of like getting a Verisign ID) and then verify that your page is who you say you are. (Akin to the voluntary system being implemented in Second Life.)

So, if I went to a page of someone, I could see that it had been verified that that person is who they say they are. Then, we could teach people that if they don't see such a sign, to know that it may or may not be that real person.

Online impersonations are a problem and there needs to be a way to combat it without limited freedom of speech, parody sites, etc. Some people just don't know to have that instant skepticism and harm has come in some situations.

11 – Light Versions (Split personality!)
Twitter is so popular because it is so Light! I mean, 140 characters, can work on cell phones (mostly ones here in the US, though.) However, as we look to link with people (and classrooms) in countries with little or no broadband access, we need to have easy ways for our (social) networking pages to connect to and from cell phones of all kinds.

Access in Africa
This first hit me during a recent discussion with Beth Kanter on Wow2. She is recently back from Cambodia where she was teaching 18-24 year old students about blogging. We need alternatives to make our content more concise, easy to read and the ability to pull residents of bandwidth-limited areas into our conversations.

Lemonade
Additionally, as I was listening to last week's Digital Planet podcast from the BBC, I heard about the open cell phone standard entitled Lemonade which will make email access more readily available on even non-smart phones. So, why can't we do the same thing with networking sites?

Are you a bandwidth snob?
I am convicted that many of us are guilty of bandwidth snobbery. We create high bandwidth content and wonder why we don't get more views. We must all become experts and compression because for many in places like Africa pay by the minute to be in the Internet. We need to be aware of this in our content creation.

This is more than just social networks but extends to blogs and podcasts and more. We need some sort of automated split personality for every page we create. The world is getting online slowly but dial up isn't just good enough any more to view what we create. We need to do a better job of including those in developing countries who have no other alternative. (Or in rural areas, like many of my students.)

Why (Social) Networks are Important

I'm not one to say that (social) networks will cure all of the ills of mankind. I'm not going to say that you can't function in society without them.

I am going to say that whether you like it or not, social networks are a part of today's culture and are affecting today's youth greatly. (Social) networks are going mainstream and I heard today of a college admissions office that hired a person to do nothing but check myspace pages of applicants. (Oh, and by the way, if that admissions office worker is using their own myspace page… I guess it just lost its social use.)

The effective, safe use of (social) networks could affect where they can go to school or get that scholarship as much as their gpa or SAT!

The ability to network online effectively could affect where students go in the corporate structure as much as their college education!

So, while it is not the end all, be all, (social) networks are important and cannot be ignored by schools.

To ignore teaching the safe, effective use of (social) networks is akin to not teaching kids how to cross the street or stop drop and roll if they caught on fire. They just need to know how and be safe at the same time.

Be real! Don't give fakes a foothold!
While the answer of some educational organizations is to avoid social networks, I think that if you have a REAL facebook page and a REAL myspace page then you've “claimed” your identity. So, if someone puts up a fake one and others search for you, they'll see at least two identities to choose from (if you can be found in the public directory) and they'll know something is up.

My recommendation is to set up a myspace and facebook and until we can have layers of connections. Then, just use it professionally. If you want to link with your students or family, perhaps a private group is best to do.

Meanwhile, don't just get mad, be an advocate for positive change. Use your voice to speak out as an educator for what you think should be done. None of us have all the answers! And good social networking companies see the blogosphere as the greatest free focus group ever invented! The one's with longevity will listen and respond!

Social Networks need to evolve into the powerful networks that become the nexus of our lives.

I'd love to hear your thoughts! There is a lot I still don't know about networks and perhaps some of these things are doable now. Please, speak up!

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12 thoughts on “11 Suggestions for (Social) Network Heaven (from a teacher’s view)

  1. Vicki,
    Thank you for articulating my issues with facebook. I have been trying it out for a while, but because of the reasons you’ve written about, just haven’t found how it can work for me as an educator – or even for me as a person. I just don’t really get it. Twitter and classroom 2.0 on ning were immediately apparent to me. I’ve had to work so much harder to think about ways to make facebook meaningful to me. When there are so many other great things out there, I just don’t have the time to think that hard. If only the people at Facebook would read your blog. Have you sent it to them?
    -Liz

  2. Vicki – I’m with you on this, so much. Two points resonated with me really well.

    1) Is the portability and customization of profile. I hate rebuilding these things in every network. I’ve done some things like make my favorite book and movie list in Amazon and for the networks that ask for it I just link there.

    2) Not teaching kids how to use this stuff is like “not teaching kids to stop drop and roll”. I hope that line is creative commons. I plan on borrowing it.

    I’ll be talking teaching kids about this several times over the next few months (two keynotes). I’d love to get your take on this page:

    http://tinyurl.com/2joon9

    Cheers. 🙂

  3. An incredibly detailed report on the state of social networking. Well done.

    I want to raise a couple of points though.

    I agree with you about some form of verification for identity, but I also think it should be possible for a person to use a pseudonym or ‘pen-name’, and be certain that their privacy is assured. There are many people in this world who want to participate in the social revolution but who are desperately worried about their safety, the safety of their families, the amount of friend requests they would receive etc.

    I totally and whole-heartedly agree with more control over levels of access. I too am a teacher and mentor of adult students, most of my students are wonderful people, but they aren’t friends, they could be in time, but the reality is that I’m being paid to educate them and genuine lasting friendship can never be based on financial incentive.

  4. You brought up some very good points. I think our main concern should be the safety and privacy issues.
    Here is a site that I discovered recently. This site appears to be have a lot of safety and privacy features in place.
    This is a news clip about this site:
    Our-Social.com Offers a Safe, Family-Friendly Social Network

    Nov. 13, 2007 – At a loss for family-friendly online social networking? Searching for a Web-based community that’s easy to join and not just for younger people? Our-Social.com (http://www.our-social.com) offers a user-friendly environment free of profanity and pornographic material so that members can safely make new friends of all ages as well as connect with existing friends and family. As evidence of Our-Social.com’s commitment to extending a hand to everyone seeking a safe online community, membership is free.

    “Our-Social is the clean alternative to the prominent social networking sites,” said founder Theresa Adams. The site’s word filter prevents members from being exposed to profanity and lewd or sexual comments – as well as racial slurs and other hate speech. To further ensure that the site remains clear of offensive material and is safe for all ages, Adams has all pictures, video and audio clips go through an approval process – which takes places within 24 hours of submission – before they are posted.
    In addition, Our-Social discourages members from ever publicly displaying information such as their e-mail address, real name and geographical location. As another safety precaution, Our-Social does not have a chat area but does provide a members-only forum. The forum is moderated and has several different threads under the main categories of Family, Health, Faith, Pets and Social Stuff. In keeping with the site’s mission of providing a safe, clean environment, the forum does not allow images except for a profile picture. “The profile picture does not have to be an actual photo of a person,” said Adams. “Members can use an alternative image that fits their personality, such as a funny picture, cartoon, an animal picture or so on.”

    Members have their own account pages, which serve as personalized control panels, where users can manage all aspects of their account. Management activities include editing profiles, setting privacy levels for the account, creating or editing articles, checking mail, inviting friends to join, sending out friendship requests and creating numerous picture, video and audio albums.

    The albums (also called audio sets and video sets) can hold multiple photo, videos or audio files, and the titles of each appear on the creator’s profile page. Other site members can leave comments in the albums, and individual albums can be set to different privacy levels. That means while all members may be able to view a particular album, another album from the same person might only be accessible to members who have been designated as friends.

  5. Thank you Vicki for an amazing post. I have read it about four times and keep coming back to it to read some more. As a teacher of students from Prep(K) to Year 10 I am very conscious of the issues we are facing as guides and supporters of our students when they are travelling around the web. You have also made so many great points about our own identities on the web and our personal and public responsibilities. Your link to Alec Couros’ post also lost me a few hours sleep last night. Amazing things to think about. I hope, with your permission I am can add links to both your post and Alec’s to a wiki that I have been creating as a portal for our teachers here in Victoria, Au. They are both thoughtful and insightful musings that should be read by all educators and their students. Thanks again
    Anne.
    http://tiny.cc/TKh6Z

  6. Hi Vicki
    A useful post, you raise several of the points that I feel about Facebook.
    That’s one reason that I like Elgg; the fact that it is possible to create as many groups as you want (and to have people in more than one group), so, were your cousin to start teaching, she could be in both family and work groups.

    Mr. Moses commented about the need to rebuilt a profile in every community – it’s for that that I really don’t like Ning. I have to do it several times on the same site. To me, the ideal would let me enter the data once, in a central place; then, for each community, have the default data, custom data or no data. (Or, if you’d left the default one blank, add it for that particular community).
    The other difficulty that I have with Ning is that it’s not possible for me to easily see my work in different communities. I have to go to that site. It makes it quite disjointed.

    I use Facebook (and, for that matter, Ning) because people I know are there. Of all the tools that I’ve experimented with, I like Elgg best, though I still have some problems with it.

    However, perhaps I ought not to be looking to integrate my blog with my social network – perhaps that’s why I can’t quite find exactly what I want.
    That said, I think that for learning, it can be very powerful to have your own ideas and others accessible easily.

  7. I too am new to facebook and still am having some trouble figuring out the affordances available to me in this software.

    I am slowly understanding the various levels of the social network, while a bit scared that I will fall into the wrong area. It is somewhat like arriving at a new city: there are good sections and bad. I look at your suggestions as the “tour book” that will help me to start navigating. However, I’d like first an overview of the “city” as it were.

    For example, I just found out that there are different levels in which you can network: friends, groups, communities (I am part of my college’s community, but I am a bit embarrassed to look through it because there pictures and information that I really don’t want to know about my students, colleagues and classmates). I still am trying to figure out how to make a “friend” on facebook and feel like a total loser every time I log on and see “you have 1 friend”. I have the friend because they invited me and somehow I figured out how to accept the invitation!

    You have a lot of good diagrams you use in your postings. How do you visualize a social network like facebook?

  8. Hi Vyonkers…
    I’ve only recently discovered that for Networks (at least, for the two I’m a member of – UK Universities), it’s possible to hide your profile from particular groups – so, they’re listed as Undergrads, Graduate, Alumni, Faculty & Staff. [I’m guessing they’ve used US groupings – as we’d never use “Faculty” for academic staff!]
    I think that if you hide it from particular groups, they can see you’re a member of the network – but that’s about it. [email protected] not tried to actually do it & anyway, I’m not entirely sure how I’d see what I was showing as, unless I get someone I’ve stopped to look at me!
    (That’s quite interesting apparently; it’s hard to see your own profile… though [email protected] just thought; I’ve got a student email address for my University as well as a staff one. Perhaps I should sign up with it & check things out…) From what I can tell from the group setting up pages, you can restrict it to a network – or you can have it more open. As far as I can tell, though, you can’t restrict it to say “Faculty” in a particular network. I think to do that you’d have to set it to needing approval before you can join.

    I have worked out the friends though – first you have to find one (looking at people you know’s friends is a good start!), and then click on the “Add Friend”. I’ve an idea that’s one field that you can untick if you want. But I don’t think that people do!

    There’s also a bit of a debate about whether or not you should add friends willy nilly, or be selective.
    I think part of that debate for me is deciding what a “friend” is. I tend to still think of real world friends, so the people I’ve got at the moment are generally those I’d sit down & have a coffee with. Some are people I’ve not met (e.g I’ve now got Vicki as a friend), but feel that were I to meet them for real, I could sit down & have a coffee and not be bored stupid while talking to them!

  9. I’ve been thinking about this issue. I think most of those question is indentity problem. In essence, you may want to control every piece of information about yourself. You want to control when/where/who to reveal the information. One easy solution maybe tag your friends and creat all kinds of “smart group”(like smart list in iTunes). This exists in my imagination for a long time. And I don’t want to patent this idea. 🙂 But I am sure one day those problems would gone. Expecting they will come up with even greater solutions to solve those problems.

  10. Regarding a name notification system. This kind of matching between profile data got me thinking about something I’m implementing on a university LMS. We’re going to be adding a social network which includes matches between user profiles. We’re keen to connect people with similar interests and job types. For example a student studying subject ‘A’ might be put in touch with an alumni working in subject ‘A’. The idea is to connect people who normally wouldn’t find each other.

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