Saturday, 14 January 2012

Who am I?

Who am I?

Summary: Web users are evolving and Facebook is no longer king.

So, who am I. You can play along, if you like. Think about your digital footprint, by which I mean all the different websites which you have log ins for. Think about your Pinterest boards and your Tumblrs (yes, that is intentionally plural), your Flickrs and Twitter streams.

All of them are you. Each account has your username attached to it which is for some people consistent across all accounts, your gender or your date of birth perhaps. The essence of you, your identity in the web world, is tied to your username and your user icon, the two things which instantly flag in streams of data that you are present, you are in the room.

Some people make a conscious decision to make their usernames different, the intertwining of professional and personal not uncomfortable, per se, but raising issues around privacy of friends and family, especially when it comes to Flickr or Instagram. 

Each of those decisions are conscious decisions which we make in a world where it can feel that we are being forced to make a decision about uniformity across all accounts or having somewhere hidden to go a little bit crazy out of the public eye. And even then we are perhaps being judged by those who do not choose to deal with this weird conundrum in quite the same way. 

But I noticed something yesterday when discussing this with a colleague. I noticed that he had evolved. He had gone from being a Facebook 'sharer', posting status updates a few times a day, letting everyone know where he was going, what he was doing, when he was doing it and with who, to using Facebook to simply share the innocuous. The silly video clips and the laugh inducing pictures. In other words, the content contained within Facebook and perhaps the appropriateness for updating certain types of things to Facebook is changing. I keep hearing 'oh I don't use Facebook much any more' and I cannot prove it, I don't have figures to do so but I have the strangest feeling that this group of people linked to my colleague, they are not alone.

So where are they going? 

It seems, from a model of one site to put everything, to a model where many sites reflect many facets. And is this not actually naturally who we are? When a friend has a baby, I want to know if its cute, what she's called it, and see a few pictures. I do not want birth details, I do not want hourly updates on shades of poo (you're either laughing in disbelief or understanding right now and I know which camp is bigger) and I do not want to know that you were up every hour breast feeding. is the right place for that - if nothing else you'll find thousands of people in the same situation,.all of whom will commiserate with you and all of whom will understand the life stage that you are currently at.

I have friends who are fantastic photographers. I don't want to see their 100 roll set of photographs where the bird moves an inch through each click of the shutter. I do want to see the 10 best shots and I want to make sure that I don't miss them - so I use Flipboard to select the latest shots for me so that I don't miss anything but I don't have to wade through the whole set on Flickr. But he uses Flickr because there is a community there (although I hear tell they're moving to Google+ and other places too) who will critique his photographs, provide advise and support on locations to find certain types of birds, or sell kit or provide kit reviews and thus for my friend Flickr is no longer an album site but a resource which he can access.

I use Pinterest. It's an amazing site, and suits my blackbird nature perfectly. I can collect wonderful, beautiful, fascinating and inspiring things all in one place without ever needing to buy a thing. I can bookmark the wonderful websites which sell quirky things, but with images and not an ugly url. I can share the things which I find inspiring and others can share their inspiration with me. We are all similar and yet vastly different, those of us who use the sites, from the quirky to the cliched, from cheesecake pin up to crafty creatives. But we all use it as a place to share - just the things which perhaps none of our friends would find cool, or be interested in.

Facebook assumes one fundamental thing. It assumes you want to know everything someone wants to tell you about themselves. So they introduced features such as timelines and groups in order to give you more control over who you shared updates with and whose updates you would see the most of. But we don't want that, where 'we' is this loosely defined web generation we seem to be evolving into. We used to, in the beginning, when Facebook was shiny and new. But we evolved, because evolution is what happened when time passes and external forces such as economics, politics and well...evolution of psychology happens. And make no mistake, the web is changing our brain chemistry. But as an association of that, it is also changing our sense of identity.

We don't want to tell everyone everything any more. We want to tailor, we want to be more considerate. I've been doing this for a few years because I have been here perhaps longer but now, it seems, everyone else is following the same journey and that's a different subject for a different post, about accidentally always being ahead of the curve of web psychology because you've been immersed to this level that now a lot of people seem to be for a lot longer and you were talking about getting off grid 3 years ago, and now everyone is craving that disconnect, that silence..

But Facebook is not who we are any more. We do not all want to be on the same platform, because on some deep seated lever that says to us that we are all the same. We are not all the same. We are individuals and we are choosing, now, who we share what with. We have evolved to understand our digital footprints can be massive, if we want them to be. We can have Tumblrs for weight loss or exercise, for quitting smoking or for sharing cool photographs. We can have Fitocracy profiles to incentivise our exercise. We can choose, but more importantly, we can deliver to those interested, whilst filtering it away from those who are not.

In other words, that information overload problem?

We're taking care of it ourselves. The evolution of the internet just took another big jump and whilst it could be argued, and will be argued that our identity is becoming split and that this is not healthy, I instead believe that we are becoming more thoughtful in our web use, that we are delivering content to those who are interested in places where they have chosen to be, rather than over sharing information with those who are simply not interested.

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