Tonight I had the pleasure of watching a great program on CNBC, “Executive Vision: Leadership in Action – Technology”. The panel discussion spanned nearly every hot topic in technology, including cybersecurity, global development, jobs, U.S. and/versus foreign education, IP, broadband infrastructure and [you name it]. You can find out more about the show and the series here.

One statement struck me: “Social networking has become like air, you don’t notice it until it’s missing.”  I’m sure others have made the same or similar observations; this time it came from Nicholas Negroponte.  I agree with his statement for the most part but come at it from a slightly different angle. In late 2008, when Facebook became (IMHO) overrun by apps and had recently opened registration to anyone (not just those with a .edu or school-specific email), I decided I’d had enough. After watching Myspace become totally overrun by spammers, I feared the worst for Facebook.  I'm fine with opening technology and opportunities to/for everyone, just make sure we’re taking manageable baby steps and not making a split in every direction.

As is often the case, I was wrong (for the most part.  There's still the whole privacy thing, although the Groups feature and the company's quick response to most privacy issues might be enough to get me back, not that they care...).  So would we notice if Facebook disappeared? Would I notice?  Obviously. I might be the only person in my age group (late 20’s) who is not on Facebook.  For me, the experience simply became too personal in two impersonal ways.  First, there was simply too much information that I did not care to know about others.   I don’t mean this disrespectfully, I just felt like certain tidbits were/are none of my dam business and I’d prefer to keep it that way!  Of course, I'd much rather see people in a position to share if they choose to do so, as opposed to the opposite default.  Second, the time I decided to jump off the cliff of what many friends have called Internet Suicide happened to be when Facebook apps were taking over the site (and taking our PII with them).  Perhaps I had just been too absorbed in reading about privacy online and spending too much time hacking through Terms of Use across various types of web site and realizing just how little power the user has.  But that’s another blog post for another day.

I use LinkedIn and it was nice to see the company’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, on the CNBC panel tonight.  He made some very articulate points about the importance of rejuvenating education in the U.S., and offered the interesting statistic that half of the site’s members come from outside of the U.S.  I didn’t DVR this episode and the CNBC site doesn’t offer a stream, so it’s either half of new members (in X time period) or half of total members.  In any event, I wonder whether we’ll continue to have different social networks for different reasons, e.g. Facebook for socializing, LinkedIn for business networking, and on down to our narrowest niche interests, or we’ll converge on one identity-based solution.  Also, as language translation tools proliferate, hopefully features like Facebook Groups can cross language boundaries.

Jumping to a related topic the panel sort of touched on, is there hope for reviving the idea of the identity layer of the internet or something similar? Or moving the idea of using real identity into (what some people call) the content layer of the net?  I’ll save a further discussion until I can complete part one of my homework from the show: researching India’s recently launched project to issue a biometrics-based universal identification system.  Part two is deciding whether it’s time to rejoin ----book.

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