Monday, August 23, 2010

On the exonetwork - how many social networks have you joined without knowing it?

If you follow my Foursquare check-ins (which can be seen on my Twitter account), you may have noticed the following three check-ins:

A Tuesday check-in at Ontario airport.

A Tuesday check-in at San Francisco airport. This check-in included a joke about arriving at Oracle OpenWorld 2010 a month too early - one that was retweeted by @oracleopenworld.

A Saturday check-in at Ontario airport.

However, between my arrival in San Francisco and my return to Ontario, I did not tweet or otherwise communicate anything about my whereabouts.

Well, actually I did write something which appeared in this blog on Tuesday afternoon:

[T]his post ... will appear in my blog ... on Tuesday at 5:15 pm. This post was NOT being written on Tuesday at 5:14 pm, and in fact it would be impossible for me to write this post on Tuesday at 5:14 pm and post it on Tuesday at 5:15 pm.

My friend "Bill" knows why I couldn't write this post at 5:14 pm on Tuesday.

Most of my FriendFeed friends don't.

(More later.)

Other than that (and one other exception), I have not written anything on-line that talks about my whereabouts between Tuesday and Saturday.

There's a reason for this, but before discussing that reason, I'd like to offer my definition of the exonetwork.

When you sign up for a network service such as Foursquare, Twitter, or Facebook, the service usually has rules that say that only one person can use the account, and that it is not to be shared by others. So if someone such as myself, or Louis Gray, joins Foursquare, that does not automatically mean that our families, friends, and employers have also joined Foursquare. After all, when Gray or myself join Foursquare, it is solely for our own use.

Or is it?

Take a look at this tweet of mine from February 25, 2010:

I'm at El Toro (1128 Broadway, Tacoma).

Now to most of you, the fact that I like Mexican food doesn't seem to be much of an issue. But some of my co-workers will realize that this probably indicates that I was visiting my employer's Tacoma office in February. More importantly, some of my competitors will realize that I was at the Tacoma office in February. Why was I there? Imagine if I had tweeted "At El Toro reviewing the SuperWidget product plans"; what kind of information would this have provided to the competition?

So, in essence, even though my employer never joined Foursquare ... they have. So they're part of the Foursquare exonetwork. If I were to share the wrong thing, the results could be disastrous.

Let me cite another example. Jake Kuramoto recently expressed a desire to document his life as he approaches fatherhood. Now Kuramoto would not be the first person to do so; Louis Gray, a blogger (and AppsLab reader) is well-known for documenting the lives of his twins. For example, see this tweet:

Saturday Scenes: Matthew and Sarah Playing in the Sand, Chasing the Ball, At the Park in Woodside /cc... [pic]

At some point - perhaps later, perhaps even now - Gray could conceivably share something about Matthew or Sarah that shouldn't be shared. Perhaps he might check in at a pediatrician. Perhaps he might check in at a day care center. Perhaps he might check in at a police station ("Bailing out Matthew after PD caught him TPing Scoble's house"). Again, even though Matthew and Sarah didn't sign up for the services Louis uses ... they have. Again, part of the exonetwork for those services.

However, Gray is no dummy, and he recently shared something that talks about this very topic - a Valleywag post about the proper etiquette for using Facebook Places. It cites an example from Kunur Patel, who went out dining one night.

Facebook Places went live last night and I decided to give it a whirl soon after being seated for Mediterranean food at a neighborhood restaurant. My husband and I were waiting for two friends and, even before they could walk through the door, I checked all of us in at Zenon Taverna in New York City.

The four diners were all very familiar with location-based technologies.

[T]his was a foursome of twenty-somethings, a bunch of typical iPhone-toting over-sharers who have all been guilty an incriminating photo or tweet. Among us were at least a couple of Foursquare mayorships and one notorious Facebook photo tagger. Together, we have 1,544 Facebook friends. From our profile pages, you'll learn what we're doing at work, where we live, what we're reading, email addresses, even one cell phone number. Via mobile uploads and wall posts, you'll find out one of us recently took two trips: one out of the city for a clam bake, and Philadelphia before that.

Patel didn't tell the others that she had tagged them in Facebook Places until the second bottle of wine arrived. She was surprised by their reaction.

Shock ensued.

Read the rest of Patel's post to find out why these people were horrified at this share. Note the ease with which Patel checked in the four people (and that she easily could have checked in people who were NOT there - couple that with the ability to check in at locations that you never visited, and we have a topic for an entirely different post).

But for the moment, let's assume that you are performing true check-ins at locations where you and other people actually are. How is the person going to react when he/she finds out that you've impinged on that person's privacy, without any knowledge of it?

Which is why my whereabouts between Tuesday and Saturday were not shared. If anyone asks, I was at "Deer University" (i.e. I was not at Reed College, the college that I attended).

I've blogged about pseudonymous entities before. Back when I blogged as Ontario Emperor, I referred to my (then) employer as MegaCorp. However, I didn't do this consistently, and when I began blogging under my real name I stopped the practice.

However, when I'm blogging about people other than myself, use of a pseudonym for an entity or a location may be warranted.

QUESTION: I'm curious about how other people handle this, especially those who are active on multiple services themselves. Where do you draw the line regarding what you share about family, friends, and employers? And do you have different rules for different services?
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