There is a great quote attributed to John Naisbitt that I've always found intriguing when examining the behavioral influences of social networks. In his Global Paradox book (1994), Mr. Naisbitt wrote, "the more universal we become, the more tribal we act". It's interesting to apply that quote in the context of Facebook and the paradox of being connected to many people and groups with whom you have different types of relationships (see the article below). The people within each network facet you belong can develop a different mental image of your persona and sometimes it is desirable to keep those tribes separated.
So, to badly paraphrase Mr. Naisbitt: "the more socially connected we become, the more tribal we act" might be an interesting concept to keep in mind for those building such platforms as well as for those participating within them. Participants in a social network have a opaque view of the entire social structure of the network. When they discover that their view of the social structure overlaps or is inter-connected with what that person feels was a separate social structure, then the need for stratifying those network connections comes into play. In the case of technology, this would include the need for privacy controls and other filtering mechanisms.
Social networks are not a flat layer of connections but are in fact multi-dimensional, variable and dynamic - with multiple facets (in the eyes of the participant) based on relationships, situations and other preferences. All of this is driving the need for social systems to provide participants with multiple profiles that describe different personas (e.g., work, home, school, play), attached to an identity with granular settings for how people are viewed, contacted, trusted, etc. It also reinforces the need for such systems to interoperate in some manner (as I've mentioned in earlier posts).
For longtime users, the influx of grownups means that information once intended for a circle of fellow students is now available for anyone to see. That has introduced a new social conundrum: Deciding whose invites should be accepted -- and how much of your profile they should be able to see.
"You can't really unfriend your mom," says Hillary Woolley, a junior at the University of California at Davis. "So I've been upping my privacy settings."
Facebook lets users specify what data is displayed in searches, and users can customize a "limited" view for select friends. But it's time-consuming to set up customized views for individuals, so most people are simply walling off their profiles to non-friends.
"I have removed almost all useful or personally insightful information from my profile because at this point most people who I am 'friends' with I really don't want in my business anymore," says McCarthy.
And it's not just your mom you need to hide from. Graduates who have entered the teaching profession now have to contend with friend invites from students. "I let (students) view only a restricted profile on Facebook, which is only my photo and basic info," says Emily Malbon, a teacher in Boston. "I don't need them reading about how much I like wine."