Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Social Media Run Amok

We've all heard about social media. In particular Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. We're all aware that people post things online and others comment on them.

Facebook now has the ability to "Like" something to tell others you agree with it in some manner. LinkedIn has for years had the ability to provide recommendations to someone else.

Most Facebook comments are pretty innocuous, saying things like: "I like this" or "Way cool!" or "Can you believe that?"

Occasionally, you'll see something like: "Boy, was that dumb" or "Oooh, that makes me angry."

And then there are the times that people get downright ugly, publicly criticizing someone for something superficial: "Sally really shouldn't wear tight pants with a figure like that" or something more egregious like: "Bobby Smith is the ugliest person in the world."

Chalk some of these up to youthful indiscretion, anger or immaturity.

I recently came across a Web site called Mixtent who's tag line is "Rate and discover the most talented people in your network."

This came to me because one of my colleagues had apparently voted for me based on my finance skills. Since I don't usually think of myself as a financial whiz, I thought I should investigate further.

As with many sites, when you create an account, it asks you for the login credentials for other sites, which I provided only one since I never quite know what these sites will do with my information.

What I was presented with was a list of people I know and I was asked to compare person A to person B and tell Mixtent who I thought was better in their profession.

To date, I have declined to rate any of my colleagues because it's really impossible to say who's better at a particular job than someone else — at least in my book.

While two people may have the same position, each brings their own strengths and weaknesses to the table. To say that one person is definitively better than another is beyond my ability to judge and certainly beyond my desire to assign such a comparison.

To me, that's like trying to compare two men and say who's the better father or two women to say who's the better mother.

I understand the desire to compare two people based on a third party's interpretation, but without any sort of objective and consistent criteria, the whole idea is fraught with nothing but trouble.

I don't know how successful Mixtent has been. So far, I know that I haven't been rated very much and most of my technology colleagues had expressed a high "ick" factor regarding the site, but I believe we will see more of this in the future.

In particular, I believe we will see software emerging that, much like Google's ground-breaking "Pagerank" where a Web page's relevance was increased as more people linked to it, I believe we will see people be ranked by the number and "quality" of the people in their Facebook or LinkedIn network.

As people continue to have a controlled profile on the Web, sites like Mixtent will provide more and more information about you over which you may have no control.

In order to know what people are saying about you, I suggest that people regularly Google themselves by simply typing in your name into Google and see what pops up. It's really amazing what you may find out about yourself — or quite frequently someone else with whom you share your name.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 1 June 2011.

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