Back in 2005, my colleague Monica Basso and I wrote a research note titled, “Wide Array of Communications Overwhelms Users“. In it, we pointed out that the proliferation of communication mechanisms and the complex intermixing of personal and business communications would become increasingly unmanageable.
Until a few months ago, Gartner had a policy that disallowed analysts from participating in most forms of social media. So, up until recently, I’ve had relatively clean distinctions in my communications — a personal instant messaging account, del.icio.us, Facebook, Twitter, and so on, used strictly to communicate with friends. LinkedIn was the face of my business profile.
Now that my employer is actually encouraging use of social media, I’m finding myself facing a problem of converging business and personal identities. I am happy to build big social networks, but categorization and compartmentalization are a big problem. For instance, how do I deal with the fact that my vendor contacts see my high school acquaintances scribbling random things on my Facebook Wall? Should my blog followers who want to see my interesting technology links also have to endure my MMORPG links on del.icio.us? What do I tweet to my various accounts? (On Twitter, I have a business identity, a private friends-only identity, and a public personal identity, but ironically, I find Twitter almost impossibly distracting to deal with, so I tweet and read tweets very seldomly.) How much do I really want to federate of myself on FriendFeed?
I feel like social networking, whether targeted at personal or business use, really needs strong tagging and categorizations. Here are the people who happened to work at the same company as me, that I’ve spoken to a few times; here are my immediate co-workers; here are the people I’ve worked closely with and think are awesome. Here are business contacts at other companies that I want to stay in touch with but don’t have a personal relationship with. Here are vague past acquaintances, current friends, and my inner circle of close buddies. And I desperately want tools on all social networking sites that let me limit the flow of me-related content: public, all connections, just these specific groups.
But more broadly, we are still missing really elegant ways to manage the incredible flow of communication and information that’s coming our way. There’s a commercial opportunity there that’s still not been taken.