Social networks are a big thing. Some people hail them as brilliant technological innovations that have brought us closer together; others call them a bubble that's just about to burst and take everyone down on the way. As a web enthusiast and Internet lover, I've embraced social media and have active accounts on all the big ones and even some of the small ones (Diaspora anyone?). But as I become more and more entrenched with them, I can't help but wonder if there's anything trustworthy, anything honest, anything genuine about them at all? Are these contraptions enhancing our lives? Or are they just turning us all into the unwitting pawns of a few select cyber-mad ultra geeks?
Adrian Short says that anyone who doesn't own their own personal domain and web site is a second class citizen and that social networks like Facebook have actually usurped our own independence and freedom from right underneath us, at best exploiting all of the information they keep on us and, at worst, holding for ransom our years of memories and personal experiences. He's not wrong. Facebook especially stores a huge amount of data on everyone who uses it, all 750 million of us, and exploits it to their advantage with targeted advertising and the promise of easy and successful business promotion. There is nothing genuine about Facebook. It's a for-profit company that sells emotion, memories and relationships and the more we feed it, the more dangerous it becomes.
In fact, I don't think it's unfair to say that social networks are becoming less and less genuine with every passing year. What started out as an honest and fun way to connect with friends has turned into a multi billion dollar industry, making and breaking companies all over the world. MySpace went from top of the Net to a bargain basement sale whilst Zynga went from unknown obscurity to a potential $1billion IPO. It's a cutthroat sector that's for sure, with every social network out there doing the best they can to grab hold of you and never let you go.
Facebook now integrates with everything and with their Open Graph protocol, everything now integrates with it. It's the hive mind of the 21st century and we're happily letting it take control. Google + is no better, leveraging its influence over the Google search engines to entice people and businesses alike to use it. And that's the really frustrating part. As more people become intertwined with these services, the harder it is to ignore them as either an individual or a business. Didn't find out about that party invite last week because you weren't on Facebook? Shame. Didn't sell enough widgets to keep your business from going bust because you didn't have a Facebook marketing plan? Bigger shame.
The truly scary thing though is what is happening, and potentially going to happen, with all of this ultra-info these companies are storing about us. Facebook knows more about me than my own mother and now with its new timeline feature I can witness a depressing virtual recreation of my entire lifespan, starting from the moment of my birth to what my best friend had for lunch today. Throw in the ability to track my browsing history via 'like' buttons planted all around the web, integration with my favourite video games and credit card billing systems, and my entire life has just been, calculated, measured and stored on a poorly normalised database in a data center in Bangladesh, ready for any diligent hacker to expose. Or for Mark Zuckerberg to sell.
So are social networks at all genuine? Of course not, they stopped being genuine a long time ago. They are now simply businesses, just like any other and nothing more, designed for the sole purpose of making cold, hard cash. Except they don't sell products or entertainment or even useful services, they sell you. You are their commodity of trade, you are their resource for business, you are their product, cattle ready to be farmed.
This article was written by Gordon McLachlan, co-founder of Primate. To view the article in it's original context and for more articles on the web, visit 8 Gram Gorilla – A rather awesome, informative and witty blog about all things web.