Live Webcast: Search, Privacy and Community in the Digital Age

Do you know what time it is? It’s time for some more liveblogging! Yey. Because I totally didn’t get enough of that last week!

This time around we’re very lucky to get a sneak peak at the Orion Panel that will happen at SES Chicago entitled Search, Privacy and Community in the Digital Age. Once again, this morning’s Webcast is to accommodate those of us that won’t be attending SES Chicago due to that whole Pubcon thing. A big thanks to Kevin Ryan for wrangling Jack Myers, president of, into the room to allow us to join in the conversation.

Kevin talks a bit about the concept of bringing The Orion panel to SES Chicago. He says was designed to help bring together thought leaders to lay down some high level strategy to help attendees execute the tactical sessions. Great, let’s get things started!

Kevin starts off by asking Jack about his piece The Facebook and LinkedIn conundrum, which Jack released on Aug. 27. That post was actually a follow up on a three-part Facebook series Jack wrote. Kevin asks Jack to expand on it.

Jack says it’s a fascinating dynamic for people who are coming into social communities and social networking without the experience of having been participating in the text message phenomenon (he must be talking about all the old people). Most young people are texting more than they’re emailing. All of a sudden you (the old people) realize that you’re going to a new party and you have to make a choice as to how active you’re going to be. If you join Facebook but aren’t active about your involvement, it’s like going to a party and sitting in a corner the whole night. That’s no fun.

Jack asks, how do you make a decision to be friends with someone you don’t know but who may be connected to someone you do know? What happens when you get a friend request from someone you know in real life but you ignore it because you’re not there? All of a sudden we have a new online dynamic that we have to pay close attention to. We have to determine what the social and societal implications are.

Kevin comments that just as he was signing into this Facebook account he received an email from Incisive asking people not to use Facebook while at work (hi, creepy much?) But if you get an email from someone you know and don’t respond quickly, that could have serious implications.

Jack agrees and says that he’s getting emails from people he knows and people he doesn’t know. He also comments that people email him through Facebook instead of using his personal email account. It’s gotten to the point where he has to watch his Facebook messages just like he watches his personal email. People use it for business reasons. They’re going to their IT departments and asking them to unblock it. Heh. When you have a group of middle age white guys who are jumping into Facebook pretty actively, you know there’s something pretty different going on there.

Kevin decides to have a bit of fun and reads off a number of his high profile Facebook friends. People like Chad Hurley from YouTube, high level people from AOL, Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, etc.

Jack says you have to wonder if it’s them or their publicists. He says he’s friends with Heidi Montag from MTV’s The Hills. There are a million Paris Hiltons, and then, of course, you have Perez Hilton.

Kevin asks if there’s a long term play here for Facebook or are people just asking their publicists to create profiles for them?

Jack calls that a conundrum and it’s a danger that personalities and those who are on Facebook for promotional reasons need to understand. If your publicist is doing it and not performing well or misrepresenting you, that deceit becomes very transparent and obvious. They’re jeopardizing their brand instead of enhancing it.

Kevin says that in his mind and a lot of people’s mind, search touches everything. The idea of only optimizing for text has been long gone. It’s another question of "are we making the right choices?" What choices do we have to make?

Jack comments that the amount of information people are listing about themselves online is scary. He thinks we’re going to see across search engines and in social communities and in Feb 2009 when all TV goes digital that privacy is a real issue. More and more there will be opt-in. Not only what you’re including on your profile, but what you’re allowing to be transmitted. What you’re allowing to go into the search engine aspect of social communities. He’s telling more and more people about these issues. He talks a lot to high schoolers and college kids about their MySpace and Facebook profiles. They’re going on record in ways that will affect them in the future. They need to begin making choices about what is okay to share and what is not. There needs to be that discrimination. We’re going to see social communities be the open networks that we consider Facebook to be.

Kevin shares a story about Peter Shankman (big PR guy) and how he had a post the other day about a guy who told his boss that he was going home for a family emergency and then there’s a photo of him on Facebook from a Halloween party dressed up as a fairy. The photo was tagged with his name and then sent around the entire office. You have to be careful.

Kevin asks Jack about a post he wrote where Jack were talking about the changes occurring at Yahoo. Wall Street is not in love with Yahoo right now. Obviously they’re still the number 2 player in the US. Jack noted a lot of the changes that are occurring with senior management moving around. Kevin wants to know if Jack thinks Yahoo has a shot and if the changes are positive?

Jack answers that Yahoo is massive. It’s an incredible reach vehicle for advertisers. Clearly as they incorporate video more aggressively they’ll have a tremendous growth opportunity. Yahoo failed to really define its brand capabilities. They became a massive distributor of content without creating the network affect. Certainly, as their search engine and Panama are more effective, and as they move more towards contextual, behavioral targeting in search, they’ll continue to be a major player in the marketplace. Where they have to identify themselves with a better focus is on the content areas. They have to take a leadership position in the market.

Question and Answer

In your opinion, what companies are mining [the information being shared in social networks] best right now? Who’s using the access to personal information to boost sales?

The whole area of using search as a marketing tool is evolving. Clearly, Google continues to be out in front. They’re expanding their programmable search engine for semantic search. You have emerging companies like Hakia all working on natural language. Ultimately, we have not yet made the leap of really utilizing the search component in social networks. You can go into Facebook and search for terms and identify people who have included those terms in their Facebook profile. The next step will be a more behavioral and contextual level. You’ll be able to track Facebook users’ use of the Internet. You’ll know if they’re looking at car sites or where they’re spending their time. There will be more of a tie back in a behavioral and contextual way to their overall online habits and activities. That’s where opt in will be a critical component.

Do you think at this point people are just getting carried away with the information they’re posting?

We’re just at the early stages. What we haven’t factored in is this whole virtual world phenomenon. We’re going to see people building multiple online personalities and carrying them throughout their virtual world. For example, people will use their Second Life personality and move it onto Facebook and MySpace. Kids coming up in Club Penguin will be able to keep that avatar and age it and move it. We’re at the early stages. We haven’t even begun to see the implications of Twittering.

If you’re a forward facing personality can I put all this info out there about me?

Kevin says the answer is usually no. If he’s out there and he lists that his favorite movies are Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Saw trilogy, that would say something about him. (Yeah, that he has seriously bad taste in movies.)

Jack says that we might want to be a little more cautious about what we’re putting out there about ourselves and be more discriminating about who we’re friends with. We’re going to see companies searching Facebook and MySpace looking for "warning signs" and potential issues.

He just did a post about avatar identify theft in Gaia. It’s been one of his most successful posts because this is a tween and teen and kid site and when he reads the responses from people saying he doesn’t get Gaia, these writers are clearly not teens. It’s a concern that these passionate advocates appear to be adults and most likely male adults. We’ll see more and more monitoring of what could be considered to be questionable online behavior in a lot of the social networks.

Someone told him that a company is actually capturing and storing MySpace and Facebook pages now and will be using them in a search program where potential employers can go back and find the MySpace page of a potential employee from ten years earlier (!!). Just because you eliminate information from a site doesn’t mean that info is lost and gone forever.

Kevin mentions the Internet Archive, but says he has yet to hear of a company that’s cataloging that information and using it. You accept friends of friends and you don’t realize that by extension you’re friends with John Wayne Gacy.

Are virtual words that exciting? [There was some reference to mind expanding drugs but I’m ignoring that part. It’s too early to be talking about drugs. – Lisa]

Social networks are opening up new worlds and new concepts. They’re enabling us to explore multiple aspects of ourselves and get feedback from our community in a fairly fake context. That’s allowing us to respond emotionally to others much more proactively than we can in our physical life where we’re told to think before we act. What virtual worlds and social communities are doing is allowing us to respond to our gut instinct more pro actively and make our brain more of a secondary processing agent. He thinks our younger generations are going to come into their teen years with a more emotional openness than previous generations.

What effects will Google’s social efforts have on Facebook and MySpace?

Facebook information is being made available through Foogle. Google is not in the business of developing original platforms and content. They’re in the marketplace for partnering and that’s what they’ll continue to do. They’ll proactively partner with social communities as they evolve. In terms of Yahoo, they, at one time, would have been well positioned to be a social network and they may still move in that area, but I don’t expect that they’ll be an effective social network, at least with their current team. AOL has clearly moved away from that model. MSN has a chance with Xbox Live. Microsoft is actively in the social networking space in the gaming area.

Kevin talks about Microsoft and says that he’s consistently blown away by the culture that’s evolving around Xbox. There are entire worlds being built which is reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons. They had their own hierarchy and subculture there but it was clearly a game. He doesn’t know that the Xbox kids really believe that it’s a game.

If we are at the early stage, how long until the burden of managing all that info will result in fatigue and abandonment?

The issue of fatigue and abandonment is a huge one, but people will narrow their choices. As options become more abundant, they’ll find the ones that are more closely aligned with their own individual needs. Facebook will begin to segment just like broadcast television did (cable, etc). That’s how the marketplace will evolve. What we are witnessing right now is the introduction of a complete new category of time consumption that will take away from phone calls, personal meetings, other media consumption, etc. We’re on a huge growth curve in terms of time spent with social networking.

Are we going to get to the point where Facebook is going to become "the thing I did last year" like MySpace and Friendster did?

That’s always possible and these trends come so quickly and then disappear quickly. It’s like saying that CBS will disappear because we have cable. There are certain established companies that are there and have a model and will sustain themselves. Technology is the key. They have to move quickly to embrace mobile. He thinks the open platform that has been introduced will help them stay current and contemporary.

And that’s it. Kevin thanks everyone for joining!

If you enjoyed the conversation and you’ll be at SES Chicago, make sure you hit the Orion Search, Privacy and Community in the Digital Age panel happening on Monday, Dec. 3 at 11:30am.

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

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