No truer words have ever been committed to paper (er, webpage) than the following: “As the web becomes more mainstream and widely available, it’s expanding from a domain of intellectuals into a dirty mirror of society at large.”
That snippet comes from TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, and it is spot-on. When people hide behind keyboards and anonymous names, with no repercussions for their online actions or comments, a tidal wave of ugly comes gushing forth. The Internet is rife with prejudiced attitudes, misogynistic comments and compulsory leanings for abject grossness.
I suppose it falls under the right of free speech, so short of criminal threats or other illegal behavior, allowing people to express themselves is, in such cases, a necessary evil. But the service providers are getting smarter. Certain companies are starting to realize that some people want relief from all the nastiness and stupidity. And so, they’ve come upon what they think are solutions, at least for their users.
Twitter’s Tailored Trends doesn’t limit the behavior of even its dumbest users — on the contrary, it just makes sure that people who want and appreciate certain types of content are the only ones subjected to it. Since Trending Topics dishes up Twitter trends and tweets based on who you follow, your own tastes can ensure that #GirlsIWannaHaveSexWith doesn’t ever show up for you (unless you want it to).
Facebook’s App Center likewise recommends apps based on your friends’ tastes. Instead of a generic “Top Grossing” list, which is often filled with fart apps and the like, the marketplace serves up suggested apps that may appeal to you more (unless, of course, you run with peeps who like fart apps).
Then there’s Airtime. From Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, renowned for their Chat Roulette app, this new vid chat network definitely learned from history. Chat Roulette became a joke, thanks to freaky strangers and odd exhibitionists showing off their goodies at random. Airtime, however, builds in a mechanism to discourage unseemly behavior — the application snaps pics periodically and puts them through a robo-filter that evaluates the image for lewdness and other bizarro behaviors. Users can also flag misbehaving others, and since it uses Facebook authentication, once a user is kicked out, s/he can’t get back in without creating a whole new Facebook login.
Some people might consider this “social” done right. Others, however, could perceive it as censorship. Whenever conversations get managed — not via policy, but by intentional manipulation of only certain communication streams — things can get a little iffy. And while I’m not a huge fan of fart apps or gross Tweets, I also wonder about the wisdom of channeling large segments of people into boxes where they’re only exposed to others with similar beliefs and tastes.
How do you feel about this “wiser” social networking? Should people stick with what and who they’re comfortable with, or should the “wild west” remain wild for everyone? Weigh in.