24 June 2011

My so-called life

I indulged in a little vanity exercise earlier this evening, allowing the Sunday Times to award me a fatuous ranking in its list of Social Media importance. The fact I came anywhere near the top 2,000 in the UK is a mark of its worthlessness as any kind of barometer of influence, unless making silly jokes on Twitter is the sort of thing that turns heads these days. But it does show the difficulty in deciphering the meaning behind the multifarious ways we use online platforms.

Take Fousquare, for example, which this week passed the 10 million-user mark (story here). For those who don't know, FourSquare is a mobile phone application that lets users "check in" to various locations around the world - restaurants, offices, airports or even public conveniences. This in turn appears in the timelines of your friends' Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn applications, while you get awarded virtual "points", and a ranking for that location. To someone like me who grew up before the age of portable telephony, it seems odd that, having attained majority, the first thing you would do is tell everybody where you were and how late you were staying out, like saving 10p for the phone box to call a surrogate parent.

More sinister was the website that was created in response, called http://www.pleaserobme.com/ that nicely highlighted the flip-side of this apparently wanton declaration of openness: that telling people where you were also told them where you weren't, namely, at home. Although never really intended as a serious tool for burglars, its point was clear: how much information is it healthy to give away to any tom, dick or Bill Sykes who was online?

So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to see the next escalation in this Social Media arms race, via a story tweeted by my friend @PhilWoodford: Fake Facebook updates. Apparently there is a company offering to manage your Facebook updates while you are on holiday to give the impression you are still at home. According to its founder, Gary Jackson,

"Many people set their lights and radios and TVs on timers when they are away so why not extend this into the Internet as well and have a virtual presence on social media to make any would-be thief think twice?"

This sounds an interesting idea at first, certainly for the light user of social media. But for someone with a more profound addiction who, say, finishes 2,212th in the Sunday Times Social Media List, it's quite an undertaking. My surrogate would need to go to the office to "check in" everyday (can't have anyone usurping me from the 'Mayor of Clerkenwell' FourSquare status), trawl the web for stupid links to post to Facebook, not to mention dream up cretinous comments to apply to all my friends' postings. When that is done, there's the terrible puns and political ranting to be done on my non-professional Twitter account (+1,000 followers who demand their daily fix), not to mention my work-related Twitter stream, blog updates, and manage the LinkedIn requests, referrals and status updates. They'd also need a supply of pictures of my children painting/dancing/falling off trampolines to intersperse the links on Facebook. The list goes on...

When I sat down to work it out, I wondered how I managed to find the time to document all the things I claim to do to my friends and contacts online. Much easier to stay at home instead and create a virtual online holiday from the comfort of my living room. It's the perfect vacation that the recession can't spoil.

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