GET IT ALL TOGETHER: WordPress, Social Media and Content

You’re not out there! Because I’m out there. And if I see you out there…

Hard to even imagine it: Facebook has tried – and other companies have tried on Facebook – to recruit workersvia the same social media that has wrecked more careers than you can count.

Why in the world would you ever invite such destruction? You don’t need to have shot a Girls Gone Wild video or taken selfies while you were drinking under age to have more than ample reason to keep your Facebook as locked down as you can manage and as separated from your job as possible.

In fact, all due respect to LinkedIn, it is precisely the kind of thing I want out of a professional social network: as boring as possible and not making a single request for your chosen emoticons. Of course, no good LinkedIn profile is without personality – lots of it, if you ask me. But duck face pics of you and your ex-girl of five years? The girl who was just arrested in a meth lab bust? No.

Twitter is an interesting go-between. Because Twitter is publication and broadcast, there is a sense in which everybody who participates is doing a job interview anyway. And I have never in my life had the networking opportunities or successes that I’ve had with Twitter. Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve booked a single gig on LinkedIn, but I’ve made thousands of dollars and invaluable connections on Twitter.

Facebook is where I speak freely with my friends and family. You have to be special to be let in.

I am still having a hard time wrapping my brain around it, but FaceBook is making the announcement all over application pages that soon, FB applications will no longer be able to send you notifications through FB. You’ll have to give them your email address instead.

What?

The thing about FaceBook which I’ve been most enamored of has always been that it is an entirely separate form of communication from email. I’ve loved the fact that I’m able to keep up with friends and family, companies whose products I buy, shows I watch and political activists with whom I share values…. without tons of email clogging my inbox which I might never read. We all know that email drill: you check the box that says “yes, I’d like to receive email about exciting new offers…” and within a month, you’re deleting those emails as fast as they come in.

But on FaceBook, I’ve happily added all kinds of strange companies to my list of things I’m a “fan” of. And added tons of applications just because I thought they might be fun. After all, they don’t have my email address and I can always ignore the updates and whatnot that come through FB. If they decide, as they appear to have already done, that they cannot any longer deal with the security and privacy issues that they themselves created, FaceBook stops really being the go-to form of communication in a heartbeat. Once FaceBook becomes – not a separate and exciting new form of communication, but a new avenue for all that spam you hated in the first place – well, I don’t predict a very bright 2010 for them at all.

So, here’s what I’m thinking: developers, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll be boning up on the Google Wave API with a quickness. If you don’t yet have an account (holy crap! Seriously?), get one. Beg a friend. Start communicating quick before you get lost in the stampede which I suspect will be coming along about mid-way through this year.

But all this points to what I’ve said in the past is the real issue with FaceBook: what FB represents is an entirely new form of communication that works. It is a new streaming communications vehicle which has been adopted far more easily and readily than email was ten years ago – some people still can’t figure out email but they’ve got a FaceBook account. The trouble is that it is proprietary. It cannot stretch beyond itself, nor can anyone improve upon the system because it is stuck within the bounds of a narrow set of developers who now seem to have run their course in the way of creative solutions.

This should be a call to action for the W3C or some other working group. Now is the time for an open standard which solves the proprietary problems of FaceBook. Something on which clients can be built and improvements made without having to be restricted by a single company.

I can say with certainty that I’m not alone on this: my inbox has slowly, almost imperceptibly, switched from my primary source of communication to my least-used spam trap. Not even my parents generation is necessarily using email for much these days. Without realizing it, I’ve allowed my FaceBook account to be the de-facto means of communication in my life for all but the most specific of topics and recipients.

But this makes things very difficult, doesn’t it? For one, my entire communication circle is entirely under the banner of one company who can do whatever they like with it. That includes just plain screwing it up and making the service unavailable through some inadvertent “whoopsie.” Another problem is that I have really no means of auditing this type of communication: FaceBook keeps its own logs of wall posts, messages, comments and status updates to itself and I cannot backup my posts to my own private store. This is not the height of concern for those “I just ate bacon and it was good,” kind of status updates, but what about communication from really important sources?

Because, believe me, this type of communication can only grow more common and robust. We have a danger, in embracing the up-to-the-minute web, of losing what happened five minutes ago.

Alternative solutions which mimic the FaceBook system are being developed, of course. I suspect they’re being developed in one form or another just about everywhere. My company is looking to integrate such a system into an eCommerce website. Google Labs is developing Google Wave. Mozilla is looking to hit it big with Rain Drop. Such experiments and projects are inevitable whenever the meme of Internet communication changes in some way. I’m certainly starting to work new projects around the idea of FaceBook Connect logins as a gotta-have component; meanwhile, everything I build has at least some air of “Social Web” communication to it.

I’m not sure that any of these really hit the mark, though. Rain Drop, as it has been explained thus far, sounds like something akin to a Tweetdeck/Ping.fm hybrid. Google Wave looks interesting, but even with as much as communication has changed, I think it might be just a bridge too far for the majority of Internet users; the interface as it current exists is just too wonkish and geek-centric. Individual sites – both eCommerce sites like my company and service-based projects like I’m working on in my spare time – will inevitably include some very personal means of communication, but they hardly hope to replace email.

And the most distressing thing of all is that the one component lacking in these various systems is an open source protocol on which to build. What has to this point made email such a great option was largely the fact that the underlying system is an open protocol which can be and was adopted by myriad companies in their own ways. But an AOL user was never prevented from sharing information with a Juno user or a Hotmail user. As much as the good systems now include APIs to spread their influence, they don’t include open standards which allow free sharing across the networks.

Does anyone with influence step in to say something about this? Or have we sufficiently commercialized the Internet to the point where its foundations no longer matter? Open forum communication and status updates are a great feature of the modern Internet, but it will be a dark day when the primary means of communication becomes mired in proprietary warfare.

I love the freedom and random expressiveness of the modern service-based, social Internet. I thrill to every new development as it comes up, reading Mashable.com as my first source for the latest news. But its always worth considering whenever signing up for the next new service what that next new service will mean to your privacy and that of your audience. I noticed that Mashable.com is now using FaceBook Connect to authenticate those audience members that want to roll that way:

Example article on Mashable.com.

Wonderful. It’s a nice convenience to only have one login and use those credentials in many places at once. Its also nice for web designers to have some of the authentication burden lifted from their shoulders and have the ability to update their user’s FaceBook space with content from their Connected websites. I very much plan on implementing at least some of this functionality into PotholePatrol.org.

But how much is too much? It seems to me that FaceBook’s checkered past with user privacy – such as adding the ability of advertisers to use your images in advertisements, kind of slipping it in there unannounced – leaves me wanting a little less contact with FaceBook. I realize that my content is my own and that – at least for now – there isn’t any way for FaceBook to coopt my stuff into their own profit-making materials. But I feel as though allowing them to authenticate my users means handing over a significant portion of my site’s credibility to a company which has thusfar not proven itself worthy of that trust.