Everyone has one friend who is in love with facebook, twitter, or some other social network.  They are a mini celebrity in their own mind.  You not only know what they are doing, but where they are at all points, whether they are drunk or not, and possibly what music they are listening too.

You also have the complete opposite.  The “Facebook is taking over your life!” friend.  They probably actually have a facebook account, but it’s rarely updated and considered a “necessary evil”.  They hate the idea of facebook and sharing their information, and they are convinced that it will lead to the end of the world.

And then you have a guy like me …

Obviously as a blog writer and someone with 2 facebook accounts and 2 twitter accounts … I don’t have a problem with social networks.  As someone who is looking to attract new people to what small web “real estate” I manage, these social networks are a great way to tell my friends “I got something new that you might just like”.  I thought about this recently, and what would have been the option before these social networks?  Well … I could have individually called all of my friends and let them know.  I also could have sent them all a letter in the mail. Yeah … sounds great, doesn’t it?

Facebook, twitter and most social networks are good for their intended purporse: sharing information that you publicly make available and consuming information that others publicly make available.

Is most cases, facebook and twitter allow you to enter only the information that you want.  It then shares that information with as many people as you will allow and as many people that actually want to follow you.  One key fact, it’s all opt-in.  With the call and the mail example I used before, you’re not really deciding what to receive.  You don’t know what the call will be about before you pick up the phone and you don’t know what the mailing says before you open it.  With these networks, your getting updates from the people you decided to follow.  Beautiful … right!?

But of course, this doesn’t always work out.  When Facebook started sharing the purchase decisions of it’s users without telling them (Beacon), that was a problem.  When I jump on Pandora, and suddenly the embarrassing music selections of my friends are presented to me without their knowledge, that’s a problem.  So, there are a few “golden rules” to social networking that I would love to see implemented 100% of the time.  That way, you have can finally address those facebook maniacs along with the conspiracy theorists.

Everything has to be opt-in and is “no” by default

I don’t want to be automatically signed up for something and then realize 2 weeks too late that I want to opt-out.  I understand that you (the company) wants to get me to use this new feature, but don’t start collecting information unless I explicitly agree.  Because I will rise on my soapbox and deliver my 2 cents with such animosity that it will not go well.

Stop collecting information

Twitter is great specifically in one way … it doesn’t collect information.  You go to twitter, you tell it something, it disseminates.  It doesn’t start picking up information that you aren’t explicitly putting into the system.  Social networks need to limit the amount of information they collect as much as possible.  I should put in what I want, don’t take it.  If if you do want to collect, ask for opt-in before you start.  Simple … right?

Allow me come control over what my friends say about me

While ensuring that no one slanders my name is something I personally need to be responsible about, some of these networks make it too easy.  Now someone can easily link what every I don’t want to get out to my actual name and profile.  How many times has someone on twitter mentioned you with an @MyName with something you didn’t want to get out?  How many times have you had to go through facebook and untag yourself from a photo you didn’t know was up.  Basically, I need to make sure no one is sharing anything I don’t want.  I think it can and has been a big issue for twitter, as there is simply no way to untag yourself from a message.

Make settings dead simple

I consider myself a relatively smart guy.  I can write software, build a computer, and count up all the change in my pocket really really quickly.  Yet … I was just stumbling through facebook’s privacy settings and still find myself confused.  I just want to limit certain people more than others … and that’s not easy.  I know the settings have become easier, but its still not easy enough.  Twitter has less to worry about, so it’s easier … but I’m going to need someone to work on that problem.

Do you see how great social networking can be?  Have I converted anyone?  Whose ready to get Zuckerberg on board with these changes?  What do you think is the problems facing social networking and privacy?

– Damien Peters