The real value of social networks

Don Reisinger opines about the value of social networks and why everyone should have a Twitter account.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

For quite a while, I was nothing more than a social network hater. To me, social networks seemed like a ploy for those with so-called "notoriety" to massage their egos just a little bit more and provided no real benefit to anyone. After signing up for almost every social network in existence, I can say now that I was dead wrong.

Whether it's Twitter, FriendFeed or even Flickr, I'm extremely surprised by how much value each provides. And although I can't speak for everyone who uses these services, I honestly believe that each is unique and useful enough to justify your time.

Here's why:

Twitter is, in my mind, the very best way to communicate with just about anyone on the Web. With my Twitter account alone, I've been able to find a slew of great stories and column ideas, understand and communicate with my audience, and find hundreds of friends that prior to my joining the site, were just readers. Today, those same readers have let me into their lives and I'd like to believe that we've formed a tight-knit community that is no longer a one-way street.

And that, in my mind, is what social networks are all about. No longer is the Web confined to a one-way street mentality where content creators and service providers perform a particular task and the users are in place to consume that material.

For once, the Web's users can finally interact with each and the old practice (especially in my business) where the content creator creates and the content reader reads, is over. Now, you have a solid grasp on who I am and what I'm up to and I probably have that same sort of grasp on you.

But perhaps what's most interesting about this phenomenon isn't necessarily that it's happening, but rather that the idea of privacy is central to the entire argument. As we're constantly being inundated by companies and online services that are trying to breach our privacy, we're constantly ready to forego it in the name of friendship.

But how can we have it both ways?

Almost every day we're presented with stories about government spying and companies selling private data, but we're still more than willing to upload photos to Flickr, tell the world what we're doing at any given moment and sometimes give our phone numbers to out on Facebook.

Invariably, this presents a major problem. If we want to live anonymously to stay under the radar from peering eyes, how can we expect to do that when we use social networks?

But alas, the real value of social networks has nothing to do with privacy. Although it is a major concern and all of the services are doing what they can to keep your information as private as possible, I think it's quite obvious that if the government or any major company wants your information, they'll have it regardless.

Realizing this, I think most people have seen the benefit of using social networks and understand that having no contact with the outside world on the Web is not the kind of environment most of us want to be a part of.

So as we traipse out into the wild where strangers become our friends, we do it knowing all too well that some of the wrong people will know us too. But as I've quickly discovered, the good people far outweigh the bad and having the opportunity to exchange ideas, communicate with others and feel like you have an impact on their lives is what makes social networks great.

If you want to follow me on any social networks, follow the links below: