Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Are cops social? Can they network?

I've been drawn to the social networking buzz, mostly because I think it's what we do naturally as humans. As an introvert (I am [right-click, open in new window] iStJ) I'm not necessarily an ultra-social creature, but I do appreciate a good conversation in between my 'deep' reflections. I have also seen and experienced the power of social networking for the social feature (especially in Facebook, which I much prefer to MySpace) and I have seen and experienced the power of the networking part with the LinkedIn site (which is my most favorite, but I think there should be walls for users to post on). The industry is evolving, and there's already been a huge amount of growth, but are we in the shakeout? MySpace, with 70 million-plus U.S. visitors, making it the largest social network, and Facebook, with 30-million-plus U.S. users, are the McDonalds and Burger King in this business. See Business Week. But there's room for more growth, and a redefining of the landscape, in record time.

But where's the profitability? Many of the regular MySpace and Facebook users are young, with limited incomes, and they aren't paying a dime for access, but they are spending lots of homework time online . . . teenage visitors spend an average 331 minutes on MySpace while Facebook gets 74 minutes with each visitor. I think the difference is due to the annoyingly-long load time because of all the 30 mb pictures and obnoxiously loud songs that blast out of my speakers before I can locate the off button(s), but my father would have said that if there were sites like these when I was a teenager.

Even as we examine the time teens spend on each site, we learn that these sites (and others) may be using the synergy effect that makes fast food restaurants populate all four corners at busy intersections (and Interstate exits). More time is spent on each when users are drawn to both, according to Jason Lee Miller's article in WebProNews.

A variety of big guns are adding networking features to their sites and online destinations, including Viacom (VIA) and eBay (EBAY), letting users create profiles, connect with others who share their interests, and socialize. Many people are using the term "social Web," rather than Web 2.0, to refer to these social-enabled sites. (I wonder of O'Reilly coined and copyrighted that term , too :-) There's more at Business Week.

I am personally a huge fan of the developing concept of Open ID (and related technologies - see TechNewsWorld), as I think we should be able to take our baggage with us and I have tired of copying and pasting "about me" from one to the next. I noticed, however, that my Big Three profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace) are subtly different, as are my networks in those areas . . .

Check for yourself:

I do think that we can be too open, and I am trying to determine just how much is appropriate to share.

But in the grand scheme of things, it's not what I think about social networking that counts, is it? I am smart enough to realize that my contribution to society is a direct reflection of 1) what I have to say, and 2) how large my sphere of influence is. So I defer to larger beings for their opinion. To my knowledge, God has yet to publicly weigh in on the current phenomenon (though he does have the largest group of friends - ever). Until I hear from Him, I'll keep an eye on the big guns in the corporate world. Here are some I am looking at:

There is some (fairly serious) talk that indicates Google is seriously into social networking - see ZNet. Farber and Dignan reported on Google’s venture into the collecting and distributing of social graph data, starting with Google’s social network - Orkut and iGoogle, and expanding to Gmail, Google Talk and other services. That's my pick for the winner in this adventure, just so you know, but I believe there will be at least 6 months between now and relative usability.

O'Hear has posted some discussions regarding this social graph system, which would enable every social networking (or related) site to be able to use existing public information about the social connections that a user has already made online. Can you imagine a time when you wake up to check your personal assistant and are offered a list of those with whom you should check out networking opportunities? I am excited about the introduction of technology that offers me a list of those whom I should offer a connection based on my previous preferences (think Amazon Recommends meets Open networking with RSS on steroids).

Check out Time magazine for their list of 25 Sites we can't live without. I think most of these are, for the most part, convenience providers . . . aggregators of otherwise obtainable information . . . and for now, the only sites on my short list are Google, Facebook, and YouTube . . . in that order. Check the list yourself, on Time.

But all in all, we are streamlining social networking (or at least hoping to), and many communities that haven't previously been excited about this "new" option are being offered their own walled community. There are social networks for doctors, advertisers, real estate agents, lawyers, and even federal spies. For a sampling of them, see Information Week.

And in case you don't think social networks are mainstream yet . . .Tim O'Reilly has written on social networking etiquette: the proper use of invitations - here, and the US military has found a use for social networks as a framework for understanding insurgencies (Reed, 2007)

And from - Charlotte,NC,USA
Most respondents considered social networking websites useful business tools.

  • 25 percent of respondents said yes, but that their company doesn't use them enough.

  • 19 percent were Undecided,

  • 19 percent voted "no, we already have enough ways to contact people and for them to contact us"

  • 17 percent said they use social networking sites as a business tool regularly

  • 7 percent said they use them for business, but that employees need to be monitored to be sure they are using them for company, not personal, business.

. . . and yes, I realize that only totals 87% . . . I'm thinking the others said work was not a social atmosphere and refused to discuss it. Actually, yes, for other reasons, and no, for other reasons, both received three percent of the vote, while one percent of the respondents did not know what a social networking site was - right!.

So what's next? Never mind the business model. Disregard the opportunity for revenue-generating activity. Imagine for a moment that there's no financial reward in the future. Is there a benefit - personally or professionally, for those in the criminal justice professions to engage in social networking activities?

I think so. I'm not quite sure of all the benefits, but I do know this. Police officers, corrections officers, those in probation and parole, and yes, even lawyers are naturally social creatures, and there's little each can do operating in a vacuum. If we surveyed 100 of these professionals, I think we would find that their job often becomes easier when they really get to know someone with whom they are working. And, I am confident that most have experienced the power of asking a trusted friend for assistance and receiving so much more.

But what will be the rules? Are cops and corrections people already on the social networking sites? Sure they are, but are they using them like everyone else (socially), or are they actually networking? That's the question of the week!

Reed, Brian (2007, Summer). A Social network approach to understanding an insurgency. Parameters, p. 19. Available at

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