The Next Insanely Great Thing …

While everyone is still twittering about the death of MySpace and the flight from FaceBook, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write down what I want from a social networking site, something that no one has yet provided. It could be the next insanely great thing.

Here it is: I want to be able to present myself online the same way I do in real life, and who I am often depends on where I am and who I’m with. Sure, I have a core personality. But I (and everyone else) have different personae.

  • I am this one guy when I am talking to a roomful of healthcare professionals about medical tourism.
  • I am another guy when I’m fixing a computer network or delousing a PC.
  • I am yet another guy when I am writing and researching a book on sexual culture.
  • I’m still yet another guy when … well, you get the idea.

And, online, I mostly have to be all those things at once. Sure, there are some ways around it. I have different web sites, different e-mail addresses; sometimes I rely on the pseudoanonymity of screen names. It’s not that I have anything in particular to hide — it’s that not all information needs to be available all the time. And I like to fine-tune what is available, be as nuanced as possible (and sometimes as brief as possible) in any giving setting. I do it about as well as it can be done, given the lack of appropriate tools.

FaceBook TRIES to address this by allowing you to place your friends into groups. Some can see all. Others can see some. And strangers can see anything from nothing to everything. But the privacy tools are ham-handed, clumsy.

What is needed, really, is a way to define myself in different ways, as opposed to a way to define my friends.

So the next really big, insanely great idea is a social networking site that will allow you to define different personae for yourself. Prisms.

There is a basic profile — how you would introduce yourself to anyone. “Hi I’m Jeff Schult. I’m a writer.”

Then I would have the corporate persona, available to people/and or web sites to whom I relate to that way. NOT necessarily available to Google, NOT necessarily searchable. Maybe I would list the persona on my main profile. Probably I would. But maybe I wouldn’t.

Then I might have my geek persona; my writer persona; my musician persona; my family persona; my flirting persona. Etc. And these would only be available to people and/or other web sites via my own choice; but would be controlled through one site, one interface.

My party animal persona — you know, the one that is demonized for college kids, the one where they post drunken, nude photos of themselves having sex while doing bong hits? No one could see that unless they were in my party animal persona tribe, which would be pretty damned small and trustworthy, by the way. There would be no hint that it even existed, to any potential employer or my mom and dad.

Get it?

Well, I bet some people do.

If anyone has some venture money and wants to hire me to help build the successor to Facebook, you know where to find me. :-)

FaceBook, Twitter have the same fatal flaw

Like a lot of people, I’m on FaceBook. I’m on Twitter. I’m fascinated and creeped out at the same time.

And I finally figured out why. The fatal flaw of both is embedded in the genius of both. Much of the commercial history of the Internet is about companies trying to PUSH. Push technology. Push information. Push anything and everything. The most interesting thing about PUSH is that companies keep doing it even though consumers, demonstrably want PULL. Let me choose what I want. Let me pick. Let me PULL what I want. Don’t jam things down my throat.

But FaceBook and Twitter have succeeded with PUSH because they’ve gotten consumers to accept PUSH … from their friends and from other consumers.

Increasingly, we are serving up our thoughts, conversations and information on FaceBook and in Twitter messages to our friends and other consumers in ways that these companies can monetize our communications.

And in the end, there is a limit to it. We’re creeped out by PUSH. I don’t know when we will hit the limit, but the backlash from early adopters has already started.

The Benchleys of Nantucket

The “first” Robert Benchley was the one I thought I sort of knew, as much as you can know someone who died 11 years before you were born. He wrote brilliantly and hilariously for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, won an Oscar and, by all accounts, acquitted himself with distinction at the Algonquin in New York. Up there with Dorothy Parker, et. al.

Among his more self-deprecating bons mots:

“It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”

We should all be so lucky. Few could be arguably as skilled.

R.B. is buried in the family plot on Nantucket. My partner, Nancy, and I didn’t visit there this past weekend, in our time on Nantucket. We were with a living Benchley, Rob (the third) and his lovely wife Carol, and we didn’t talk about literature or the family tree much at all. We were too busy enjoying the present tense … good food, long walks along the sand bluffs in Sconset, the bustle of an island household, Rose the tennis-ball fixated dog, skinnydipping in the Atlantic and stops in town to visit boutiques where Nancy would like to sell her fiber artist clothing creations … mostly scarves and ponchos, but she’ll make about anything if someone gets her going and wants something specific. Benji’s Boutique, a new place on Easy Street, took all of her scarves and wants more, besides. And that was the point of the trip, which made it a happy one in every way that it could be.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I hadn’t really had any idea about the Benchley family tree. “A lot of cousins,” the present day Rob said, laconically. Which was plenty to go on, when I got home. There was a lot of begatting in the Benchley family. They include the writer and actor Nat and also Peter, most famous for writing Jaws … Peter and Nat’s dad, Nathaniel Benchley wrote children’s literature, was a biographer of Humphrey Bogart’s and wrote the novel on which the 1961 movie The Russians are Coming was based.

There are probably more famous Benchleys. That is as far as I got.

It is Rob III and Carol, though, who have made their mark on Nantucket island as much or more so than any of the clan, and not really because Rob is an extraordinary photographer for the local papers and sometimes for the Boston Globe. It is more because they are real islanders, deeply involved in the local community and passionate about the preservation of the natural beauty that surrounds them.

I met an older fellow on the ferry going back to the mainland who is another “real” islander, and asked him if he knew the Benchleys.

“Of course,” he said. “Rob is a real icon on the island.”

“People say the darnedest things on that boat,” Rob responded, when I told him in an e-mail about the comment.

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