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. πŸ™‚


  1. Very interesting. I appreciate your free thoughts on this. I am creating a hyperlocal social networking site and want to be different. I like this idea, its intriguing. Maybe even more finely grained privacy tools… Something to brainstorm for sure.


  2. Hi Roy,

    I’m glad you “get it.”

    “It,’ in this case being that people have different privacy interests depending on who they are, who they’re with and where they are. I’m not criticizing social media for making insufficient provision for this; but I don’t think companies have extended themselves at all in this direction.

    A simple and common case would be teachers and professors who would like to use Facebook to interact with students but want also to use it, entirely separately, with family and friends. More granularly, there are perhaps conversations I would have with siblings that I’d not want my parents to know about. Etc. I could come up with as many examples as there are humans on the planet.

    It was simple in the “olden days.” People only knew what you chose to reveal to them directly … leaving aside for a moment phone bills and purloined love letters.

    I’m convinced that building out a social networking site that is based on maximizing the individual need to control his or her own information and identity, as opposed to maximizing the ability to share information, will be a big step forward.

    I like your site, by the way. πŸ™‚

  3. Joon,

    You never know, huh?

    It seems to me, based on how slowly and carefully Google has moved toward social networking — so slowly and so cautiously, in fact, that most people don’t know they’ve done anything at all — that Google, for all its size, is still in a position to “do it right.” I’d honestly love to have a chance to work with the kind of talent they have there, on something this cool.

    I’m sure they have their own ideas. πŸ˜‰

  4. I like this prism idea. It would be especially good for those who use social sites for proffessional purposes.

    I saw your Sympathy for the Devil plugin. I did the same thing with Grateful Dead’s “Eyes of the World.”

  5. Hi Jeff!
    I was intrigued by your gravatar on our webhosting blog. And sure enough my suspicion for multiple browser personality disorder was confirmed >: ] Well, I’m sure you’re also a bit of a websleuth and will connect a bunch of dots that show I also have multiple browser personalities, depending on who I’m with!
    With that in mind, I’m thinking this would make a great feature for one of our next forthcoming #IMHhangout sessions. Incidently I also have multiple G+ profiles to deal with this… want to get together to discuss thoughts?

    1. Hey Juliana,

      Thanks for hunting me down … I think I need to change that other Gravatar. Or at least remember I have it before I use it … πŸ˜‰

      This post was written before G+, I think … and G+ does do a much better job of being on the user’s side.

      I added you there … maybe see you around sometime?

  6. I get it Jeff. That’s why I have to keep deleting my persona. Sure would be nice to be able to control all those great names. Dang it. Hope you do get to build the next gen FB!

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β€œHalf the places I have been to, never were. I make things up. Half the things I say are there cannot be found … I forget things, too. I make mistakes, but I am on the side of Good, by accident and happenchance.” --The Golux