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The evolution of the web and social networks

Sociological aspects of the social networks and the revolution of Facebook.

The evolution of the web
The real evolution of the internet in the third millennium concerns the ability of users to be protagonists by themselves by overstepping the role of mere spectators and gaining the ability to experience a very large variety of instruments turned to interaction and communication.

The most common form of such applications is that of social networks, generally characterized by those Websites that allow the users to join them according to their regulations and provide a predetermined software, usually intuitive but without a large margin of freedom.

Until the mid 2000s only those who had the technical and bureaucratic expertise to register a domain could appear on the Net, a privilege usually reserved for corporations, institutions and the most enterprising individuals.

Facebook may be the most representative of those social networks that have appeared in recent years, turned to the quick and easy communication between individuals, allowing the publication of personal thoughts, pictures and movies.
There are currently many sites, more or less known, specialized in particular fields of shared interests: from Flickr (photographs and artistic images) LinkedIn (business and professional activities) to Twitter (real time updates on various activities).
The case of Wikipedia is a relative anomaly, considering that the participatory activity is not focused on the individual but on the purpose, which is the accessibility of free culture.

Not analyzing the minor networks, the widespread success of Facebook would instead be sought in its generality and simplicity of its purpose: the interaction of individuals without a specific aim, but principally as a meeting place for entertainment and voyeurism.

In this sense, Facebook is an effective mirror of the social dynamics of the real world.
Here individuals, feeling freed through the medium from the duties of physical contact, tend to perpetrate some behaviors otherwise precluded by inhibition due to social norms of the real context (professional and familiar hierarchies, age, education, etc...).

So it happens talking about the Web 3.0 as a democracy that allows a large participation regardless of the personal and social conditions. But is that really so?
Probably not, because democracy requires that the rules of the game are determined by the participants themselves, something that rarely happens.

Thus arise two key issues: that of the management of sensitive data and that of the absence of an organic code of conduct that, if observed, could limit the present state of anarchic behavior.

The methods for managing the data submitted to the network are determined by the service providers, reason for which many users, not having carefully read the terms of membership or not being sufficiently familiar with the software of a particular site, are then not able to withdraw data, photographs and thoughts previously published, also in case of a possible and legitimate change of opinion happened in the meantime.
They are therefore unable to deal with this reality, becoming slaves of it and being no longer able, while wishing it, to delete a quickly and badly built virtual identity.

About this, there are exemplary cases of audio-visual and photographic documentation of bravados accompanied by embarrassing comments, uploaded by teenagers seeking approval of their fellows, foreclosing a job after many years.
The naivety is the think of being seen only by a small and personal audience, when the material, once automatically indexed by major search engines, is exposed to the attention of the whole world, stored for many years to come, and finally arriving to the "wrong" eyes (eg. employers, consultants, evaluators of corporates' human resources...) deeply searching on the Internet for facts that could clarify the personal history of individuals.

The Internet is a virtual city, and any illusion of privacy of information must be dropped. To publish something there is like putting up a poster in public street, there is no difference.
Even the information that we think to show only to someone ("friends" on Facebook, etc ...) in reality are not inviolable, as shown by the experience.

So we evenly might be on the Internet, without fear of expressing our opinions, and allowing anyone to access our profiles and materials that we have consciously decided to share.

On the other hand, if we do not want the spread of certain information and do not want to share these basic principles, the way is only one: to abstain from the participation in social networks.

An intrinsically linked issue concerns that of the good manners or etiquette of the web 3.0.

The concept of relationship between individuals in a social network is much more fluid than the equivalent of the real world: the same meaning of friendship here takes on much more transient and ephemeral contours. "Friend" may therefore be the true friend, but also a classmate, a university fellow, a coworker or even, why not, a unloved but necessary person for opportunistic purposes. Finally, there are cases of "friends" who never met directly or those who only want to contact you to do networking, the interesting evolution and quintessence of the concept of social network.

As a virtual city for excellence, in Facebook you can experience all these trends, combined with a certain anarchy in the behavior and politeness of users, accentuated by the virtual distance, which sometimes favors the harsh words, the altercation and the licentiousness.
How many times did you happen to be immediately accepted on Facebook as a "friend" of someone, and after a short time (usually some days) be secretely removed from his contact list? The good etiquette says that he would instead reply with courtesy not to be interested in your contact, declining the invitation. Also silence is widely accepted.

In discussing these implications, I am also directly involved in social networks. For that reason I have firsthand seen many episodes of alleged cunning and rudeness by various users. Needless to say, such actions make them lose all credibility in the present and in the future.

Unfortunately these aberrations are inevitable, along with the the lack of rules that characterize this step of development of social networks. When we will better understand how to solve these problems, then we will begin to seriously explore the inherent potential of this mode of communication, leading to the era of the Web 3.0.

Published in 2010