Vanity vs. Voyeurism
Last week at Betaworks, Britta Schell, the Director of Digital Insights at MTV, gave a talk about how millenials - those comprising the 13-29 age group - are converging their offline and online selves. The most interesting finding was how these individuals have begun to curate their facebook profiles to reflect not their real-life personas but their own ideal self-images. Come to life in pictures, links, and comments, this self-presentation might not be the actual person behind the profile, but who that person wants to be perceived as by their social groups. In a way, this is simplified self-actualization, achieving your ideal self online via profiles. It also begs the question whether anyone will want their actual self, the one that includes the parts and flaws they dont particularly care to promote, presented online? People tend to vet their online identities and its reason #1 why I hear of friends disabling their facebook accounts: because there are things about them that they don’t want their increasingly large facebook network to see.
These extremes of activity online - curating a facebook profile to promote the ‘ideal’ you or disabling it because it can’t - accentuate the dynamic of vanity verus voyeurism on the social web. In plain terms, will it be a place for you to show off or creep around?
This brings to mind a more interesting question surfaced with the first open social graph and the development of mobile OS support for apps that run in the background. One of the most fascinating current innovations in the app world is how these apps can utilize geo-location to interact with you in real-time with very little effort from users. If, for example, future check-in from Foursquare checks me into a store when I walk in and that generates a Groupon or better yet a sales deal from the store, that’s awesome! Right? Well yes, it will get me engaged with two services I use less today because I have to remember to use them. 24/7 operating apps that actively engage the user when there is a meaningful reason to do so are brilliant. People will continue to check-in and post to tumblr, but when an app can become the initial actor in a given app-to-user exchange, its a different type of engagement and there’s a much wider spectrum of users that may opt-in.
The problem, of course, is apparent when I’ve walked into a store that I don’t want people to know I’m in or a restaurant I’d rather not be checked into. I’m sure many have read this story about a man catching his wife cheating via Find My Friends. So, is there a there a limit to how far it can go or how many people will willingly adopt?
The intersection of real-life spontaneity and online trackable publicity is where some of our most popular social companies currently live. It seems at least yet undefined as to where users will gravitate towards - total openness that invites both the vain and the voyeuristic, or a more closed network that favors the former.