We think that highlighting the stories of people and groups who are using social network sites as part of their day-to-day lives for staying in touch with old friends and meeting new ones, learning, personal growth, professional development, and political activism will help people better understand the transformative possibilities of this medium, and give a new lens for exploring the tough issues related to privacy and free speech.
Introducing … Tales from the Net , January 2008
When we started working on Tales from the Net, one of our major goals was to demystify social networks, both to make them less scary to people who don’t have experience with them . Since then, Facebook’s grown so explosively that today the majority of people in the US have a Facebook account. People feel safe there, and for many it’s become a big part of the fabric of their lives, a core channel for day-to-day communications with friends and families. Demystification accomplished. Thanks, Facebook!
But by itself, Facebook gives a very partial view of the possibilities. Most of the stories we’re planning to tell in Tales from the Net are set on sites with a different feel and different styles of interacting: lengthy discussions as opposed to brief wall posts and status updates, personas and multiple identities as opposed to a “true name” policy, much more tolerant of political speech and sexuality.
So the book has evolved into something of a travelog, visiting different social network sites and telling the stories we find there. We’ll spend the most time at places we’ve hung out at over the years: tribe.net, Seducersworld, free-association, Twitter, and yes even Facebook. We’ll also make shorter side trips to exotic locales like Lostpedia, IfWeRanTheWorld, 4Chan, the Oil Drum, and Dreamwidth.
A lot of the same themes show up in different places: interactions between the online and offline worlds, identity and pseudonymity, conversations, meeting new people, privacy, trolls, and the same kinds of interpersonal dynamics that have been going on for thousands of years. Each site has its own flavor as well, and we’ll do our best to convey that. One of the things we love about discussion-oriented social networks is that the threads shapshot the discussions in the original words as they were happening, so we think we can capture both the immediacy of the discussions and the different voices involved.
We’ll wrap up Tales from the Net with a chapter looking at the paths forward. Some are gloomy: governments threatened by the internet’s potential for change clamping down, ongoing losses of privacy, the disappearance of pseudonymity, reinforcement of existing dimensions of oppression. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Social network sites and other social media offer a chance to realize the potential of cyberspace. We hope the stories we tell here help paint a picture of what’s possible — and what’s at stake.
Over the next few months we’ll be blogging sporadically: serializing a chapter or two, discussing and requesting input about interesting tales , progress updates. We’re still working out just what the rhythm will be. We’ve also got a Twitter account at @TalesFromTheNet and will slowly start tweeting as well.
We’re really excited about where we’re going with Tales from the Net. Thanks to everybody who’s given us advice and feedback so far, and we hope you’ll join us on our journey!
Deborah and Jon