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Social Networking

On the advice of Joanna (who thought it could be useful for Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam), I signed up for Facebook. My only previous experience with social networking was with social bookmarking (delicious and ma.gnolia), which I related to more as a way of storing my bookmarks for access between different computers, than for the value of sharing them.

Well, now I am a member of Facebook and two new networks that approached me just this week - peace.TV and "Peace and Collaborative Network Building" which, unlike Facebook, are networks with a specific niche.

I'm a little sceptical about the whole phenomenon. First of all, I found certain aspects of the Facebook sign-up to be distasteful. As soon as you have made an account, you are asked for your email address and email password, so that Facebook can sniff through your addressbook to find other facebook members. Fortunately, it is possible to opt out of that - I mean, why would I trust Facebook with my email password and give it access to my addressbook? Secondly, some of the questions that appear in the user profile are prying and juvenile, while others that would make sense for networking - such as what languages you speak - are left out.

Like email and other tools of our era, social networking seems to carry rich possibilities for time-wasting and plenty of possibilities for abuse. On one network I am already friends with a child rights advocate in Tamil Nadu and a Christian crisis counselor for troubled youth in America. I have no objection to being their friend, of course, but I wonder what interest, if any, they have in me, and what would happen if one day I showed up on their doorstep with a beaming smile, "I'm your friend!"

But all that is minor. I can imagine much worse abuse, like companies who profile us by databasing the information there, spammers who harvest telephone numbers and email addresses, as well as identity thieves, stalkers, private detectives, and government agents. I wonder how many of these will pop up among my "friends"? And if someone asks to be my friend, am I going to say no?

The phenomenon of social networking can only grow and already there is a company, Ning, which allows you to create your own social networking site for free and "within minutes." Wonderful. That means we can expect many more invitations to join social networks in the near future.