There are some issues with Web 2.0, mostly in the areas of privacy, security, copyright — all those things you’d rather you didn’t need to worry about. Take privacy for example. On many social networking sites people sign up and then put in all their personal information simply because there’s a field there for it. Often those profiles are public by default, rather than private, and often they’re open to search engines as well. So people think their information is private and then discover it isn’t, and have to go searching through menus to find out how to turn on those privacy filters that are turned off by default. In many cases what’s good for the site owners isn’t necessarily good for the users. One big factor in Flickr’s early success was the fact that uploaded photos could be seen by the world unless specifically made private, and lots of users did (and still do) get confused by copyright issues (creative commons licenses don’t solve the issue of what “public domain” etc actually mean).
Then there’s the persona issue. I might have a legal but slightly embarrassing hobby that I don’t want work knowing about. So I need to set up a separate online identity for that — people need to think about the implications of this in advance if they don’t want correlations of that hobby persona with their “real” one on the basis of an address or phone number or email.
Other problems with the plethora of new Web 2.0 social networking sites: they often don’t understand what privacy and user consent mean. You sign up for something, they ask you to upload your address book to see whether other friends are already there, the next thing you know they’ve done spam-a-friend and emailed everyone in your address book without your knowledge, let alone your consent. Or they ask you to give them your username and password to some other social networking site under the “trust us, we will do no evil” motto (whatever happened to “trust but verify”?).
There are some solutions to this: users have to be careful about the information they hand out (fake birthdates, anyone?) and start demanding that sites take care of their information. If I want to hand out information to the world, that’s my decision, but it shouldn’t be up to some web site to make that decision for me.
The last of a series on Web 2.0, taken from my talk at the CSW Summer School in July 2007. Here‘s the series introduction.