Jul 14th, 2008
Well…maybe not so much.
You see, as things continue to evolve in relation to social networking and information access online, this premise starts to become something startlingly close to propaganda. And it is a premise I am beginning to disagree with more strongly. Why? Simply because facebook is a for-profit company. Their motivation as a business both officially and in practice is to make money. While I am positive there are many lovely people working there that are generous, kind and philanthropically minded, the bottom line is that facebook is a company that is very simply most interested in getting people to use their product; not so they can be useful to society, but so they can make money. And they will use they information they get from you to do just that. With no obligation beyond laws (largely constructed to facilitate money making in business) to guard your privacy. And they are under absolutely no obligation to return anything back to the community. Even if the *say* they are nice and want to do good, they are, in fact not formally bound to taking any actions in this regard.
Now, it is very true that facebook is an amazing service that many of us use, appreciate and are grateful to have access to (myself included). But society needs the opportunity to use these sorts of tools and features in a venue that both understands and guards privacy while at the same time protects information access rather then sells information paths of choice (through ads). An institution that is designed to build up the community it nurtures…you know, like libraries and schools.
And it goes beyond facebook-like tools (for community futures). I would suggest that Google-like tools (for search/basic information discovery) should have the same non-profit, ad-free (for the most part), purely motivated capacity as well for the greatest public benefit.
Problem is, when it comes to the future of libraries, and modern/connected civilization’s access to electronic (and physical) community and information access this is blatantly missing from the too dominant tools in electronic search (arguably, Google) and electronic community building (arguably, facebook). And what is missing is starting to feel more dramatic and chasm-like with each passing month.
Libraries need to continue (and significantly grow) their work as professional guardians of community access to information. This means we (libraries and library professionals) need to be the most highly trained facilitators the world has when it comes to information access, community connections, community interactions, privacy protection and electronic tools. You know, the things at the root of the popularity of tools like facebook and Google. The things libraries have been best at for decades (sans the electronic tools part, which is our only real achilles heel in this scenario).
I wish both information professionals and society at large would really seriously think about this. And then act on it in an organized fashion. College professors, primary school teachers, parents, politicians, students and anyone else concerned about the positive growth of humanity should think about this. The “market” does not always dictate what works best for society and this is an instance that requires larger forces than “the market” to intercede. If that doesn’t happen, because of Google-ish and facebook-like tools, our free, unbiased access to information and community stands at risk. There is a potential crisis brewing here and there are not enough people talking about solutions to this crisis in the context mentioned in this post.
It becomes more clear to me with every passing month: some amalgam of social networking tools (like facebook) and for profit search tools (like Google) should be a non-profit that helps people along in their community and information access journeys. All the while guarding their privacy in ways facebook and Google would never dare. Perhaps opt-in’s for users to accept ads could be built into that system to generate revenue to support the system, but in a less integrated way that didn’t affect workforce in the manner it currently does, particularly on facebook at the moment.
So far, facebook has been thumped on here, but Google is in the same boat. Like almost all of you, I use Google almost every day as well. And I am grateful for Google. But words like “Don’t be evil” as a corporate “Code of Conduct” legally means NOTHING (as opposed to a library’s mission statement and governance structure) If you do believe Google cares about ideals more than money, ask who controls their purse strings. Or look at the official Google URL the describes their code: http://investor.google.com/conduct.html. investor.google.com tells us quite clearly where their corportae priorities exist. And what their official mission and business plan entails. Compare Google’s “Code of Conduct” to ANY mission statement** at a Public Library and ask yourself: “Who do YOU want to control and steer you along as you seek information?” Which point of view would most people choose to support given this information?
Misleading content like that in the facebook video above and things like the Google Librarian Librarian projects hold more potential threat than it would first seem. At recent ALA conferences the Google booth was a very popular stop. Many librarians eagerly made videos about how great Google was for libraries…and then *poof* Google disappears from Libraryland for almost a year on their project blog and are nowhere to be found at this years ALA conference. It is that we aren’t importnat enough customers to get Google to stick with us? Did they get what they wanted from us (support) until they didn’t need it anymore? Each side has it’s perspective, but I assure you, Google attends the conferences it feels it needs to. They certainly aren’t staying away because they are short on funds. It most certainly is, at the very least a curious case of unexplained absence. Not the thing to do in the electronic information and community access environment we find ourselves today. It seems that if Google clearly understood this and did have their mission at the front of their minds, they would have thought this through more carefully and acted accordingly.
To this information professional and electronic community activist, it comes down to this: Google and facebook are both businesses, out to make money. Libraries exist to serve their community with information access and community connection opportunities. If individuals or corporations like Google, facebook, etc, really want to get good things done with community, and if you truly care about community and information access, I would implore you to work with library and information professionals, library schools and organizations like OCLC and ALA. Give them resources, support their work with what you are good at, bind yourselves intimately to their success. THAT would do no evil! Most importantly I would ask you to support your local library. And do so in a way that guarantees that participation as long as your company thrives. THEN I will think about giving you wider support and endorsement and not just think of you as a case study in what Libraryland needs to do to succeed without being taken advantage of and potentially usurped by you. Technology is a tool, and we simply mustn’t allow libraries to become a tool that gets less and less useful as it is usurped by a tool that is guided simply by money, with no permanent obligation to give back. That is one of the deepest societal tragedies I can imagine and its consequences would truly be severe and horrible.
*facebook image taken from this video. It appears you are required to be a registered user to view this video.
**Yep, that is a Google search result link.
Now playing: Beck – Youthless