Checking Out From Social Networking

Like most designers, (and most professionals in general, I suppose), I have mixed feelings about social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. At their best, they provide us the opportunity to network, reconnect with old friends, and potentially discover new clients. At their worst, we get to hear what someone we barely know is making for dinner or that an old girlfriend is still bitter about our breakup.

By and large, however, they fit the model of the old programming credo: Garbage in, garbage out. Whatever content populates the site governs our overall impression of the site. Hence, LinkedIn is perceived as professional and focused on client relations. Facebook, while occasionally juvenile, offers an informal way to stay on the radar of acquaintances who might otherwise be relegated to receiving the annual Christmas card.

The latest foray into this increasingly crowded field is Unvarnished. The site allows users the opportunity to post peer reviews and comments about other professionals, anonymously. Since we all know how classy and upstanding most anonymous posters are to blogs, one can only speculate on the clever repartee that awaits us. The tagline on the site is “truth in reputation”. More accurately, it should be called “the bathroom wall of the internet”.

The site in effect allows users to trash former co-workers, employers, all under the guise of providing a candid peer assessment. Critics have already called the site a litigation nightmare waiting to happen.

I’m not sure when we reached the tipping point of social networking, but this seems to be its nadir.

I will let a more gifted writer than myself have the last word on this. Ralph Caplan, design critic and educator provides a curmudgeon’s take on social networking in his recent AIGA post. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Caplan speak at the first AIGA conference in Chicago in 1991.

I’m pleased to see his rapier has lost none of its point.