Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Two-Face Book

I have to say that I found the BBC piece "CIA launches 'Facebook for spies'" pretty hilarious, given that Facebook is actually a remarkably weak tool for facilitating social networks, as Ian Bogost has recently pointed out in "A Professor's Impressions of Facebook," particularly those between people of unequal status or whose social ties to specific other parties may be ambiguous.

As Bogost points out, it's true that I indicate "Facebook friends" on this blog to signal a kind of indeterminacy in the relationship and that "pal" indicates a closer relationship that is grounded in face-to-face sociality. As a rhetorician, I find the weird mix of formality and informality that Facebook provides intriguing, but like Bogost I also find the kinship categories far too constraining.

I often wish there were an "I admire your work" category. At Hollywood parties, my husband -- Mr. Liz -- often introduces himself by saying "I admire your work" whenever we see a famous literary figure or movie star. For years I found this mortifying and would often slink off while he cheerily occupied himself in conversation, but now I see the virtues of the statement.

In my case on Facebook, "I admire your work" doesn't just mean academics whose books I read or keynotes I quote: it also includes the younger student bloggers and/or programmers at other universities that I sometimes add as friends after I read about their exploits in the mainstream press. (For example, Chris Soghoian, Virgil Griffith, and James Kotecki fit into that category.) However, Facebook isn't very well-designed for this kind of reaching out, even though it is precisely what the CIA needs in order to improve its knowledge-sharing practices.

This new venture, known as "A-Space," is being plugged by Chief Technoloy Officer of the National Security Agency Michael Wertheimer. Wertheimer has previously championed other distributed knowledge online projects, such as Intellipedia and has had a his own LinkedIn profile for a while.

Today, of course, the newspapers were full of snippets from the damning internal report about CIA incompetence in its pre-9/11 strategy toward Al Qaeda. Thus the Facebook story seemed like media fluff in comparison.

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