A few weeks ago, Noah Shachtman of Wired’s Danger Room blog wrote about how the, “U.S. military is strongly considering a near-total ban on Twitter, Facebook, and all other social networking sites throughout the Department of Defense.” According to Wired, the DoD believes that social networks, “make it way too easy for people with bad intentions to push malicious code to unsuspecting users.”
In April of this year, Mark Drapeau and Linton Wells II (previously the acting CIO of the DoD) published a thirty-five page report titled Social Software and National Security: An Initial Net Assessment which looked at the interplay between social software and national security. Combining a few of their conclusions, social software, “is an important information sharing enabler between individuals within government, between government employees and communities of interest, between researchers and government data, between the government and its citizens, and between governments of different countries” and that while, “information security concerns are non-trivial” that, “there is a point at which a mission can be hurt by strictly enforcing such draconian approaches that it keeps government from taking advantage of social tools that adversaries and other counterparties are using.”
While it would be possible for the DoD to block specific social networks by denying troops access to domains such as facebook.com, myspace.com, twitter.com, among hundreds of others around the World, as Stowe Boyd said on the Department of Defense’s Web 2.0 Guidance Forum, “Web 2.0 is fundamentally social, treating the individual at the center of the universe as opposed to groups or organizations, and then basing communication and information paths on social relationships between individuals.”
It’s my belief that even if the DoD tried to block all access to social networking sites it would be a never ending and ultimately unsuccessful battle as social is becoming a core component of the web itself. Not only are traditional social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace expanding through their own web-wide API programs, but social features are increasingly pervasive in what used to be “normal” web sites. A few examples:
The New York Times “Times People” – The New York Times launched the ability for you to sign in to nytimes.com, create a profile and follow other readers all without having to leave nytimes.com. This includes the ability to directly recommend articles that you’re reading to your followers on NYT as well as see those recommendations on every page of their site.
Palm Pre and Android – Both phones have address books that are integrated and updated automatically with your contacts elsewhere. The Android is constantly in sync with your Gmail contacts and the Pre has a feature known as Synergy which combines contact information, calendars and instant messaging from data stored locally on the phone, Gmail, Facebook, AOL, and Exchange.
ShareThis and AddThis – For the past few years, bloggers and other content providers have integrated those Nascar-style widgets into their sites to provide an easy way for readers to re-share articles. While they initially focused on re-sharing via blogging services, today they support and default to services such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and AOL instant messenger.
Google Reader – Not long ago reading blogs and other content online was a solo experience from within your desktop “feed reader.” Google Reader changed this with the ability to follow other users and see what your friends are reading. In July they added the ability to group your friends and filter what you read based on what they liked. A few weeks ago they also added ability to share stories via Facebook and Twitter. Lifehacker writes in more detail about Google Reader Updates with Still More Social Features and More Google Reader “Send To” Tricks.
Identity – Whether via OpenID, OAuth (Twitter), or Facebook Connect it’s now simple to use an existing profile to sign into millions of different sites around the web. Well over one-billion people have accounts that are enabled with either OpenID or Facebook Connect. In many cases, it isn’t just about sign in but being able to find people you know on these sites and share content you create back into a variety of social networks. I’ve previously written about the Anatomy of “Connect” and how it’s becoming increasingly possible for any web site to integrate profiles, relationships, third-party content and activity sharing with these technologies.
Niché social networks – Whether it is a Ning community like GovLoop, a standalone network like GoodReads focused on book lovers, or Intel Communities for IT professionals, it’s clear that social networks will not only be large destination sites. More traditional blogging tools such as Movable Type, TypePad, and WordPress have all added various social features themselves over the past two years. See Movable Type Motion, Top Reasons to Love The New TypePad which includes an activity stream, profiles and sharing, and BuddyPress. (Disclosure: I work for Six Apart who creates Movable Type and TypePad.)
From infrastructure technologies like OpenID and OpenSocial, to widgets like ShareThis and Friend Connect, to The New York Times itself and your phone, features and interactions that you once only found on social networks are becoming ubiquitous. While it may be convenient for the DoD’s IT department to think about social networking as a list of URLs that they can block from any network, the reality is that social networking is becoming a core piece of the web itself.