Facebook announced today that it will allow its members to choose an user name. This may sound terribly trivial because that is the first thing that one does while opening up any account – like say an e-mail id. However social networks that base themselves on mutual trust necessarily has to accept members on a disclosed full name basis. That is the cornerstone of social relationships – we shake hands and pronounce our names to each other. There is a downside to this transparency model in network implementation. This model has to allow for duplicate names – there are four people on Facebook with the same name as I. In this scenario comes the Facebook ID.
Facebook ID essentially introduces a smart version of what database designers call “perm id”s – an unique identifier for each member. The current identifier (note the profile.php.id indicator on your address bar as a profile loads up in Facebook) is numeric and non-intuitive. Allowing members to choose their IDs will allow members to treat their Facebook presence as good as a web profile. So you can just let your friends know that they can find you at http://facebook.com/first.last, first.last being your Facebook ID.
It is also interesting to see how the lines between social networking and professional networking are disappearing – albeit slowly. Professional networking site LinkedIn has been allowing people to choose what they call a “public profile”. LinkedIn displays an URL where you can modify the last component – essentially creating your ID. Some months back LinkedIn started the “What are you working on” status updates that look pretty much like the Facebook “What’s in your mind”. Anyone who has used both Facebook and LinkedIn will know how similar they have started to look in terms of widgets, applications, social clustering etc. Interestingly, even as they converge, they fundamentally remain walled gardens.
Anthropologists intrigued about the difference of human interactions in a social context and workplace (or professional) context would do well to study the differences that remain between Facebook and LinkedIn at different points in time. That will be a nice time-study in the metamorphosis – and possible convergence – of social interactions in worlds that were earlier considered rather kosher.