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The first social network DOES bear some negative similarities to modern social networks

Shawn Rossi shared a Lifehacker post from Alan Henry with an interesting premise:

Before you joined your first “social network,” you were already using a tried-and-true social network that all your friends had joined, that never tweaked your privacy settings without asking, and that worked incredibly well. It was called email.

The post then goes on to describe how an email client (Gmail is assumed, but many of the tips will work with Microsoft or other mail systems) can be reconfigured to be more social.

But before he provides these tips, Henry lists five reasons why an email client is a better social app than Facebook. I’m fine with his first, second, and fourth reasons, but I have problems with his third and fifth reasons. Yes, Facebook does the things that Henry describes – but so does email.

Reason number three:

[Facebook is] full of apps designed to invade your timeline and trick you into sharing things.

Yes, Facebook has such apps – but you can easily find them in email. How many of our email inboxes have been, in Henry’s words, “invaded” with all sorts of messages with titles such as “Look at this funny picture”? If you’ve had an email account for several years and have used it for a lot of correspondence, you probably get a lot of these messages. Now I’ll grant that such emails can be filtered, but you still have to deal with them – invading junk is in email just as it is in Facebook.

The more serious issue, however, are those Facebook apps and email messages that “trick you into sharing things.” My favorite example is the virus warning that effectively acts as a virus itself. Not that it literally is a virus, but when an URGENT email message WARNS you to TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS about a SERIOUS THREAT to your computer/your country/whatever, it’s just like a virus. More insidiously, there are the messages that are purportedly from your bank that tell you that you have to go to a website and enter your personally identifying information or else your account will be closed.

So regardless of your platform – Facebook, email, CB radio – there are nasty things out there that can invade your stream and trick you into doing bad things.

Let’s move on to Henry’s reason number five:

We all do stupid things on Facebook.

This is in reference to the college students who post drunken pictures on Facebook, or the new hires who say how stupid their bosses are.

Yes, you can do these stupid things on Facebook – and we’ve been doing these stupid things on email for decades.

All email clients have a “Send” button. It just takes one click to send an email message. And if it’s a “Reply All” email message, that email can go to dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of people.

Several years ago, when I still worked for Motorola, someone accidentally sent an email message to thousands of people. This resulted in a complaint from one of the recipients – but the recipient hit “Reply All,” so the complaint also went to thousands of people. This resulted in a “Don’t hit Reply All you stupid jerk” message which – have you guessed already? – went to thousands of people.

After an hour of two of this, our local Motorola office temporarily removed itself from the email network until the brouhaha died down.

So while email does offer some “social” advantages over Facebook – and I strongly encourage you to read Henry’s tips – please remember that email has its own issues – issues that we’ve known about for decades.

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