Facebook Scrapbook: think before you tag.

Scrapbook is a much-needed feature. Any parent who’s been sharing photos of their kids on Facebook for any period of time will instantly love it. Up until now, photos randomly ended up in different albums mixed in with all the other random stuff we addictively share and re share. It’s a pain. So, on first glance, Scrapbook looks like the long-awaited organizational silver bullet. But when you read the help pages, there are aspects of the feature that might still not cater to the needs of every digital family.

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Before I get into the specifics, I think it’s worthwhile taking a step back and reflecting on how online social networks still don’t perfectly cater for our real life social networks.

The real life social network

(If you have time, I highly recommend you read the excellent slideshare by Paul Adams on the Real Life Social Network. The basic premise is that our social networks in the real world expand and shrink as we move through various life stages. Online – they just keep getting bigger and bigger and this needs to change).

Facebook was built for college students. Its social architecture was designed to connect you to as many fellow students as possible. When you’re in college, of course you want to check out every good-looking person on campus and “widen your social network”. The trouble is it has since evolved to a place where your great aunt Betty is now likely to be one of your ”friends”. The reason it is so massive is that it has been engineered for publicy (which is highly viral) rather than privacy.

Eventually we leave college and get a job and at that stage our network widens even further. But unlike in the real world where our real college network would contract as our professional network expands, that doesn’t happen online; we still stay connected to our entire college network – even the ones we’d avoid at a college reunion but are too polite to un-friend.

After some time, we might meet the love of our lives and when we do, our real life social network of college friends shrinks even further (dude we never get to see you since you started going out with ______!) and we now start to hang out with our partner’s friends. Our real life social network changes again. Eventually, some of us have kids and EVERYTHING changes.

 

Welcome to the family

In an instant, it’s all about family. Or should I say two families. The one we were born into and the one we gave birth to. Unless you’ve been through it, you probably won’t get the subtlety of this. Now our real life social network becomes completely centered on our little ones. They literally are the center of our universe and our real world relationships now rotate around them. And time evaporates completely. And moves in fast forward. And you fall off a real-world social cliff.

In the real world, (speaking as a dad) the period of time between beers with your mates is now governed by a very simple equation:

fb = nc * cm

where fb = frequency of beers with the guys, nc = number of children and cm = calendar months

Sad but true! Suddenly weekends are all about family. You try to steal back a few hours of sleep. You try to maintain order around the house. You re-bond with your parents. Now you “get” each other. Suddenly you’re peers and you become closer. Now you’re on the same team. You understand that they weren’t out to get you all through adolescence. They were just doing their best to figure crap out as they went – like you are now. It’s kinda cool. They (secretly) love that you’re totally sleep deprived almost as much as they love hyping up your little one and then handing them back totally wired with an exploding diaper just before nap time! And then they get to disappear until next weekend literally leaving you holding the baby. You start to forget old sibling rivalries, especially if you both have kids. Now it’s time to circle the proverbial parenting wagons and band together to survive the early years.

Who really cares?

Seriously though, the number of people us parents engage with in the real world shrinks to a precious few i.e. the ones who REALLY care about our children and genuinely want to see our kids and their photos as often as possible. In the real world, this audience is definitely less than 20. When you start to analyze that audience, it’s really somewhere in the region of 10. Do the math: you + your partner + 2-4 grand parents + (probably) 2-4 uncles/aunts + a few best friends. 8-12 maybe. That’s it.

To everyone else, the incessant updates that shows the world how cute / amazing / intelligent / talented our little ones are quickly becomes annoying and they eventually tune out. When this inevitably happens online, what parents need is the equivalent of that sound proofed glass room that you typically see at church. Somewhere parents can still be part of the community but with the volume turned down.

 

Sharenters – get a room

keep-calm-and-get-a-room-

Social networks need that “room”  -  a simple way to support intimate private family photo sharing. It can be done, but the friction of adjusting privacy settings becomes a chore. As a result, online sharenting is the real world equivalent of bringing your baby books to your college reunion. We’d think twice – right? The problem is we’ve become so addicted to sharing our own lives, we haven’t yet realized it’s (eventually) uncool to share every aspect of our kids lives with our wider social network.

As a result, a lot of families have migrated to WhatsApp Groups and some are switching completely to more digitally discreet family focused private social networks.

If you’re thinking Scrapbook might be this “room”, you’d be wrong. In fact, it could be the exact opposite – depending on your privacy settings. For scrapbook to work for families, you have to:

  • Tell Facebook who your partner is.
  • Add your child to your family profile.
  • Tag your child in the photos you wish to save to Scrapbook which automatically tags your partner in that photo also.

The following detail from the Scrapbook help pages is worth noting:

Scrapbook Help Page Privacy

So instead of giving parents a little more digital discretion, scrapbooking means all of your and your partner’s friends can now see the photos you save to your Scrapbook. Sooner or later it’s possible half – if not more – of your and your partner’s network will get to see a photo of your kid and have the ability to add a comment.

Again, putting aside the unknown impact this digital footprint will have on our kids once they are old enough to be embarrassed by it, the irony is that the new scrapbook feature will likely increase our children’s social footprint instead of decreasing it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I post photos of my kids on Facebook from time to time. Usually they’re “tell the world how great my kids are” posts (!!) but every giggle and gurgle, that’s not for me. As a generation X’er, my persona skews towards privacy and I’ve never been totally comfortable about posting too much stuff on social media. Hence my shockingly low tweet frequency and zombie blog!

They grow up fast

When you first have kids - if you’re being honest with yourself – you don’t immediately see them as individual people but as a miraculous extension of you – kinda like something you own, a mini version of you who is (of course) amazingly cute that you want to show off to whoever is interested. Hence the whole concept of (the WSJ coined) sharenting. I get it. I did it. But I chose a more private social network.

When I started Tweekaboo it was all about capturing the memories and keeping control of who got to see them. But as a now, more aged, less follicled, slightly wiser parent of 5-10 years olds, I can say this with a bit more wisdom: I’m thankful I chose a private network for my sharenting tendencies.

Here’s why: as my kids tip from “laughing at every April’s fools joke” to “Dad, that’s so lame” I have realized that they are no longer a mini extension of me or Caroline. They’re little adults who have developed their own sense of style, who are now self-conscious, who start to see themselves externally and need to be cool in front of their peers. In an instant – although you can never tell when exactly – they tip from being your kids to being little adults and obviously, your very best friends. It’s a very cool yet slightly sad thing. The magic is over. It’s real life. In fast forward….

Here’s the thing.

Once they become our friends and develop their own sense of self, we could suddenly become that person who has been posting embarrassing photos of them for years – and that’s not cool. We wouldn’t post every photo of a friend without their permission. So why would we do it to our kids?

This wisdom isn’t written in any parenting manual. In fact there is no parenting manual. None of us are doing it right – all of us are doing the best we can. It’s not something our parents have any experience with although they have probably nagged us about their concerns of posting photos online for ages. For our generation of parents, this is the new challenge to figure out along the way.

As the years fly by and Social Networking in general grows up and figures out what it is becoming, there is an inevitable reality coming down the track. It’s the one which will crystalise the social and emotional impact of our kids’ generation’s unrequested digital footprint. How will our kids react? How will they feel when they realize every moment of their lives have been shared with people they don’t even know (and we may no longer even have a real relationship with)? In fact, we probably never really liked them in the first place.

What will they think of us parents who unwittingly posted all those moments?

It’s not going to be cool that’s for sure.

This is one for the psychologists to ponder. But I do know – as a parent of 4 amazing little friends – that I don’t want to risk alienating them when they realize that every photo that could ever be used to embarrass (or even bully) them was posted to a wide audience of people by me. It’s totally not worth it.

As the college generation of 2004 gets married, has kids etc., it’s inevitable that Facebook will evolve into the family space and start adding functionality for the kids of the parents who use it. Who knows – it may even have plans on mapping out the world’s “family graph”. No one is better positioned to do this (or indeed more likely to execute on it).

Think before you tag.

It’s time to pause and reflect on the impacts of sharing such intimate, personal moments public platforms. It’s time to choose where and how you want to keep family and close friends up to date with your little ones while minimizing their digital footprint. This is something that I have become more aware of as my own kids get older and something I’d advise new parents to seriously consider from the very outset.

As adults, we chose to opt into the privacy settings. We chose to accept that friend request from the person we met last weekend even though we probably will never see them again. We chose what photos we posted of ourselves and who got to see them.

The question is: would our kids make the same choices?

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