In his opening keynote at the Information Architecture Summit 2009, cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch, of Kansas State University, asked the room of user experience designers: “How can we create an environment that creates the kind of community and the kind of people we want?” It’s arguably self-aggrandizing to think we are engineering types of people, however Wesch, and later Jesse James Garrett, reminded us of McLuhan’s observation: “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”
While the Facebook timesink is beloved for the community and connections it helps us maintain, the constant vacuous quizzes are a vexing reminder of its lack of avenues for creativity. Wesch noted that “We are most creative when we let go of identity.” Demonstrating identity is one of the strongest intrinsic values of most social networking sites (SNSs). In creativity-focused sites (deviantArt, Flickr, MySpace) pseudonyms (an alternate persona or ‘alt’) are more common than on sites where real identity is the main focus (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook). Social networking sites also must negotiate a balance between enforcing social norms and supporting individual freedom.