Most of us techies use social networking tools. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. From the very beginning each of these were developed with a specific networking context in mind. LinkedIn is a professional networking application, a tool that allows users to maintain contact with colleagues, customers and partners. Twitter was originally created so that individuals could broadcast short messages about their activities to friends. Facebook and MySpace were designed as purely social tools, as entertainment, but also as means to keep up on the personal happenings of friends and family.
But the use cases for each of these applications have expanded. The lines between what were professional and personal networking tools have blurred. The onus is now on users to draw their own lines. At question is where that line should be, or whether the line should exist at all. Do I want to expose personal friends to my professional self? Do I want colleagues and clients to have the same level of information about my personal tastes, thoughts and activities as I provide to personal friends?
Mind you, I have plenty of colleagues at my firm, at competing firms, within client organizations, and within non-clients that are friends. These are all people that I truly enjoy spending time and speaking with. But these are friends from a different context than those that I know from my personal life. While we may talk about some of the same things there is a personal space that is respected with work friends.
Social networking tools have plenty of privacy protections in place. You can block followers on Twitter. Connection invites on LinkedIn can be ignored. Access to MySpace and Facebook content can be restricted. However, actually using these privacy features can hurt feelings and can create distance in relationships both personal and professional. With regard to professional relationships the easiest way to resolve this issue is actually to become less sensitive by respecting preferences, the lines people draw, and not read too much into them.