Heads up, this content is 17 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

Heads up, this content is 17 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

facebook.gifThis week in PCWorld, there is a controversial article recommending that employers allow access to social networking websites like Facebook in the workplace. The recommendation comes from Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC), which is a federation of trade unions in the United Kingdom that lobbies for fairness in the workplace. Their primary argument is that banning Facebook is an overreaction, and will create a backlash from employees. Instead, they recommend setting policies for appropriate use. The recommendation is relevant in the United States as well.

I’m a project manager in the tech industry with a focus on social media and networking websites. Highly public recommendations like this one affect the volatile climate of my industry by further coloring public opinion and setting corporate standards. Facebook’s widespread popularity is a new phenomenon, and how people incorporate it into the workplace will likely set precedents and trends for all other Web 2.0 sites.

Personally, I agree with the recommendation, although not for the same reasons. The TUC is responding to a fear among employers that access to social networking sites will make their employees lazy, and they counter-argue that employee laziness is not a new phenomenon. As an active member of the social media development communities, however, I see a different angle to the situation. Facebook is a powerful and customizable information and networking tool. If used properly in a professional setting, it can actually make people more productive, focused, and resourceful.

Web Worker Daily published an article in July titled “12 Ways to Use Facebook Professionally.” It offers recommendations for managing industry groups within the interface, and suggests arranging your profile like you would arrange your desk – with work-appropriate items that inspire you. Between unlimited applications and granular privacy settings, users have the power to customize their experiences and how they present themselves toward whatever is most important to them – and that can absolutely be work-related.

I understand that not everyone would choose to use Facebook to augment their productivity at work, even if they understood how to. I also understand that many jobs do not easily lend themselves to a social networking presence. And in these contexts, I agree with the TUC – employees may simply be pursuing their social life at work, and it’s the employer’s responsibility to set standards, but not block it out entirely.

However, simply acknowledging that social networking sites can be used productively in the work environment opens up a whole new angle for the public’s relationship to the web. It is an evolving beast, for sure, and it will continue to change. So at the very least, let’s keep the doors open.

Heads up, this content is 17 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

A few weeks ago, I found myself completely locked out of my Gmail account. My password just stopped working. This was not a matter of me misspelling my own password — two separate email programs that have my password stored in them (and that have been accessing my email just fine for years) agreed with me. I was really locked out. This meant one of two things:

  • My account got hacked.
  • Google screwed up.

I tried to recover it. The first step is to have Gmail send a link to your secondary email address. Unfortunately, my secondary email address is a three-years-dead hotmail account. No amount of negotiating with MSN could reconcile it.

They make you wait five days before you can move onto the second step, which is the security question. And my security question, apparently, is:

What is your primary frequent flyer number?

I tried all of my frequent flyer numbers. None worked. Upon further research, I’ve determined that I opened my Gmail account before I acquired my first frequent flyer number. Great. (As a sidenote, MSN also offered to let me answer a security question in the Hotmail Negotiations. It was, “Where was your mother born?” I don’t actually know where my mother was born.)

The third step, of course, is to email Google and beg for help. I tried one of my contacts “on the inside” and he directed me to the customer service address. He also didn’t offer much encouragement, reminding me that if Google can’t connect my identity with the account, they’re not going to let me back in. From the customer service address, I received an automated “We got your message!” email, with no follow-up response.

I cut my losses. It was really over — me and my Gmail. We were done. I emailed everyone who used that address, told them to use a different address from now on, and left daunting doom-ridden reminders that they should go check their email accounts NOW to make sure their secondary email addresses are functional and their security questions are current, lest they be suffer the horrors I am experiencing. I was just sayin’ is all.

A week later, I realized this is Google we’re talking about. They don’t just run my email, they run the world. In addition to losing my email login, I had also lost access to my Google Reader, Google Analytics, and Google Adsense/Adwords accounts — none of which I use too frequently, but all of which have important history logged in them. Great.

Technological detachment is a traumatic thing. I’ve been trying to take the Buddhist approach, embrace the impermanence of everything, accept that the lack of backup access is probably my fault, and get on with my life. But this voice in the back of my head occasionally keeps me awake at night, telling me that some very important email is sitting unanswered in my Gmail inbox, and that my unawareness of it is going to destroy a relationship, or kill a business deal, or ruin a small country, or cause a small puppy to die.

Today I made a new account. I don’t feel the urge to become Gmail-dependent again anytime soon, but I did miss my Google Reader, and couldn’t go another week without it. To set the system up clean from the start, I lumped all feeds into only two tags/folders: ALWAYS and SOMETIMES. This is a Gina Trapani trick that I learned at BlogHer07. Start with the ALWAYS folder every day, and make sure you see all of it. If you have more time, move to the SOMETIMES folder. If something in your ALWAYS folder starts to bore you, move it to SOMETIMES. And never, ever feel bad about hitting “Mark all as read.”

And that’s the story of my Googletrauma. It hurt, but maybe it was a good thing for me… to realize I don’t need my really organized, long-time inbox to survive in the real world. (::sniffles::) I mean, really, I haven’t died. And as far as I can tell, no small puppies have, either.

…But there is also an epilogue to this story.

I lost my Treo this weekend.

And I can’t. find. it. anywhere.