A few months ago I started experimenting with twitter. (I'm currently tweeting as @camdencclibrary.) I think as a tool it has enormous potential, but I'm becoming concerned about its deployment. The pattern I see with twitter, and basically most other social networking sites (which I'm going to lump together and call 'SNS' from here on), is that they are insular. What I mean by 'insular' is that these SNS are composed of groups of friends or people with common interests, and it's dang hard to claim you should join a group if in fact, you really do not know the people or share their interests. You risk being seen as irrelevant to the very people you may be trying to help, or, worse, completely inappropriate and intrusive and creepy.
So for example, librarians who use SNS end up joining groups related to books, information-science, education, technology, etc. -- groups that the average patron is not a part of. Librarians meet and befriend each other online, and not their patrons. The people I follow on twitter are related to libraryland, news, and other librarians. This seems very natural, but if we are trying to use SNS to reach our patrons online and provide services to them there, those efforts are failing.
What should our online identities be? Are we going to be your friends and feed you all kinds of trivia about our personal opinions of Julia Roberts? Are we going to limit ourselves to dispatches, and feed you cut-and-dry information about news and activities? (I'm not convinced we need a twitter account for this. Or a facebook account.) Are we trying to push an agenda, attempting to educate students on how to use the library effectively? Should libraries be one of the third party entities that SNS seem to be increasingly embracing?
One positive portrait I can imagine is a college or institution coordinating an official presence on SNS, so that students can publicly display their affiliation and be connected to the college this way. The relationship between the student and the institution would stay appropriate, but we would be able to reach them where they are. So far, that's all I've come up with...