Recently librarians started to take notice of brightkite, a web-based service that calls itself a “location-based social network.” The idea of brightkite is that you sign-up for an account, add friends, and then using the web, IM or text-messaging check-in at brightkite to let those in your network know where you are and what you are doing. For example, type in the zip code 02115 and brightkite sends out a notice to all of your friends on the network (that they can read on a mobile device or on the web) letting them know you are in Boston, MA. The message also includes a link or display (depending on the device used to read the meassage) of a map showing where that zip code is in Boston. It’s also possible to post photos of that location and post notes about what’s going on there.
No doubt when thinking about the way brightkite works, adults working with teens might start to get a little nervous. The ability for a teen to let others know what she is doing in this location-based way can be disconcerting. But, as with many social networking services, this isn’t necessarily a reason for librarians to stay away from brightkite and what it can offer library customers. And, before making any snap judgments about the potential problems of brightkite, it’s definitely worth checking out to consider any potential possibilities.
On the safety of teens front, as the Read Write Web notes in it’s good overview of brightkite, the service offers several privacy options. Teens, or the library that might want to use the service, can select who gets to see what level of information in a brightkite post. As the Read Write Web post states:
When you add friends on the network, you can choose to “friend” them only, or friend them and add them as a “trusted friend.” By offering the fine-grained control of “trusted friends,” you can control who gets to see your exact location. This way, you can connect with people on the network level – adding relationships very much in the same way as any other social network – as well as connecting with actual, real-life friends.
You can also edit each friend’s detailed privacy settings as well, and turn on or off their ability to access your friend stream, text you, or email you, which allows for even more privacy controls.
As with other web-based social networking sites, the level of granularity that brightkite offers provides librarians with really good opportunities for talking with teens about social networking safety. It also allows for discussions about when to give someone full access to information and when to not even accept a social network friendship request. Teens need to make these types of choices all the time. Brightkite can help teens understand the thinking that needs to go into making each one of these choices.
Beyond the issue of privacy and safety, brightkite does give teens, and the librarians that serve them, opportunities to provide information and market services. Imagine a teen with a brightkite account sends a message to all of his friends telling them that he is at the library. Then he sends a picture via brightkite of what’s going on at the library. That picture might show a cool gaming event, an active book discussion, a hi-tech technology workshop, or a group of teens simply hanging-out. Those messages constitute instant marketing of library programs and services.
Or, what about the teen librarian who sends a message to teens via brightkite that says she’s at the library checking out the new materials that just arrived? She might include photos of covers of the books, CDs, DVDs, etc. that will appeal to teens and she might even post notes about some of the new items.
Teens on a school field trip might send information back to students in another class about what’s happening during the trip. Students still in the school building could instantaneously take the photos, information, and maps that they receive via brightkite and use them to build a wiki or blog post about what’s learned on the trip as the learning takes place.
Brightkite is definitely a social networking service to pay attention to. It’s still a pretty young service and one that teens you work with might not have checked out yet. You might introduce it to the teens and ask them what they think about it. You might find out what they think about the safety features the service provides.
Most important, find out about brightkite now. By doing that if you start being asked about the service and have people questioning it’s safety for teens, you’ll be able to answer their questions with first-hand knowledge. Don’t wait to react. Be proactive by checking out brightkite today.