I subscribe to a number of online social services. I began using these services, particularly Twitter, for personal communication with friends I knew from meatspace (i.e. face to face interaction). Something interesting happened, however, when I stumbled upon Deepak Singh's blog and discovered he, too, was on Twitter. From there I traced through his network and became a subscriber to the tweets of a dozen of other researchers, all posting notes about research in bioinformatics and the life sciences.
After the Dark Age of Twitter in the summer of 2008, when the site consistently suffered downtime and slow performance, I also joined up with the FriendFeed service after chatter from the bio Twitter gang about that service. Once there, I discovered a nice stream of everyone's activities, most of which I find professionally interesting and relevant.
In fact, to a large degree, the people that I follow on FriendFeed keep their own streams extremely professional, albeit sometimes opinionated. I want these people to follow me, too. I want to use these services to build professional contacts. I want these people to see me as a potential employee/collaborator/expert. To convince them of this, I have to stay concerned with keeping my signal to noise ratio very high, and every personal matter I share moves that ratio in the wrong direction for these people.
On the other hand, my friends with whom I socialize typically don't have an interest in my professional pursuits. We share interests in hobbies, film, humor, and common emotional trials and triumphs. To my friends, silencing personal interaction removes their desire to keep in touch with me via these media, which, after all, I began using because they proved effective at communicating with them.
This presents me with a quandary. In meatspace socializing, I can be who I need to be for each person—the student, the friend, the musician—and I do it all under one identity. Each of these is a facet of the whole that is me. In online social networks, however, I cannot do these under one identity. I cannot distinguish between "music" me, "friend" me, and "Pythonista" me.
So here's my call for reform. Dear Twitter, FriendFeed, and any and all social sites: Give me the ability to state the context of interest of each post. Give my subscribers the the ability to filter which content they receive from me and how much or little of it they wish to see. Let them mix, match, and mash up those subscriptions as they need to. Let me be me, and let everyone else see only the facets that interest them most.