“Stalking” isn’t necessarily as bad as it sounds. Say you’re single and someone lines up a blind date for you. You’d want to find out a little about him, right? So you “stalk him,” as the digital natives put it. To many social networkers, it’s a fun, innocuous sort of “background check,” to see who a person’s friends are, where her tastes lie, what she talks about, etc., and definitely what she looks like. Stalking has even become a bit of a cottage industry, the Associated Press reports (though I think the cottage industry is the more general “widgets” one, which includes all the little add-on enhancements that third-party companies are developing for the social-networking sites – see this item).
For example, 19-year-old Jared Kim, got the idea for Stalkerati.com at a backyard BBQ when his sister wanted to know who some guy was who had asked her out. Their geeky group of friends, who had all brought their laptops, “immediately turned to their keyboards to do a little cyberstalking,” according to the AP. So “Kim had a thought: Why not write a program that searches all the social-networking sites at once and creates a profile of the person you’re searching for?” Kind of like the file a private investigator’s compiles for his client maybe? Within a month of the BBQ, Kim had put up the site, then word got out (in the blogosphere), and suddenly it had 10,000 visitors a day, the AP says (Kim also writes about this on his About page). Stalkerati was so much on the map, in fact, that MySpace noticed and blocked it as a security problem for its users (they had to give Stalkerati their MySpace passwords to use the info-gathering service). Facebook apparently allows it, but it’s my impression that this, social-networking, version of “stalking” was practically coined in Facebook. For more on this and online stalking’s better-known darkside, please click to this week’s issue of my newsletter.