Your Words Speak For Themselves

Today a friend of mine posted the link from Lifehacker about the new Wolfram-Alpha Facebook Analytics app.  Being a huge fan of Wolfram-Alpha, Facebook, and introspective self-analysis, I thought this was a brilliant idea.  And it was!  I learned a lot about myself and my friends’ perceptions of me.  My most liked picture was of me drinking a bottle of wine in Paris, and my most commented picture was a copy of “A Dance with Dragons” with the elated “AAAAHHH!  ITS OUT!”

But what I want to focus on right now is something I found much more revealing.  The most frequently used words from my Facebook posts.

My Most frequently used words on Facebook.

When looking at this list I am struck by the fact that the word “Love” is among them.  It’s literally in the top ten things I say out of all the words in the English language.  There is also a sense of immediacy here, as “Day,” “Today,” “Now,” and “Time” can attest.  But Facebook status updates are often about the now, and less about the past.  Though “Going” implies the future, and where I’m headed.  “Think” and “Know” illustrate that I am bound up in my mind, and my sense of understanding (true or not).  “People” comes first, and after that “One.”  Perhaps that’s my communal nature showing itself; E Pluribus Unum.

Facebook is the pulse of where I am now.  It’s where I spend a lot of my time online, and where I communicate with people that I care about in a very real and tangible way.  It’s rare for me to friend someone who I’ve never met in person, or someone who is only tangentially connected to me.  So there is truly a sense of love in the now there.  Strange that I would feel that way about connecting to people through a website.

But this got me thinking.  I’ve only been on Facebook since March of 2008.  I’ve been on Livejournal for nearly a decade!  I joined LJ in August of 2003, and for the most part I used LJ in a very similar way of connecting with friends, sharing silly status updates, writing blog posts and doing memes.  So, let’s look at my LJ Tags.

My LiveJournal Tags ranked by Frequency of Use

True to LiveJournal’s roots in the deep old beginnings of Web 2.0, there was no good way for me to extract my tag data.  So I went to my tag page, copied it out and ported it to Excel.  Maybe I’m being too harsh.  I honestly didn’t bother to go looking for an app or a tool to export my LJ tag data, but surely one must exist.

Anyhow, I love the top ten list, because they are a perfect picture of who I used to be.  That’s right, I feel like in a lot of ways this data is really me five years ago.

Faeries refers to the Radical Faeries, a kind of anarcho-communist radical queer spiritual movement.  I used to live and breathe Radical Faeries.  But not so much any more.  Our local circle has broken apart like a dandelion and blown to the four winds, and I haven’t been to a gathering proper in about 4 years or so.  Though the Philly Gatherette two years ago did rekindle something in my soul, I still don’t feel as connected to Faeries as I used to.  Silliness, Books, and Music however are still very high on my priority list.  And though the JOB has changed, it still ranks high as well.

Store is the tag that cuts the most.  It’s a latent reminder that I had a dream of running a metaphysical shop.  I even did for a while with a good friend of mine.  But the economy was shit and Pagans barely want to pay for classes, much less books and supplies.  So, we closed it.  It is firmly a part of my past, and seeing it there in the top ten reminds me how old this list is to my life.

Bitchery is the one I’m least proud of.  It is the tag I use for venting about things that annoy me, regardless of their severity.  From something problematic at work to the cold blooded depths of conservative rhetoric.  That’s what’s stored in the bitchery tag.  Though I feel that “commentary” and “introspection” lean me back into the more reflective state that I prefer to share with the world now.

I am somewhat relieved to see that “queer” comes before “memes” but the frequency of the memes tag says a lot about the age of this page.  Remember that article I wrote about how much I hate memes.  Yeah.  Well, we all grow up, right?  uh, right?  Well, maybe “Comics,” “TV” and “Anime” say something about the state of my grown-up-ness.  But even there I feel I’ve changed a lot.  My reading tastes have floated back to non-fiction and novels, and graphic novels have become much less frequent in my life.  Though I still love them.  And anime is nearly non-existent to me now.  Sad.

My WordPress Tag cloud

But if Livejournal is the snapshot of what my life used to be (even though I still use it from time to time to talk about other stuff), then this WordPress account is the snapshot of where my brain is now.  I’ve had this account since Feb 2011, so about a year and a half now.

I went into this WordPress project with a lot of focus.  This was going to be my professional site, and I was going to use this venue to sort out the content for my work related commentary, and push the content that was more focused on gender, queer stuff, and spirituality to my Livejournal.  And I think that focus really shows.  “Libraries,” “Google,” “Books,” and “Ebooks,” are the four largest elements here.  That’s definitely intentional.  This blog really looks at how these new technologies change and shape our experiences with library culture, and I spend a lot of time thinking about where these things can lead us.

I will also say that the volume of content on this blog is substantially smaller than in both Facebook and Livejournal, which have a rich background of years of data to analyze.  The relative newness and the focus of this blog means that only a few things will rise to the top, because there isn’t as much to draw from.  Also, this page is not the same kind of social experiment that LJ or Facebook is.  This is a content sharing system, but the level of social interaction through a WordPress page is (at least in my experience) substantially lower.  Not everyone is going to WordPress to catch up with their friends.  Rather it’s a place where people share articles like this.

In looking at all of this data about myself, I see my own personal growth.  It’s a story of a maturing adult, still playful, living in the new, but always exploring new things.

There’s a burgeoning field of literary and historical analysis called “culturomics” where people use the vast, scanned body of literature in Google’s ebook database to mine through for instances of words being used throughout the whole of published literature.  It’s incredibly fascinating.  And I believe that this exercise tonight is something that may be applied in the future when we study the lives and works of individuals.  Looking at their tag clouds, or analyzing the density or frequency of word use can tell you something very different than the meaning embedded in their sentences.  Breaking words from their context shows you an individual’s preoccupations.  Putting those two things side-by-side tells you what they said as well as reveals their focus.

Maybe it’s narcissistic to want to be the subject of future historian’s data analysis projects, but damn if I don’t want to be there!

What You Post Online

Captured from my Facebook Stream

Some people say that there are six degrees of separation.  But that was before there was an internet, where everyone actually got to see the connections they had between people.  Scientists at the University of Milan studied Facebook connections and discovered that in reality we are only 4.74 degrees of separation from any given person.  I present as evidence of this fact the Facebook transaction that occurred above. I have scrubbed the names of all of the parties involved because I don’t want anyone to get freaked out that I’m re-re-re-blogging this picture.

1. The photograph in this status update is of a young woman holding a sign at a protest.  It’s clear from the sign that the protest was about rape victimization, because it reads “This is what I was wearing. Tell me I asked for it. I DARE YOU.”  A little bit of researching revealed that this photo was taken by photographer Francesca June at an anti-rape protest called Slutwalk NYC.  This photo has made its way around and around the internet since October of Last Year and has appeared on several meme sites.  So, protestor is person 0, and photographer in NYC is Person 1.  Person 1 gets the photo online and it spreads to various social networking sites.

1.5 As the meme is spreading there are branching trees of people posting and reposting this image all over different sites.  Someone, an unknown link in this chain posts it to Tumblr.  I’m calling this person 1.5, but really there are an unknown number of links between the initial image going online and the step to getting it into the current Facebook chain.

2. The caption underneath the image on Facebook says “Found this image on Tumblr & had to share it.” So, person 2 randomly stumbled across this picture on Tumblr, and, not even knowing who this person was, agreed with this powerful sentiment, copied the picture and posted it to her personal Facebook wall. Person 2 is located in Toronto, and has over 800 Facebook friends.

3. Now, along comes person 3, my Facebook friend, who shares this photo from the Facebook chain, because he also thinks that this is a powerful statement and wants his readers to see it too.  You can see in the surcap that it says “____ shared ____’s photo.”  Person 3 is someone I follow who publishes news of note for alternative religions.  So he’s kind of a semi-public figure, with a fairly large, but niche readership. Person 3 is in San Francisco and has over 3,000 Facebook friends.

4. Now, go down and look at the second person in the comments. This person, who I will call person 4, says “OMFG. THAT’S MY FRIEND ______!!!!!!!!!  :O  She never told me about this! :(  I’m calling her as soon as I calm down right now.  WTF!!???”  Person 4 lives in South Carolina, and his number of Facebook friends is not publicly available, but definitely includes person 3, but not person 2 or 1, and yet he knows person 0 directly, because he has her phone number.

That is exactly how small the world is.  What you post online may fly through the tiniest chain of people, people you don’t even know and may have absolutely no connection to you, and land right in the lap of a friend.  It really makes you think about what you do in public, what goes online, and how closely held secrets can be revealed without your ever knowing about them.  Honestly more than anything I hope that these two people, persons 4 and 0 will be okay.

My Personal Social Media Habits

The evolution of my social media life 2002-present

Today I have spent the large part of the day going back through my LiveJournal history to pull out articles with the potential to edit them all into a book of essays.  But as I was going back through time I started to notice how adding new social media systems completely transformed my online habits.

In 2002 I joined LiveJournal as a means of keeping in touch with friends.  I did some casual blogging and wrote a few articles here and there, but for the most part it was filled with ridiculous bullshit, memes, and off the cuff comments about pretty much everything.  In the peak of my LiveJournaling I might have hit something like 6-8 posts per day.  Most of them short, and ephemeral.  I think my favorite series was “chair dance of the day” where I would post the song that was rocking my socks off in my cubicle while I droned on in the daily grind as a government documents cataloger.

In March of 2008 I joined Facebook.  My LiveJournal stats started plummeting.  But that was because all of the daily minutiae and casual conversations with friends migrated over there.  From 2008-2012 my posts on LiveJournal not only got less frequent, but they became substantially longer in each instance.  I basically began writing lengthier, more thoughtful work on LJ once I removed the more frequent friendly conversations.

There was an experimental phase that I went through in 2008/2009 when I was crossposting twitter feeds into LiveJournal.  Going back through my archive today I can’t imagine why I would have done that.  It’s like spamming someone with a block of text messages.  I imagine that I quit doing that because I felt the same way when I looked at it then.  It doesn’t fit right.

I remember once lamenting how little I used my LJ to my Facebook friends.  But the fact of the matter is that I was totally using LJ.  Just using it better.

Last February I made the move of separating out the content about library science and technology into a specific blog for itself.  The primary reason for this was so that I could get better tracking and stats on my posts and given that a major number of library people were using WordPress it totally made sense to do that.

When Google+ opened up I jumped right onto that as well.  But again, I’ve discovered that the content that I post there is sometimes wildly different than the content that I post on Facebook or Twitter.  There I tend to look at more professional folks and some cool content curators.  But for the most part the things that I’m sharing are more directly focused on my public career.

I think this is something that most social media users are not necessarily looking at comprehensively, but more subconsciously.  Different social media systems encourage different kinds of content sharing, and as such the readership of each of your social media groups is also going to vary wildly.  I have more crossover in terms of Twitter followers and Google+ users, than I do with the crossover between Facebook and LiveJournal.

For me separating out this content has been a really great step.  It allows me to share the right stuff with the right people, and to actually remain connected to everyone that I care about personally and professionally.  But until today it hadn’t really sunk in how different my presence is online in each of these different services, and especially how my use has changed over the last 10 years.

On Filtration

Ouroboros

Ouroboros via Wikipedia

Today I got into an argument on Facebook with a high school friend about unions.  It was full of misinformation, which as a librarian was handily correctable, but my being a self-satisfied liberal fact-checker wasn’t winning me any points.  As of now I seem to remain on his friends list and though I was angry I kept him on mine as well.  I think he’s a funny guy and despite his political leanings I like him.  Though I find myself wondering how long I really want to bother listening to inflammatory jibes. I’ve dropped other friends for less.  My anti-abortion video posting cousin, the friend who was dancing in the street over an execution of a random person, my extremely conservative Christian uncle who posts things in ALL CAPS, and my high school friend who came out to me who posted anti-Obama macros.  Among the 500+ voices on my Facebook page, conservative commentary sticks out like a flamethrower, which is usually how it comes out.  My usual tactic is to just cut out the burning part and return to business as usual.

Which reminded me that other people have been writing about this as well.  Over at Salon Kim Brooks asked herself “Is my Facebook page a liberal echo chamber?”  She came to the conclusion that yeah, it pretty much is.  She, like me, isn’t interested in engaging in straw man arguments and flame wars.  It’s easier to just drop those voices and move on with life.

But I had to ask myself the question of “why?”  Why drop these people from my Facebook?  Why not speak to them?

The first reason that I’ve found is that the people I drop aren’t willing to engage in discussion.  These issues are so entrenched as a part of their worldview that they’re not really looking for discussion or debate about the merits of their argument, what the facts are, or even what other people believe.  Nothing is really going to make a crack in their very solidly built up wall of talking points.  If there’s no movement, no actual possibility of reasonable discussion, then it’s pointless to even bother trying.

The second reason I drop people is that these issues are wholly consuming of their personality. Which is why my anti-union friend is still around.  It’s not the only thing he talks about, which makes him a much more well-rounded person and someone I may find common ground with elsewhere.  I have other conservative friends, some very far right.  But they talk about dogs or RPGs or Glee or something that gives me another reason to hang with them.  And that’s cool.  But if all you’re going to do is rail against the President or post abortion snuff films, then I’m sorry, I don’t want to see that every day.

The third reason is purely emotional.  I don’t like getting stressed out by my friends.  Well, I don’t like getting stressed out in general, and for a long time I actively avoided the news because it was making me physically ill to just watch it.  I actually wouldn’t watch the news, read a newspaper, or go to any website with even a vague amount of news.  Some time after the 2000 election and September 11th just made me feel like I was going to have a heart attack over the news.  So I turned to my friends as my oasis in a world that I felt was spinning radically out of control.  Livejournal was that place for a while, and then Facebook became that place.  The vast majority of my friends are from college, grad school, my life in gay clubs, the Pagan community, and now my professional life.  The overwhelming lean from all of those places is pretty liberal.  So it makes total sense that this is what I would see in wild abundance.

It’s when I go home that I find overwhelming voices of dissent.  And that’s exactly the same experience as Ms. Brooks above.  Richmond and Cincinnati are not so different when it comes to finding conservative voices.  God and the Republican party are pretty heavy in the Ohio valley.  Maybe that’s part of the reason I left.

But there’s more to this issue that’s nagging at me.  It’s not just who we want to talk with on Facebook.  It’s what we read overall, the places online that we search for information, and the voices in our social sphere who influence how we perceive the world.  We share articles through Facebook and they loop around through the whirlwind of people who we know would read that kind of article, and we in turn are influenced by our friends’ article shares. But Facebook is just one place that this news comes to us.  The choices we make in news outlets color our perceptions.  Someone who reads the Washington Post is going to get a very different story from someone who reads the Washington Times, just as someone who watches MSNBC is going to get a very different story than someone who watches Fox News.  And the websites we read say just as much.  Someone who reads Talking Points Memo is probably not going to be reading the Drudge Report.  Just as someone who reads The Nation is probably not going to read the National Review.  All of these voices make up a very broad spectrum of opinion and every day we make choices as to which of those opinions we will listen.  More often than not we will keep choosing the venues that align directly with our political and philosophical worldviews.  Nobody in the world bats an eye about that.  Well, unless you want to ban the opposing viewpoint, but that’s another story.

Eli Pariser in his book The Filter Bubble talks about how the internet is exacerbating this division of opinion by providing customized internet results based on an individual’s personal profile.  So, the more you Google, the more Google knows about what you’re looking for, because their cookies know everything.  And the same with Facebook, the more you share, the more they know what kind of content you find appealing and thus they can suggest content to you that may enjoy.  Pariser sees this as creating a world divided into unique little bubbles of experience, an Ouroboros, feeding back into itself and widening the gulf between people further.  Admittedly this is problematic, because it detracts from a person’s freedom to choose among the information that is presented, making his decision for him.  But I ask myself, would I really want to read that other thing?  Maybe not.  Do I want to know it’s there, sure.  But I probably won’t agree with it.

As a librarian part of my responsibility is making sure that people have the freedom to read what they want to read.  We include material that some people may find offensive and that’s part of our mission to serve the entirety of the population of the city.  However, in my personal life I choose what I wish to read and what I don’t.  Just as I decide who is my friend and who is not.  I choose to read liberal blogs, bizarro websites, arts and crafts pages, tech news, gay and lesbian sites, Pagan sites, and my news comes from places whose reporters are kind of neutral or left.  I know that other sites exist, but I choose not to read them.  And I know that other people exist within the spectrum of my friends, with whose opinions I may perhaps disagree.  That doesn’t mean I have to read them.  I feel guilty when I drop these people, but only a little.  Think of it as weeding your collection of friends.

We are always actively creating the world we want to live in.  What we bring into our lives becomes a part of us.  I choose to bring in things that feed my soul in ways that make me come alive.  If what you bring is hate, snark, strife, problems, misinformation, and outright lies, I have no time for you.  I want to make this world a better place for people.  I bring ideas, sharing, love, creativity, solutions, facts and truth.  That’s the kind of world I want to live in.  That’s what I’m collecting in my bubble.

What do you put in yours?

How I Use Social Media

I, like many many other people, am plugged into a ripe half-dozen social media sites.  Each of them has different functionality that makes it vary just ever so slightly from its cousins, and as a matter of course I have evolved in using them.  So here is a cluster of the sites that I use on a regular basis and the way in which I use it.

Facebook

I have the most connections on Facebook. But I made a conscious choice early on to only accept Facebook friends who I either a) actually knew in person and felt comfortable with or b) had clear intentions that I would be meeting them at some time in the future and trusted them.  These restrictions have meant that I have massaged my Facebook profile to be just crazy enough to still fit in with my crazy friends, but polished enough that my co-workers on Facebook would not be inadvertently treated to things that they ought not to see.  I feel comfortable sharing photos that I’ve taken, links to things that I’m reading online and silly status updates.  I occasionally get a little political, and sometimes share some spiritual stuff there.

Twitter

Twitter was a service that I had practically abandoned until I got the iPad.  Flipboard has TOTALLY changed that.  Flipboard converts all those tweets into a collection of valuable articles that I’m actually engaged in reading.  So, I resubscribed a bunch of friends and co-workers that I had ditched before, and started jumping on feeds for news sites and celebrities that I respect.  Now, via Flipboard, I am reading and retweeting articles that I would never have seen before.  So I am basically using it as a link sharer.  Zite is anther iPad app that makes Retweeting easy and I am using it all the time.  You’ll see me tweeting in bursts over the course of a couple of hours at a time.  It’s cause I’m reading probably a hundred articles from the iPad and I’m on a brain jag.

Google+

The experience on Google+ has been much more professionally oriented for me.  I’ve added about 200 people to my “Librarians” circle and I’ve got a growing collection of people that I follow across a bunch of different tech and geek sites.  It’s a place where I have been able to discuss issues around library science, philosophy, technology and get actual feedback from people who have proven to be incredibly reputable and active. I find myself really trusting the people I’m working with on Google+ to give me answers to questions that are thoughtful and maybe even provide links or citations.  It’s very cerebral interaction.  No offense to my Facebook people, but my friends are not always my colleagues.  That’s okay too.  They don’t have to be.

LiveJournal

Again, LiveJournal is a service that I kind of abandoned for a while, and then when I took my trip to Asia I just dove right back in like nothing ever happened.  But I discovered that my writing style had dramatically changed.  I had gotten into more thoughtful blogging, with links and citations as well as images.  Perhaps it’s just that I had been writing for like a month solid, but maybe it’s a product of the fact that I had been involved in blogging since 2002 and I had just matured as a person and a writer over that time.  But LJ was always a personal space, and it still is.  It’s a place for public confession and public soapboxing.  I have no compulsion about making bold statements over on my LJ about politics, sexuality, religion, the occult, and whatever else happens to strike my fancy.  It’s been less frequent since my Asian extravaganza.  But I’ve been shifting gears of late.  So, LJ hasn’t been on the forefront of my thoughts.

WordPress

This blog was established with clearly defined outlines.  It is a place for me to write about professionally related topics of interest like books, technology, libraries, conferences, and other things that I feel will be of general use to folks in the information professions.  I may occasionally diverge, but not too far from that plan.  I’m also pretty glued to my stats page and looking at what it is that people are actually interested in reading about.  Sadly, my book reviews aren’t as gripping as talking about how much I hate memes and parsing out the intricacies of terms of service agreements.  We’ll see if those trends hold, but I’m thinking that the shine will wear off of Google+ enough to thrust me into discussing other things.

Yahoo Groups

I’ve pretty much given up on Yahoo Groups, and many listserves as well.  In fact, I’m not even logging into my Yahoo email for much of anything any more either.  I’m debating just killing it.  My gmail is much cleaner and doesn’t get the hundreds of messages a day that I get there.  But email groups just don’t mean anything to me any more.  It’s like getting a daily newsletter.  Things function better in Facebook where you can get your updates as a quiet little number hanging out there.  And if the group gets crazy you can just drop them with the push of a button.  No maze of links to go through.

Klout

I don’t really use Klout for any kind of public thing, like I do with everything else.  But I do find it fascinating in a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator kind of way.  It’s kind of fun to watch the little score jump around like the Dow Jones telling me how popular I am online and who I’m “influencing.”  I’m no internet celebrity, nor do I fancy that I will ever be such a person.  This won’t be from lack of putting myself out there.  But I’m content just being me, online.  Though vanity will always drag me back to look at that Klout score.

Alternion

A friend recently remarked to me that I was too scattered online, and that he wanted one place to stay caught up with all the myriad things that I do.  A kind of “Meta-Eric” if you will.  After being totally flattered, that someone would actually try to hunt down all of the disparate pieces of me online I wondered if it would be possible to actually see all of those bits in one place.  Enter Alternion.  This is a beta level social media dashboard client, with API access to over 220 different social media applications.  You just start going through their MASSIVE list of sites to which you post your random crap and you can begin to synchronize your life into one handy place.  They’re currently just test-driving the service, and it’s a little buggy. But the developers are really great and they love getting feedback on how to improve things.  It doesn’t do everything, because not everyone is interested in opening up their API yet (I’m looking at you Google+!).  But it does do a tremendous amount of things that is pretty damn impressive.  I’ve added the tab to my standard FireFox windows.  I’m actually kind of rooting for this service.  I’m hoping to see my friends updates rolling by like a stock ticker all day.

Just a couple of quick observations.

Apps have changed the relevance of some services over others, as evidenced by my upsurge in Twitter usage via Flipboard and Zite.  These apps make the social media service more relevant, not less.  I hope that in time these apps become web based and accessible to anyone, and not just iPad users.  I mean, the iPad is great for some things, but it’s a pain in the ass in many other ways.

Aggregation sites like Alternion are going to need to become more common.  This patchwork landscape we’ve built up is bizarre and leads to a lot of identity fragmentation.  I know that for some people that’s necessary, and I admit that it’s been useful for me to parse out my life in this way.  However, I feel even stronger that I’ll want something for a unified access feed that I can link to something like my about.me landing page.  I think that’s going to be extremely important in the future when we’re marketing ourselves for jobs.

Open v. Closed Systems

So, Paul Tassi took several hundred people’s criticisms of his article to heart and decided to play in the Google+ waters a little harder than before to see what all the fuss is about, and ultimately found that it’s not as dead as it seemed to him originally.  The difference is not just the number of people you have in your circles, but rather why you have them in your circles.

At this stage of the game, G+ is really still a fairly elitist system, with the invitations still playing a factor in the sign up process.  Once the system is open to everyone and their mother, the user experience will definitely change.  So, you can’t really use it like Facebook yet.  All of your friends and family aren’t on there, so you won’t be seeing their posts of their babies and the updates about the night at the club.  There just aren’t enough users to get there.  But it will change over time.  Right now however, the millions of people who are using it are using it to connect fairly professionally.  Programmers, librarians, authors, publishers, home-schoolers; these are the people that I’m seeing. Not my aunts and uncles.

I mentioned in a previous post that Facebook, with its mutual handshake, is a venue where I’m more selective about who I add.  Many of the people whose blogs I read or whose Twitter I follow are not the people I have friended on Facebook.  It feels oddly more intimate in that I feel I should actually have met you at least once before I add you, or that I have the potential to meet you personally to want to add you there.  On Google+ I do not have that same compulsion.  The field is wide open and I’m following people on G+ that I would never have friended on Facebook.  In fact, the vast majority of people that I’m reading on G+ are people I have never met, and may never meet.  And I’m totally okay with that.

That’s really the difference in these two systems.  Facebook is a closed system.  The mutual authentication means that you both recognize each other.  People are more likely to only friend those people who they know, and only retain those that they like.  I can’t tell you the number of family members I have dropped from Facebook because I couldn’t stand to see another anti-abortion video, or another flag waving, jingoistic, save the troops meme.  Eventually the content that your Facebook friends share will become a kind of echo chamber, with things floating between the same people.  I know that I have occasionally seen the same lefty liberal article piled up with five different friends names and comments under it.

Google+ on the other hand is a much more open system.  You’re not focused on your “in real life” friends, but rather adding people who you’d like to follow, people of similar interests, or professional contacts within your field.  And the things that come across your stream are much more diverse as a result of that.  I haven’t bothered to even look in the “sparks” section, because I never need to.  There’s so much interesting stuff just feeding directly into my stream that I don’t need to go hunting for new content.

Here’s an app analogy: Facebook is to Google+ as Flipboard is to Zite.  These are iPad apps that are content aggregation systems.  Flipboard allows you to select web feeds that you know and love and creates a little web magazine out of them.  It kind of looks like Time magazine.  Zite on the other hand allows you to select subject matter that you like, and finds the content across a whole host of different blogs and websites, and then delivers them in a magazine format not unlike the New Yorker.  Now, Flipboard I love because it is one stop shopping for all my favorite sites, and it looks absolutely gorgeous.  But Zite is far more interesting because I’ll discover things there I never would have found if I were looking in the same old familiar places.

I think that Facebook and Google+ will not really be battling it out in terms of content, because they offer completely different experiences.  The question that it boils down to is do you listen to your friends, or do you listen to respected strangers.  I think there’s room for both.

Granular Sharing

I swear that one day I will stop talking about Google+.

One of the things that struck me the other day as I was writing the post about LiveJournal was the realization that LJ had recognized early on in the social media scene that people want choices when they’re sharing certain information.  LiveJournal developed communities of people around a certain interest, and those entries could be public or private depending on the community.  Many of the snark communities are private until you become a member, and all the entries on it are blocked until you are approved by a moderator.  Within your personal journals you are able to make any entry totally public, available to your friends, available to a customized group of friends, or even available to no one but yourself.

To my knowledge there is no other blogging software that exists that has this level of customizable sharing.  And actually, to my knowledge there is no other social media platform until Google+ came along that allowed that kind of granular level of sharing.

Now, some people have asked me if I’ve made use of the customizable sharing of Google+.  The answer is not really very much, because I live a fairly public life.  That said, I like having the option of keeping things a little closer to home than not.  There are plenty of things that I would prefer to keep private, and yet feel comfortable talking about those things with a select group of friends.  This could be health issues, religious question, questions that I feel are only appropriate if asked of people within my field of work just to name a few.

There are some people in my life with whom I would divulge anything.  My mother for instance.  I cannot keep a secret from her, nor would I ever want to.  Also I have a select group of friends with whom I feel comfortable confiding things that I don’t want to announce to the world.

When I was more active on LiveJournal I made very heavy use of this.  One of the common things that I would keep private were conversations about my job. There come times in every job that try your soul, and when I was in that dark place about 6 years ago I needed to share those troubles with people I trusted.  To do that I went to my LiveJournal community and confided in a select group of trusted friends.  The resulting conversations led me to try to start my own business, to see if I could make a go of it on my own.  Ultimately the home business did not pan out (hello tanking economy!), but the support that I got from my friends at LiveJournal was all the incentive I needed to get encouragement in my troubled time.

Its moments like this that are why we need to have granular sharing that is functional and intuitive in social media. Even if it is only an option.

While these functions sort of exist in Facebook, they are really pushing you to share absolutely everything with everyone.  As part of my control freaky nature I have often disabled people from tagging me in pictures and I don’t allow anyone to write on my wall.  My one exception is to turn on wall writing for my birthday, only because everyone and their mother will write happy birthday on your wall.  It’s kind of cool, but I don’t want my wall turning into what happened on MySpace where people post ridiculous glittering unicorn .gifs and sexy shirtless dudes.  That’s just not something I really want to see on my Facebook Page, because I feel it’s supposed to represent who I am. Also, because things that get posted to your wall get reshared across all your friends, and I have coworkers on there, I try and control my message on Facebook.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever realizes that they’re saying what they do in a public forum.  I mean, it’s incredible how much people will share without a thought in the world as to who may read it.

I’m even more controlling when it comes to blogs.  I chose WordPress for this content because a lot of other library bloggers are on here, and that creates a great ping-back community when we cross link to each other.  Plus the dashboard is pretty awesome.  But the downside is that everything is public.  There are no secrets here, nor is there any way to make something secret here.  This is the place to publish, and by publish they really mean it.  They want your stuff to go out to the entire world, and make it available via whatever means necessary. Blogger and TypePad are the same in that respect, once it’s live, it’s live for the world to see.  No secrets.  For professional writing this makes sense.

But LiveJournal, at least as it’s been used in America, has always been a place for the personal.  It’s been where people go to bear their soul, and do silly quizzes at each other.  I also feel like it’s grown up a lot since I began using it.  Maybe it’s just me, and the way I use LiveJournal who has grown up.  To me it actually has the feel of a journal, the kind that one would keep as a paper diary, only in an electronic format.  The privacy settings allow it to retain that feeling, by being able to limit a post to only yourself, or to a limited group.  You’re not announcing something to the world as a whole, but rather to a small group of known friends.

Someone asked me if I was going to migrate my content off of LJ to protect it in case the company crashes.  I think that any content migration would have to be something that would respect the variant levels of privacy that I set in there.  So, no, there is no real way to maintain the integrity of the LJ blog in a content migration. There’s no way I would be able to recreate the individual user access that I have in there among the friends that used that service, and still do today.

The reality of all of this is that the people I have in each of my social networks are totally different.  There are some people who are on all of them with me, and some who are only on one or another.  There are some people I am more comfortable sharing with on LJ, some on Facebook, Some on Google+ and some here on WordPress.  Each venue has its own unique vibe, and the content that I post in each of those places varies, and that depends upon who’s in there.  So here’s a snapshot of who’s in where.

  • WordPress: Totally Public - WordPress is my professional voice.  It’s my soapbox for library and tech things.  I tend to write here about three times a week.
  • LiveJournal: Semi-Public - LiveJournal is my personal voice.  It’s where I share the more intimate details of my life, to varying degrees of openness.  I also have a second LJ for some occasional creative writing projects.  Writing comes in fits and starts on both accounts, sometimes I’m on a tear and go every day, and sometimes it’s nothing for a month.  Depends on my mood really.
  • Facebook: Friends and Colleagues - Facebook is kind of a free for all.  Its made up of people that I personally know, or plan to meet someday.  It’s kind of a blend of personal and professional.  I post some of the pictures from the crazy street performances I do with the faeries and talk about some professional and political things as well.  None of it, however, is anything that I would be embarrassed to show my mother.  Facebook is an every day affair.
  • Google+: Random Happy Mutants - Google+ is kind of a sandbox.  I have a lot of strangers in there, but all of them fit into neat little compartments of librarians, authors, comic book people, bears and Pagans.  If someone by chance adds me who I have no idea who they are I will look at who they are and who we share in common and put them in the appropriate group.  For those who don’t fit I put them in “the whole wide world” unless they are posting things I really can’t look at while I’m at work, like hot shirtless dudes.  I check G+ multiple times a day.
  • Twitter: Colleagues Only – Twitter I am on, but hardly use for anything.  I follow very few people, and all I post are relays from the WordPress.  Mostly because library people Twitter, and I push stuff out for them.  I never look at twitter any more.

So that’s where I’m at with social media.  It does consume an inordinate amount of time, but its time that I appreciate.  I feel like I’m truly connecting with people, that I’m learning things, and that I’m sharing things that are meaningful, fun, and occasionally funny.  I like having the option to share privately, and occasionally I do.  It’s not always, but sometimes it’s important to have that around.