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.