November 5th, 2007
I’m not an obsessed, full-time devotee of social networking (SN), but I was surprised when I began to realize how much the various SN services have permeated my life. I supposed that if I were a high-school or college student, I might devote most of my waking hours to interactions with both “real” friends and “virtual” friends on Friendster or MySpace; and if I were a young, recently-graduated working professional, I might organize a substantial amount of my social life around these services.
But I’m way past that age, and I’m part of the generation/culture of knowledge workers that instinctively assumes SN services are frivolous time-wasters, unworthy of attention by us “serious” adults who have real jobs, real work to do, and precious little time for gossip and banter. Thus, it really was a surprise when I jotted down some notes on what I’m actually doing — and also what I’m not doing — on roughly half a dozen of these sites. Here goes:
- Dopplr — I blogged about this here, a couple days ago, and my network of “fellow travelers” has now grown to about 20 people, with invitations outstanding to another 20. Thus far, Dopplr has told me about one business colleague whose travels will take him to Austin, TX at the same time as me; but I already knew that, since he and I are participating in a “Software Best Practices” seminar in Austin next week. But I’m looking forward to future reports from Dopplr about overlapping trips/travelers that I didn’t know about, and I think that will be much more likely once my network has grown to 50-100 people. But I’m still appalled by the Dopplr users who are sharing their travel information with hundreds of people — I don’t know how they ever manage to have any peace and quiet when they’re on the road!
- Twitter — I’m now “following” the twitterings (known as “tweets” — short, informal, 140-character messages) of roughly three dozen people, and am being followed by an overlapping, but slightly different, set of 30 people. The tweets appear silently and unobtrusively in a small sidebar, on the right side of my large desktop screen, visible only out of the corner of my eye while I’m concentrating on “regular” work. I realize that one reason I enjoy Twitter is that I work alone, and thus don’t have the usual social interactions that office-workers have — i.e., the short, casual, one-sentence interactions that you exchange when you pass someone in the hallway (“hey, I picked up that new Eagles album you recommended!”, or “hey, how was your kid’s birthday party yesterday?”. I ignore at least half of the tweets, skim most of the remainder and move on; and a few are worth noting, responding to, and following up.
- Slideshare — I’ve just discovered this one during the past week, and have found that it reaches a fairly broad audience when you have presentation material (e.g., a bunch of Powerpoint slides) that you want to share. As such, I don’t know whether it really qualifies as a “social network”; but it certainly is a handy mechanism for sharing and collaborating on both personal and professional topics of mutual interest. I’ve started uploading my Web 2.0 presentations to Slideshare, and a few hundred people I might not otherwise have interacted with are now looking at the material.
- Flickr — I’ve been using Flickr for a year or so, as a convenient mechanism for uploading and sharing photographs with friends and family members. I’m certainly not the best or most popular photographer in the world, but I probably use Flickr more heavily than the average camera buff: I’ve got some 3,200 photographs organized into roughly 75 “albums” (which you can see here), and the photos have been viewed roughly 8,700 times. What’s interesting is that only a tiny percentage of those “viewings” have been carried out by family members and friends, even though they’re often the subject of the photographs. Instead, random people from all over the world stumble upon my photos (typically by searching for any photos with a specific tag, such as “sunset” or “Manhattan”), and occasionally send me a comment indicating that they enjoyed seeing them. For example, I uploaded a bunch of photographs that I took during the 1976 Bicentennial “Tall Ships” parade in the Hudson River (which you can see here), and I subsequently got an email from a retired Navy officer, asking if I could provide more information about one of the pictures, for a reunion of the various sailors who had sailed on that ship …
- LinkedIn — I joined this business-oriented SN three or four years ago, when it was relatively new, and began actively building a network of colleagues, clients, and business contacts. I’ve now got a network of 531 people — which is not a world record, but probably a somewhat larger number than most other LinkedIn users; indeed, the Linked-In home page tells me that I’ve got over 103,000 “friends of friends,” and that I can contact a total of 3.6 million people via the entire Linked-In network of “trusted” connections. Interestingly, I rarely visit the site, and can’t point to any useful benefit I’ve gotten from it in the past couple of years. Occasionally (about once a month) I get a Linked-In message from some other participant, asking if I would forward a message through a chain of “friends of friends of friends.” It takes only a moment, so I usually perform the requested connection; but thus far, I haven’t found the need to use Linked-In to get a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend introduction to anyone else. Maybe I just haven’t given enough thought to some opportunities I could be pursuing …
- Facebook — I joined this SN a few months ago, mostly out of curiosity, but I don’t really use it. I think I’ve got two “friends” on Facebook — both of whom are business colleagues I interact with from time to time. I think this SN is for a younger generation, including the generation of young adults who have entered the work force during the past 5-10 years …
- MySpace — I don’t belong to this SN. If I don’t participate actively in Facebook, I doubt that I would have any reason to use MySpace.
- SecondLife — I was intrigued by the concept of operating within a “virtual world,” so I registered for this SN six months or a year ago. But I found the UI non-intuitive, and didn’t have the time or interest to read manuals (if there are any) or practice at great length. And I haven’t thought of anything sufficiently entertaining or useful to do in the virtual world, so I haven’t returned in several months. However, I noticed an interesting entry in today’s Dilbert blog (yes, Scott Adams blogs every day!) that suggests SecondLife could be useful if you were trying to promote a new book … or perhaps a new product … or perhaps a Presidential campaign.
- Flock — this is the new Mozilla-based SN-friendly Web browser that I blogged about enthusiastically (here) a couple days ago. Alas, I’ve been forced to abandon Flock, at least temporarily: it has crashed several times, produced “404″ errors when attempting to retrieve reasonably innocuous Web pages, and behaved incorrectly when I tried to use it this afternoon to participate in a Webinar. There are also aspects of the UI that I find annoying and inscrutable — for example, how on earth do you “unsubscribe” to the various built-in RSS feeds that Flock sets up initially? (There may well be a way of doing it, but it wasn’t obvious to me; and if you can’t figure it out after five or ten minutes of concerted effort, then — by definition — the UI is too inscrutable).
So that’s it … at least for now. The collection of these SN services certainly indicates that they’re having a (positive) impact on my life — and I think it will improve as my networks on Dopplr and Twitter become larger. I doubt that I’ll ever invest any significant energy in Facebook, MySpace, or SecondLife; and it will be interesting to see if LinkedIn ever becomes sufficiently useful to justify its existence on my computer.
If there are any other social networking services you think I should be looking at, drop me a note (or Twitter me) and let me know …