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Observations on Social Networking

Glassex Cleaner Fish Helmet

I was just thinking about social networking the other day, its uses, its evolution, and its insertion into our everyday lives. I have been on social networks of one form or another for a very long time. Before the internet had images, before there was a world wide web (in the very early 1990′s), I was a graduate student at UBC and had email to communicate with other academics in other parts of the world. Outlook didn’t exist, there was no such thing as a web browser. We used a program called Pine, and it worked in a terminal mode. Just text on a screen. And it was so cool. We could chat in real time, but you saw the letters as the other person typed. There was no autocorrect, you could see the misspelled words show up, then disappear as the person backspaced to correct the error.

When the first graphics appeared on the internet I joined a BBS (Bulletin Board Service) and discovered the earliest chat rooms. Our lab was a collection of nerdy types, and some of us really liked computers. So I’ve always been pretty open to social technology, even if I’m not usually a terribly social person.

I had a personal webpage back in 2000, but eventually let that disappear. In 2006 Facebook opened up to anyone over the age of 13 with a valid email address. I remember hearing people mention it, and finally I checked on board in 2007. A few months later , in early 2008, I joined the Flickr community for online social photography sharing, and I started blogging at the same time, first on Blogger, then shifted over to WordPress, eventually moving to a self hosted site rather than the open service.

Ironically, I went back and looked at my very first blog post on The Philosophical Fish and it was a post about the lack of critical thinking, media bias, the way people buy into things without thinking, and how university students aren’t thinking the way they should in a higher education institution. Funny that I am still grumbling against the very same thing five years later.

I never ventured into MySpace, I never liked it and thought its lifespan would be short. I wasn’t wrong about that one.

Twitter arrived on the scene in 2006, around the same time as Facebook, and I created an account to try it out back in 2007 also. It didn’t appeal, so I deleted the account. I did that again a few times, always deleting the account, but curious why people were attracted to it. I created a new Twitter account again in 2010, poked around, and was still basically uninterested in the Twitter-sphere.

LinkedIn came along as a professional social network, and although I populated an account, I don’t really use it actively, but I do keep it up to date, more or less. It has led to contact with some people from my past that I hadn’t expected though.

In January 2011 I joined an online group called the Daily Shoot. To post a daily photo to the collection one had to Tweet it with the dailyshoot hashtag. So I was dragged kicking into being ‘active’ on Twitter. Eventually the Daily Shoot closed up shop and my Twitter account languished again. I linked my blog into it so that my daily photo posting would be automatically sent to both Facebook and Twitter, and I didn’t really look at Twitter again until I joined another daily photo community back in March of this year.

Actually, I have two Twitter accounts, but I do even less with the second one. I set it up for the volunteer group I manage a website and Facebook page for, but like the other account, I have everything linked together so a Facebook post is automatically tweeted and posted on the Norvan site. Imagine my surprise when I visited the actual Twitter page recently and found 50 followers! At a recent Board meeting a new member asked about Twitter and eyes rolled around the table, but he thought it a useful tool so I gave him permissions and washed my hands of it.

Pinterest is a relatively new social network that is completely different, and somewhat addictive. Pinterest launched as a closed beta in 2010 and users could only join the network if invited. I loved it as soon as I was invited in. (UPDATE: ironically, within an hour from the time I wrote and posted this, Pinterest announced that it is officially now open to all users and no longer on an invitational basis). Pinterest is the fastest growing social network and was the fastest site in history to break the 10 million user mark. It is similar to Twitter only in the ability to follow and be followed. I am a visual person and so Pinterest is instantly appealing. It allows users to collect images and organize them in virtual cork-boards. And although that may sound useless, it can be very useful. We are planning on renovating our bathroom, and Pinterest allows me to collect images that I like and not have to have a folder full of links that I need to click one at a time. True, I also collect images of shoes and bags I love, food that looks delicious, clothes I’d love to own, places I’d love to travel to, etc.. Pinterest is a wonderful network as far as I am concerned.

I have (or had) accounts with ClassMates, Care2, delicious, Google+, Instagram, Hipstamatic, LastFM, LibraryThing, Vimeo, 500px, YouTube, deviantART, and StumbleUpon, but haven’t really done anything with any of them. I suppose that has more to do with where my friends are online than anything else. And most of them are on Facebook and Flickr, so it follows that those two networks would be where most of my activity lies.

Back to Twitter, I decided to give it an honest chance this year. I followed a few people, and some people started to follow me. And after 5 months, I still have to say, it’s not for me. Why? I find Twitter to be nothing much more than an RSS feed and I already have two of those (Socialite & Flipboard) working perfectly for me and collecting information from blogs, news media, statuses, online magazines, websites of interest, etc. Twitter allows complete strangers to follow your activities, I’m not really interested in that. I can’t say it much better than this writer –> (http://www.outonlimbs.com/2011/01/ten-reasons-i-hate-twitter.html)

I have watched some behaviour on Twitter that I find fascinating. I’ve had a few followers that I’ve looked at, seen that they have thousands of followers, not followed, and they disappear soon after. Social trolls. It seems like a narcissistic numbers game to me. “Follow me, make me feel good about myself by being interested in what I have to say, although I can’t actually carry on a real conversation.” People follow other people, and those people feel obligated to connect back. So their numbers have increased and their social ‘impact factor’ goes up. So no, I still don’t see Twitter as anything that has any meat to it.

 So then I come back to Facebook.

I think what I like about Facebook is that it can be what you want it to be. If you want to be completely wide open and use it to attract followers, you can, it’s a great business tool in that aspect, far better than Twitter because it actually has meat to it, real, intelligent, dialogue is possible, not juvenile, poorly spelled, hash tag loaded, nuggets of nothingness. But if you want it to be a network of people you actually know, it can be that too. On Facebook you can let some things be public, semi-public, or closed. (To be fair, nothing is ever really closed as someone could copy and post elsewhere, so regardless, it’s smart to not say anything anywhere on the internet that you wouldn’t want to say to someone directly, or that would embarrass you if it went to a wider audience.) The new ‘subscribe’ feature even lets you follow public posts of people you don’t really want to be ‘friends’ with and who don’t have a Page that can be “liked’ and added to your newsfeed. Twitter becomes that much less interesting with the increased functionality of FB.

I find my interactions with people to be a great deal more ‘real’ on Facebook. The connection is more human and interactive, mainly because I actually know them and when friended, the relationship is a bit more ‘open’ so to speak. Less ’touch and go’. Facebook has reconnected me with people I’ve known from as far back as elementary school, and that’s pretty cool. Maybe many of them are just there, not really actively engaged, but if I’d pass them in the hallway and say hello back then, why not now too. I’ve always liked to know what people are doing and Facebook is a great tool for doing just that.

Pinterest will continue to serve as visual inspiration, I like collecting images and I enjoy following the visuals of others, and Pinterest is wonderfully useful in that manner. Twitter will disappear from my use yet again (maybe I’ll continue to post my photo a day, but that’s it), and Flickr and Facebook will continue to be my connections with real people that share real interests and have real conversations and debates.

Social networks really are a fascinating human experiment, but so far Facebook is the clear winner for human interaction as far as I am concerned.

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