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Wide White: Staying connected

Monday, October 11, 2010

Staying connected

I'm an avid user of what has been coined "social media." For those who disdain that term and its overuse, it really just identifies web-based platforms that allow users to easily and quickly share information.

I'm not looking to convert those who see no need for social media in their lives. It's not for everyone, particularly those who become easily addicted to the internet, information consumption, etc.

But for those who are curious what these social media platforms are all about, here's a list of platforms I use along with my thoughts on the value of each one and why I use it.

Each link below will allow you to jump directly to my summary of that platform.

1. Twitter
2. Google Reader
3. Facebook
4. Blogger
5. LinkedIn
6. GovLoop

I considered including video- and photo-sharing sites but they're a little different from the rest of the sites listed here so I'll table them for another post.

Oh, and each hyperlinked title below directs you to my profile on that site.

Launched: 2006
I joined: 2009
Users: 100+ million
PROS: Quick, easy source of news, politics, sports, and other headlines; great platform for sharing and exchanging thoughts and information; character limit restrains big talkers, forces users to cut to the chase.
CONS: Big talkers sometimes just post multiple tweets; inconsistent use or overuse of Twitter features such as RT, reply, DM, hashtags, etc.; 140 characters isn't always enough; new users often get confused and don't stick with it (this includes anyone who has an account but had no idea what I meant by "RT," "DM," or hashtags).
Summary: I use Twitter daily. It's my source of news, sports, comedy, politics, religious thoughts, etc. I like to be able to scan headlines and click on links to stories I'm actually interested in reading and it's a whole lot faster and more efficient than watching the evening news. I've met a couple of people in the south metro through Twitter. As far as sharing updates with friends, it's sort of like Facebook status updates except it's not considered "stealing" and "unoriginal" to repost others' tweets (in fact, it's encouraged).

Launched: 2005
I joined: 2008
Users: unknown
PROS: Great RSS reader (for those who don't understand that, RSS means "Real Simple Syndication" and is a standard format used to publish information, with Google Reader being an RSS reader that allows you to read anything published to RSS - mostly blogs - in a sort of RSS inbox); simple to add and organize feeds; easy to share posts with other Google Reader users.
CONS: Clunky interface needs to be updated; not very useful for interacting with others.
Summary: I use Google Reader daily. I can't believe it took me until 2008 to start using it. It's so much more time-consuming to click through to each blog individually. Additionally, I like the feature in Google Reader where you can share posts you like with other Google Reader users. It's an easier way to share a post than actually reposting it on your own blog. Google Reader is like an inbox for any blog you read (or any other web content that's available through RSS, such as my city's press releases). New blog posts are "unread" and old ones are still visible but marked as read. I strongly recommend Google Reader to anyone who reads blogs or any other RSS content on even a semi-regular basis.

Launched: 2004
I joined: 2005
Users: 500+ million
PROS: Great phone/email/address book; good platform for sharing and exchanging thoughts and information; good for sharing, captioning, and getting comments on photos; there's a "hide" feature for that relative whose updates you just don't care about but who really wants to see cute pictures of your kids.
CONS: Privacy is a persistent concern; settings are confusing and difficult to locate and change; too many "News Feed" changes in the wrong direction; FarmVille, Mafia Wars, etc.
Summary: I typically use Facebook daily. However, if Facebook didn't have the "hide" feature, I probably wouldn't use it (for a while, I actually didn't). When you have everyone from your high school cousins to your grandparents on a platform that offers photos, videos, status updates, messages, wall posts, games, groups, and more, the use of that platform will vary widely from one user to the next. I've hidden enough content on Facebook that I can get through an entire day's worth of updates in 5-10 minutes. Facebook is great for connecting with people you haven't seen in a while. My wife and I have met up with friends and relatives because either us or them was passing through the other's hometown and we never would have known it if it hadn't been for Facebook. Facebook is also great for connecting with people whose phone number or email address you wouldn't necessarily have. I recently connected with an aunt in California through Facebook when I was out there and wound up staying with her for a couple of nights. Facebook's photo sharing capabilities are adequate for sharing pictures of your newborn or your latest vacation, but not nearly as robust as actual photo services like Flickr. Facebook is NOT great if you're friends with people who have no filter on what they will post or people who have nothing better to do than play Mafia Wars all day. Again, the "hide" feature is essential in helping with this problem. In the end, Facebook is better than other platforms if for no other reason than it's the most widely-used social networking platform. I can only think of a few people who aren't on Facebook. I recently had someone in our church who I'd never met send me a message through Facebook to ask about our small group. If you want to say something or show a picture or share a link and you want the highest possible number of people to see it within your circle of friends, Facebook is the way to go.

Launched: 1999
I joined: 2006
Users: unknown
PROS: Great way to communicate via a variety of channels, whether video, short thoughts, long essays, pictures, etc.; number one blog platform with many recent changes to keep it competitive with challengers like WordPress; smooth Google AdSense integration; very simple for novice bloggers with enough flexibility for the pros too; easy drag-and-drop templates.
CONS: Comments function is inadequate (I prefer Name/Email/Website format of WordPress to Username/Password format of Blogger); seems to fall behind WordPress in number of advanced users.
Summary: My use of Blogger has varied from daily to monthly, though it's typically at least once or twice a week. Blogs are sort of old school in the realm of social media, but that doesn't mean they're stale. No other internet communication method offers as much versatility. You can keep it short or write a novel, post photos or videos, build a community of commenters or shut down comments and just publish information. Blogger is a simple, easy tool for blogging, and that's really all most amateur bloggers are looking for. Those wanting more robust options often seem to switch to WordPress, but there's not much I've ever wanted to do that Blogger couldn't do for me. TIME recently named Blogger one of the five most overrated websites, saying that Tumblr is better for basic blogging and WordPress for more advanced users. I won't argue with the cool kids, but old habits die hard.

Launched: 2003
I joined: 2008
Users: 75+ million
PROS: Focused on professionals; provides great summaries for candidates applying for a job; good way to maintain a connection to business partners without using Facebook, which is usually too personal for that.
CONS: Not very interactive; many users don't engage much once they've signed up; the interface could use a face lift.
Summary: I use LinkedIn monthly at most. If you aren't a white collar professional, you probably won't find much use for LinkedIn. If you are a white collar professional, you still may be hard-pressed to find much regular use for it. I use it as sort of a professional contacts list and to keep up on updates like job changes with those I know. I think it's professionally more helpful to at least have a profile in place than not as it provides a quick, easy online resume. TIME recently named it one of the 50 best websites in 2010, so that's saying something.

Launched: 2008
I joined: 2010
Users: 35,000+
PROS: Great network for government employees, contractors, etc.; simple, easy-to-use interface.
CONS: Those with no involvement in government will see little use in it; still growing a user base, though it's growing quickly.
Summary: I typically use GovLoop on a weekly basis. GovLoop is intended to get government employees, contractors, educators, and others together and collaborate to make government run better and be more efficient. Of course, if you're outside of government, you probably haven't heard of it. I work with government agencies so I'm engaged with GovLoop but I probably don't find the same kind of value that government workers do. Their weekly email updates are very helpful for keeping users engaged and there's a great community of users exchanging ideas and information.

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