Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Weekly Roundup

News of the Geek
Good Internet Reads
Neat Finds

Social Media Options

Over the long Labor Day weekend, I had an opportunity to spend some time with old friends over some barbecue and wine. As old friends are want to do, we reminisced about old times and our old adventures. It struck me how often social media played into these conversations, one person saying "I remember that LiveJournal post you made about the time you...." or "Your Tweets always make me laugh." We are a group of friends who live within a few miles of each other, have known each other over a decade, and yet we still rely heavily on social media to stay in touch. And there's something kinda wonderful about that. 

It should be no surprise that my friends are not only tech geeks and gamers like me, but they are also all artistic in some way - writing, painting, drawing, photography, etc. Like attracts like, as the old cliche goes. And many of them are also like me, chronic over-sharers with a drive to express themselves. I embrace this aspect of myself by not only maintaining this blog, but also by participating in several forms of social media. On LJ earlier this year, I tried to rally people around coming back to using blogging communities for their main social media over stuff like Facebook. I had a rather successful project running that I called LJ365. I made a pledge to post daily to LJ something that was more than just "OMG it's hot as balls outside" or "I don't know what to make for lunch." I wanted LJ to be like it was before - a place for sharing ideas, communicating, and having actual discussions. 

My plans for LJ365 were thwarted by the repeated DDOS attacks that LJ suffered, and their inability to recover from them. People started leaving LJ for fear that their information would be lost, and I even made a massive back up of my nine-year-old journal on the site. A significant portion of my adulthood is recorded there, and that's not something I'd like to lose. 

I find myself, however, unable to be fully satisfied with my other social media options. Taking a look at a few:
  • Twitter - Twitter is ok for venting, for sharing a link, or for promoting things. It's not good for conversation. It also seems like a lot of people didn't get the memo that posts are limited to 140 characters, and will string together 30 posts to make a point. That's what blogging is for. 
  • Facebook - Yes, it's very cool to hate on FB right now, and why not? They have privacy issues, they have content issues (particularly with groups), and it's so crowded with adds and commercial sites that it's hard to stay in touch with any one at all anymore. I liken Facebook to World of Warcraft. Until WoW came along, MMOs and online gaming (like social networking) were populated mostly by geeks. But once WoW became popular, people who had previously made fun of gamers started playing it. People who had never really played video games before started playing it. And now it's the juggernaut of the MMO world, and it's not even that good. I think that Facebook, like WoW, suffers from the popularity loop - it's popular for being popular. People go there because people go there. Famous for being famous, while being entirely mediocre.
  • Tumblr - What prompted me to start looking at social media with a critical eye was discovering Tumblr. I found the Tumblr blog Sex Is Not The Enemy, a prosex blog that is NSFW like whoa but is interesting to explore. Despite it being interesting, it is like every other Tumblr - a collection of photographs with no real written or creative content. It's simply the rehashing and resharing of things other people created and said. And the comment section? It's just a list of who else "liked" it or reposted it. Rarely have I seen a Tumblr comment that adds value to the conversation. SINTE is also a rarity in that it's a Tumblr with focus. Most Tumblr blogs are collections of random crap people like with no context, commentary, and without adding to the value of the original piece. And what's sad is that Tumblr is wildly popular. For the life of me, I can't understand why. It's frustrating to find a picture of a cool couch on Tumblr, only to follow the links through endless reshares and finding not the place to buy it, but finding the person who first bloody posted it to Tumblr who couldn't be arsed to provide context. It's a site for everyone to have their own personal pic dump and people are eating it up. Blows my mind. 
  • Diaspora - Never heard of it? Neither have most people. Last Summer when the news was exploding every week with news of the latest Facebook privacy issue, a group of plucky and enthusiastic developers popped up and offered us Diaspora, a not-Facebook social media outlet that promised everything we liked about Facebook but without the privacy issues and more freedom to the user. Sounds great, right? Well the problem was that it took them a year to start sending out alpha invites. I got mine on August 24th, well over a year after I stopped caring about Diaspora. Since then Google has popped up with Google+ and from what I've seen of Diaspora there's no way it will be able to compete. Granted, I know this is a labor of love project and that they didn't have Google's resources to make it happen any faster than it did. I'm still curious about where this will go and what they'll do with it, but I'm in no hurry to move all my social networking there. If you're curious about it, you can follow the Diaspora developers on Twitter
So where does that leave us? These days I find myself liking Google+ a great deal, though there are things about it they need to fix, add, and change. If G+ had more blog tools - archiving, labeling, and threaded comments to start - it would be absolutely perfect. It has the privacy that I love about LJ. I doesn't have the character limits that Facebook does. It has an incredible mobile app, and smooth integration with other Google sites. 


That integration, however, doesn't sit well with everyone. Tom Anderson, your friend and mine from MySpace, wrote a great piece about it a few weeks ago
LOL! Just kidding. No one uses MySpace anymore.
In the article he asserts that people will be forced to use G+ because of the share by e-mail feature it has. Right now, I can share anything I post on G+ with people who don't have it through e-mail. If that person uses a Google service, a black strip will appear with a little red number notifier that they have content on G+ that has been shared with them.  Mr. Anderson seems to think this can and will force people to use G+, but I don't think so. I think instead it'll encourage a programmer to create a browser extension that lets you block it. 

While I still miss the old days of LJ's social media glory, I recognize that they just didn't keep up with the social media revolution that was happening all around them. That, on top of their inability to survive DDOS attacks, has really turned people off. And it's a real shame; LJ was a great resource to have meaningful conversations. 

I'm not entirely cynical, however. I honestly do think that social media outlets are starting to get it right, but those same outlets need to listen more to their users, just like Google did with allowing post sharing on its G+ app. Those that create the content know what tools work best for them, and which ones cause problems.