Dealing with social media addiction

The internet is silting up with ego-driven dross. It’s little wonder that the anti-network-neutrality brigade would like to turn it into freeways and side streets, depending on willingness to pay. And, equally, it’s no wonder that the network neutrality supporters want everything to stay the same and for the pipes to be fattened ad infinitum.

With limitless capacity and fixed price access, anyone who can afford a few dollars a month is able to promulgate whatever they want out to an unsuspecting world. They could do it with blogs, podcasts, videocasts, social networking sites, Second Life or Twitter.

It doesn’t matter that most of the utterances are ignored by most of the world. For most people the joy lies, I suspect, in the uttering. It’s like vanity publishing. Everyone has a story and this is a way to get it out.

Most people like making connections and ‘friendships’. By participating in a social site like Twitter, they can delude themselves about their connectedness. Enough of the digital glitterati hang out there to make it worth dropping by and picking up what these A-listers are up to. Even if it is as boring as ‘stuck in traffic on 101’, or whatever.

If we were able to really restrict our appetite for social media consumption to our genuine friends and work colleagues, for example, then we’d probably derive a lot of value from it. I wouldn’t mind knowing what my four analyst colleagues at Freeform Dynamics were up to at any time although I really wouldn’t welcome a continous stream of the stuff.

And this is the issue really. If you get involved in any big way with blogs, podcasts, videocasts and social sites, it can be like a drug. But this drug doesn’t so much mess with your head as mess with your time. "I’ll just see what [name your own guru] is up to at the moment" and that’s another chunk of your life thrown away, never to be recovered. It’s even worse with videos, which are becoming all the rage in Twitterati circles. A bit of puff and a tiny URL and, if you’re not careful, you end up watching some nonentity on an ego trip.

I think we ought to start accounting for our time in the same way that lawyers do. And then measure the value extracted from each social media engagement. Did it entertain? Did it educate? Did it inform? Choose your own criteria and monitor your online activity. If you’re dissatisfied with the outcome, ask yourself what else you would have spent that time doing. If the answer to that is ‘something better’ then you have a problem. Only by recognising the consequences of the addiction can you form your strategy for beating it.

PS For social accounting purposes, that probably took you 135 seconds to read.

Social media at a glance (well 57 readable pages anyway)

Lee Hopkins and Trevor Cook have written the second edition of their Social Media eBook. If you feel uncertain about the SM (no, not that one!) world, then this will help. It’s a 57-page pdf but it’s an easy and informative read.

Don’t be put off by its Australianness or its datedness in the early parts, it probably needs a slight update when it comes to mentions of things like Writely, which was renamed last October. The value of this .pdf eBook is that it’s running you through the principles of the new web world.

The wiki bit is the least insightful by these two excellent writers, but they compensate by examining real projects so you should get an idea of their relevance to you.

Nothing is beyond reach: Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, Second Life … Offhand, I couldn’t think of anything significant that they left out. (The providers of the services that weren’t mentioned will probably disagree. They can chuck in their comments on this blog if they like.)

Take a look. It costs nothing apart from half an hour or so of your time.

Social software myths exploded

People scoff at the "wisdom of crowds" theory, articulated so well by James Surowiecki, probably because they’re mistaking it for the "consensus of crowds" which is a different thing altogether.

JP Rangaswami, with a hat tip to Kathy Sierra, has taken a few common assertions about social software and tells us why they are actually lies. The three are:

Lie 1: Social software causes groupthink and herd behaviour

Lie 2: Social software is full of inaccuracies and downright lies

Lie 3: Social software destroys privacy

To give a flavour, here’s one of the things he said about lie 2:

With MSM on the other hand, the lie is printed and continues to be an
archived lie. And while you may get a retraction or correction, it
tends to appear on page 32 sandwiched between dog shampoo ads and
undertaker recruitment campaigns.

Depending on the social software he’s talking about, that kind of lie can be dealt with in comments (blog and bulletin board) or by editing (wiki). Or, indeed, if it’s a real cause célèbre then the blogosphere can, and will, quickly amplify it.

Anyway, don’t listen to me, go and read the original.

Social and Corporate Computing to join forces?

Rod Boothby tipped me off about BEA‘s moves into the Social Computing space. It is already a well-established provider of deep corporate computing software which is good at joining disparate systems and information sources together. If anyone’s going to be able to have a stab at joining the social computing world to the real computing world, it’s going to be BEA.

I guess BEA could have gone two ways with this: develop some kind of connections to existing blogging platforms and end up on a treadmill of adjustments and upgrades, or do its own thing. It chose the latter. (Or should I say ‘lattr’?)

If its upcoming blog/wiki combo (called Builder) is any good, then it might encourage organisations to sit up and take notice of social software. And make them feel comfortable because BEA will make sure that theirs is tightly integrated to organisational computer systems, giving the ability to surface material from these systems right up to the wiki, for example. Another element, called Runner, will provide access control and audit trails.

What appeals to me about BEA’s move is that it is independent of the traditional application companies who are already beginning to slog it out in this space. It is fundamentally a platform company, although the blog/wiki stuff might bring it into contention with some of the existing social computing companies.

People who’ve lived with blogs/wikis and the liberation they have brought, not to mention the low cost, are probably going to be appalled that ‘their’ world is going to ‘go corporate’. But, just as the PC did all those years ago, it was an inevitable consequence of something proving useful.

Blog comments are not posts

There’s a bit of a fuss going on in US politics. You can read the details at Scott Rosenberg’s Wordyard. The alarming aspect is that Bill Clinton’s ex-lawyer has angrily pointed the finger at bloggers. He can’t (or doesn’t want to) distinguish between bloggers and commenters. Here’s an extract from Scott’s post:

…he cites a list of five examples of "the type of thing the liberal
blog sites have been posting about Joe Lieberman" "emotional
outbursts by these usually anonymous bloggers."

However, every single one of his examples is actually a comment
on someone’s blog …

… They’re not "things" the "liberal blog
sites" have been "posting"; they’re things various random passersby
have posted.