Over the last couple of years i’ve tried to rationalise the way I use various social media sites, and I realised that how I use a service has evolved over time.
I think flickr was the first social network (of sorts) that I signed up to, in 2005. It was the instagram of it’s day, but with an important difference in that people uploaded whole galleries at a time. It made a real feature of the use of tags, so that you could follow an event, or add contacts and follow their streams. I even signed up for a pro account to allow me to create more galleries. I’d also use it as a blog/ diary – frequently posting pictures of the coffee or beer I was drinking (like I say – the instagram of it’s time). I kept twitter for personal/ creative use, rather than posting family pics, baby photos etc., but the fact that it had a permissions system meant that I could restrict content to people marked as friends if I wanted to. I’m not really using flickr now, and am shortly to let my pro membership expire – it doesn’t offer me enough as a paid service, it’s hardly changed over the last few years, it feels clunky to use. Also, alarmingly it also seems to be full of really good photographers, which doesn’t fit in with my desire to post grainy camera phone pics of my food, like I now do on instagram.
I also dived into facebook in 2005 (I think), and pre-twitter, most of my friends were from the web industry, and I used it mostly like I do with twitter now, for joining in conversations mainly about building web things. As it became more mainstream, I started using it to keep in contact with old friends and current non-techie friends, and it became a strange mix. I was also getting friend requests from people i’d never met, and as facebook became more.. err… social, I started to trim my contacts down to only people I had met in real life. When twitter took off, many people had their twitter and facebook status updates synchronised, and this started to drive me mad, seeing the same things over and over, so one night I deleted pretty much all my web industry friends (all of them were on twitter anyway), stopped posting anything techie to my status updates and embraced it as a way of keeping up with non-techie/ web industry friends (old and current) and family.
My twitter use hasn’t evolved that much – I post less pictures of my food and coffee than I once did (as i’ve already mentioned, I have instagram for that now), but due to it only having basic privacy settings, I tend not to post any family pictures, and am pretty guarded about posting anything personal. It’s mostly for technical discussion, but is also social, as of course some of my web industry friends have become good friends out of work (but still tend to talk shop down the pub). The thing I still really hate about twitter is that there is no native “mute” function (although it exists in some twitter clients), which means that I tend to unfollow people if they get a bit noisy tweeting from a conference or something, then by the time you go back to follow them again, they’ve been offended and decided to unfollow you back! I have to say facebook is much better for dealing with this kind of thing – you can anonymously mute people, and it’s much easier to group people and select who sees what. Twitter has lists, and i’ve tried grouping people into lists, so I can choose to only see tweets from certain groups of people, but it has no prominence as a feature in the native twitter UI, and people feel sidelined if they are only on a list and not on your main timeline.
I was late to the party on this, only starting to actively use it in the last few months, but just like flickr back in 2005, I use it to explore my creative side (mediocre pictures of clouds, coffee and food), and as a kind of diary, to remind myself what I was up to, and where I had been. Instagram public profiles have just arrived, and this has made me feel unsure about how I want to use instagram. Even though initially my pictures were set to public, it still felt like a fairly private personal thing, that I just shared with a few friends and web industry aquaintances, so i’ve set it to private for the time being. I don’t really want or need to showcase my instagram pictures to the general public, but occasionally I will post them over to facebook or twitter. So not sure which way i’ll go on that – if I do choose to make it public, i’ll be less likely to post any family or personal stuff, and there’s only so many cloud pictures my instagram followers can take!
Chris Shiflett has suggested a blog revival, and i’m having one of those days, trapped between sorting out domestic chores and procrastination, and not being entirely productive, so what better time to blog than right now!
One of the current topics being discussed is how twitter have asked developers to stop creating new twitter clients (for the non-technical a “twitter client” is a program or “app” such as tweetdeck that lets you use twitter on your computer or phone without visiting the twitter website). Apart from being an annoyance to people who want to create new clients, many developers including myself are starting to read between the lines, that this is a sign of the corporate machinery clanking into action to control how twitter is used, so they can more efficiently monetise it.
I think this is kind of inevitable – i’ve never seen a service adopted by the masses so quickly, and most long term users will remember when twitter struggled to scale as it suddenly became a network of multi-millions rather than a few hundred or a few thousand.Any social network system like this needs a critical mass of users to make it useful – but looking at my own needs, that critical mass consists of a couple of hundred of people who are mostly friends and colleagues in the web/ digital media industries. I don’t use the “trending” stuff and i’m not interested in following celebrities, so a critical mass for me would be for all or most of those people to adopt another system. Yesterday there were mumblings about identi.ca, and sure enough you’ll see that i’ve reserved my username (after some signup confusion and accidentally signing up to a mailing list instead).
Identi.ca is an open source solution and I look forward to seeing what develops with it, but I can’t help feeling that the real solution (especially for the technically inclined) is a decentralised system, just like blogs have always been – you host your blog either on your own site, or using a service such as blogger, and people consume them directly or via RSS readers. This is another example of geek-led innovation – the geeks were doing it first, the mainstream followed later.
I’ve had a quick look around for a decentralised micro-blog system, and it seems there are a few already out there, but before I look closer to see if any of them would fit my needs, here’s how I envisage it working:-
- You self-host a micro-blog on your site, it’s just like a blog, but each post has a 140 character limit
- The micro-blog has an RSS feed, a variant that can optionally include extra info such as “in reply to” and “location”
- You use a self-hosted micro-blog aggregator to follow other people’s micro-blogs (this could of course include a twitter stream, using RSS not their restrictive API)
- The aggregator could be on your site, or even running locally on your machine, and of course you could build ANY DAMN CLIENT YOU LIKE to view, interact with, and post to your micro-blog
- You could hook into most of the existing services for things like link shortening, image hosting etc.
- Private messaging would need some thought, but it’s essentially like having a contact form on your website (and the same spam considerations).
- Popularity contest “follower” stats would be optional – it would actually be pretty difficult to work out how many people are following you, other than analysing RSS stats, which can be misleading.
- Global search would be tricky without a central database, but I rarely use that.
- No central point of failure means the platform would be very resilient, and there would be no massive server-farm or staff to fund.
- No owner means the users run it, people may develop services around it to make money, but there would be no central owner
- The core tech should be really, really simple – the basic service should need no integration with services or API’s, or software installation requirements which may scare people off.
So, once the geeks have invented the platform, there would be a similar barrier of entry to participating as there is to starting a blog – you would either need to install it, roll your own, or sign up with one of the hosted services I can imagine popping up a few months later. Therefore mainstream adoption would be much, much slower and because of the way I want to use a service like this, that isn’t a bad thing.
Looking at my twitter profile, I currently follow 372 people, a number that i’d like to get down, but social etiquette dictates that I only unfollow people if they get ridiculously noisy or off-topic. I bet if I analysed how many people I regularly interact with or find unmissably interesting I would get that number down to less than 100. If I ever get round to building it, I wonder if I could persuade 100 geeks to try it? Of course as mentioned earlier, I could build an aggregator to follow peoples twitter streams via RSS, so I don’t necessarily have to have other people adopt the platform immediately, so maybe that’s where I will start – I wonder if scraping RSS feeds counts as use of the twitter API?
(this is all a bit tongue in cheek, don’t take too seriously!)
- Tweeting a link to anything that begins with “x ways to..”
- Posting any bit.ly link without at least a vague explanation of what i’m going to get if I click it.
- Posting the same thing more than once (intentionally).
- Mentioning how many “followers” you’ve got. Have you actually checked what percentage are spam followers? Have you noticed that twitter acounts with lots of followers attract spam followers exponentially? “Ooh – i’ve got loads of spam in my email today, I must be popular!”
- Tweeting everything you hear/ see at a conference i’m not at/ interested in (in reality this is probably temporary, so i’ll likely just move you to the “noisy” group in tweetdeck for a bit)
- You are/ become a popular celebrity with a gazillion followers. Unless I feel like i’m having a conversation with you, or you are incredibly funny like @davegorman you are out.
- You are really, really noisy (see note about noisy group in tweetdeck)
I’m pleased to say i’ve achieved another of my 2009 goals, by launching the (unfinished) new version of one of my personal projects Too Old To Skate. The main site is now running php/codeigniter based sweetcron, which is used to pull content in from the original wordpress, flickr, delicious, twitter, vimeo and a friends blogger based site. I have plenty more planned for the site, but little to no time to do it, so I thought i’d upload the site unfinished in the meantime to allow myself to do incremental updates, rather than be embarrased by a holding page.
Amongst the plans are:-
- bring in the content (articles and photo galleries) from the now defunct plone(2) based DFR Skate zine – i’m thinking some sort of PHP/ codeigniter* front-end sucking in content (as XML/JSON or even plain HTML) from a Plone 3 site acting as a content server. Doing something like this with Plone has been on my mind for years! Maybe I should stick this in as a 2010 goal. Alternatively it may just end up as a skinned Plone 3 site on another subdomain – either would be good.
- Skin the blog to fit in with the main site.
- Other awesomeness – this is a non-commercial personal project and therefore my playground 😉
*Having now played with both codeigniter and cakephp, I think I prefer cake. However as sweetcron is codeigniter based it would be plain silly to be using cake on the same project.