A completely unscientific comparison of my social media sites

Today I posted the same status across three different sites: Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Here’s the status as it appeared on Twitter:

HILARIOUS RIGHT

Anyway. I posted the status at approximately 9am. Here it is, just after 8pm, 11 hours later. How’d this plucky little status do?

  • Twitter: Absolutely no response
  • Tumblr: Absolutely no response
  • Facebook: 7 likes

To be fair, if the status had had anything at all to do with human rights or Welcome to Night Vale it probably would have gotten a couple reblogs on Tumblr. I know the audience there. (Look how many notes this ridiculousness has.)

I’m pleased but not surprised that people on Facebook liked the joke. The people I’m friends with on Facebook are people I actually consider friends, people I’ve known for awhile either online or in person. So there is actually a relationship there.

Twitter, I don’t know. I don’t think many of my followers actually follow me. Even if they did, there are so many other people posting things that are far funnier. I haven’t managed to make many real connections on Twitter, even though I’ve been using it the longest out of all three services. Maybe that’s why? Maybe I sort of learned how social media works from Twitter, but only applied that knowledge to Facebook and now Tumblr.

In any case, it seems like the best way to achieve interaction is to make friends with people (shocking), and I really haven’t done that on Twitter at all. It feels so public, it kind of embarrasses me to try to strike up conversations with people I don’t know. I have started to make friends on Tumblr, which has been a lot of fun. Nothing too serious yet, just reblogging and liking each other’s posts, and a few asks here and there. But it’s nice. I like friends.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use Twitter, and what I even use it for. I’m not sure what I’m going to do, if anything—I do have a couple friends there. But I feel like I spend an awful lot of time on it, and I want to be sure it’s worth it.

A breath of fresh air

I spent this past week in Kentucky with my family, and while there I didn’t check ADN, Twitter, or Google Plus at all. I got on Facebook about three times total, to check private messages and make sure no one had posted anything important to my timeline. The day after the election I tried Facebook again, but a quick scan through the news feed made me wonder why I ever used Facebook to begin with.

I realize a lot of this is just election exhaustion, and that will pass. But I truly enjoyed spending a week not checking social media obsessively. I left my phone in my purse most of the time and didn’t use it for anything but one phone call and maybe three text messages. (I may have also played a turn in chess, but I don’t remember.) I also didn’t unpack my computer right away, and when I did I mostly used it to review Japanese on WaniKani and to watch lectures and do assignments for my Coursera Python class. I also added to my Goals document, which I started working on in October. It’s a simple list of ideas I’ve had that I want to see to fruition.

The rest of my time was spent with family members, talking or playing games or enjoying meals. I got to celebrate Halloween, Connor’s 13th birthday, an early Thanksgiving, and Daphne’s second birthday. I didn’t really go anywhere beyond my parents’ house and my brothers’ houses, but it was relaxing, and I didn’t get too stir-crazy. (When I started feeling antsy, AJ took me to a cool walking trail so I could enjoy the fall leaves. It totally rejuvenated me.)

While I was staying with my parents, I also wrote a few entries in a journal, by hand. It takes a lot longer for me to write by hand than it does for me to type. I found that I was doing more crafting so I wouldn’t write anything poorly. I also found that I had no desire to share the brief brags, complaints, and jokes that I normally would post to social media without hesitation.

I used to despair that all my thoughts were lost to the ether. When social media came around, I thought it was my salvation. Finally there was a way to chronicle everything that went through my head. This was important to me, for some reason. I’ve always wanted other people to understand me, but I’ve rarely felt like anyone does. I suppose I thought the more I shared, the more others would learn about me, and maybe eventually they would come to understand me. (This might be a large reason why I have such a problem with lying or with being misrepresented.)

I’ve gone overboard with sharing here on the blog, and I think my social media participation is probably even worse. It’s so much easier. Just taking a week off from it, I feel very different…like I have so much more time.

I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do. As a professional in the web world, I probably need to maintain a social media presence of some sort. And it would help to stay on the cutting edge with things like ADN. But of all the social media I abstained from this week, the only one I really worry about quitting completely is Facebook, due as I’ve said before to the possibility of losing touch with far-flung friends and family. Maybe I will find a way to limit my participation, perhaps by scheduling a time each week or so to “catch up”. Or maybe I’ll do something else. For right now, I’m putting that decision off, as I don’t really have any desire to get back on social media.

Juggling social media sites

I’ve mentioned before the problems I’ve had with various social media sites. In an attempt to see if I could improve my experience, I started using Google Plus and ADN, but neither of those could replace Twitter or Facebook…so for the past few weeks I have been using four social media sites instead of two.

This is a huge time suck, and I’m not sure I’m really adding much value to my life.

I’ve mainly found Google Plus to be a decent place for news links, but I’m flummoxed by the lack of a “send to Instapaper” button. I despise having to open the link in Safari, copy it there, and then paste it into Instapaper. There are also occasionally some interesting discussions on Google Plus, but I don’t have enough people in my Circles for this to be a frequent occurrence.

ADN is a different animal. There are plenty of interesting people there, but a lot of the ones I’ve interacted with seem to have a lot more time to dedicate to ADN than I do. I tend to dip in and out; they’re there for longer blocks of time, holding up numerous conversation threads with sometimes dozens of people at once. ADN sort of feels like a microcosm of a party, where the extraverts are flitting around happily and I, the introvert, am observing, trying to interact, feeling overwhelmed, and ducking out early. I often feel like I’m missing everything, that I am not “cool” enough for ADN. Sometimes I attempt to broach what I consider to be important topics there, only to be either ignored entirely, or briefly engaged and then ignored. I guess I wouldn’t say that I have made any real friends on ADN. There are a few people I enjoy chatting with, to be sure, but for the most part it just feels really hard to interact on ADN.

I do try to keep in mind that it took me many years to get Twitter and Facebook curated such that I was comfortable with them. At first I would just follow anyone on Twitter who seemed interesting, but after awhile I would feel left out because these interesting people weren’t following me or talking to me. Eventually I learned to follow people who would actually interact with me, which made the experience much better. I also learned to temper my expectations, so I could follow bigger accounts and know that they have so much interaction to deal with, there’s no way they could respond to everything people said to them. I kept my following list as small as possible, so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing the party. I have a sort of balance on Twitter that gives me information and interaction. I have to remember how long it took me to get there.

Facebook is a different animal. I use it to keep track of actual friends: people from school, people from IRC, people from the AMRN, people from work, and family members. These are people I actually want to keep up with, not just random acquaintances. I use Facebook as the contact list for my personal life, essentially, which is why it is always distressing when someone decides to close their account, and why I have so much trouble with the idea of closing mine. The archivist in me loves that I can collect information about myself and my friends all in one place, and this built-in need usually wins out over my privacy concerns. I realize this is probably bad, but I don’t know what else to do. There is literally nothing else out there that can replicate what Facebook does for me.

I’m starting to wonder, though, if there isn’t a way I could try and quantify the benefits of the various social media platforms vs. the drawbacks. As I said, checking these four services takes time. What might I be doing with that time otherwise? Couldn’t I use my blog to chronicle my life, rather than depending on Facebook? Couldn’t I create an address book of the people I care about and contact them in other ways? Couldn’t I use RSS feeds to read news? Would these things save time? Would they free my mind for creative endeavors?

I have a few options for evaluating my social media use. I could stop completely for a given amount of time and see what happens. I could limit my use to a certain amount of time per day and see what happens. I could continue as normal, but track my time on social media the same way someone evaluating their diet would track food. That last would be the hardest to implement, but it might provide the best data.

Ultimately, I think social media has become habitual for me, a way of having something to do when I’m not sure what to do next. (Chores are also like this for me.) It may be distracting me from achieving goals, because working towards something is harder than taking a routine action. To achieve a goal you have to come up with a plan, and you have to break it up into steps, and you have to constantly figure out what the next step is. With habits, you just do it. No wonder habits are so hard to break. You feel like you’ve accomplished something, even if you haven’t.

Maybe instead of focusing on social media, I should focus on my goals. As I invest more time into achieving goals, the unimportant stuff will start to fall away naturally.

Regardless of how I change my social media habits, I do know this: things can’t stay the way they are now.

Social media quandary

Some time ago, I reached a point of crisis with Facebook. I was (and am) terribly unhappy with the company’s lack of respect for its users. Facebook users are not the customer; they’re the product. Mark Zuckerberg has little respect for privacy and seems only interested in pleasing advertisers. While I realize Facebook needs to make money, I don’t think that should happen at the cost of people’s feeling of personal security.

However, despite that huge issue, I continue to use Facebook, because that’s where everyone is. Or, more specifically, that’s where a majority of my far-flung real life friends are. Facebook makes it simple for me to keep up with people I otherwise wouldn’t hear from for months, years, or at all. I have always been terrible with keeping up with people myself, so this has been a godsend. And through Facebook I have developed deeper friendships with people who were once simple acquaintances. I’ve planned travel. I’ve shared and received affirmations and support. Facebook is where I go for community. It’s not a paradigm that can be replicated.

Twitter, I’ve come to discover over the past few days of trying very hard not to use it, is also an non-replicable paradigm.

I never thought I would have to try and find an experience to replace what I have on Twitter. Unlike Facebook, where I reveal information only behind tiered walls of (questionable) privacy, my tweets have always been public. Anyone is welcome to them. I have very few real followers, but I have over the years since I joined in February of 2007 curated a following list of interesting, funny people and accounts, one that enriches my life with daily musings, links to important news articles, beautiful photos, and more. I’ve also enjoyed sharing my own thoughts and occasionally receiving feedback.

As Twitter works toward profitability, things keep changing. I had always believed Twitter was more interested in its users than Facebook was, that Twitter would ultimately have its users’ backs. But one thing always bothered me: Why, if Twitter still has all my tweets as it claims, won’t it let me have them?

Unhappy that my tweets were seemingly going into a void from which they could never be recovered, I recently set up a rule with If This Then That that saves any tweet I post into a text file on Dropbox. Doing that, I was confident that at least going forward I would have access to my own content.

But then Twitter changed its API terms for developers, directly affecting my solution. IFTTT sent me an email about it, directing me to the Developer Rules of the Road and specifically this paragraph under “Twitter Content”:

You may export or extract non-programmatic, GUI-driven Twitter Content as a PDF or spreadsheet by using “save as” or similar functionality. Exporting Twitter Content to a datastore as a service or other cloud based service, however, is not permitted.

This rather creepily makes it sound like my content, the stuff I write, belongs to Twitter, not me. And as the content belongs to Twitter, I apparently have no right to use a process to save it. I would have to manually copy and paste from the GUI, if I’m reading this correctly. They know no one’s going to actually do that.

I realize this section exists to stop people from cross-posting their tweets to other services (which also seems draconian, no matter how annoying I find cross-posted content), but it effectively locks me out of my own writing, again. Let’s say I instead decide to post on some other service that allows me full access to my content, and then cross-post to Twitter. I could save the original posts I write that way, but not replies. I also wouldn’t be able to save retweets, which, while secondary, provide context to what I’m writing and insight into what I was thinking about while writing.

When I read the email from IFTTT on Thursday, I tweeted a little about it with shock and dismay, and then stopped tweeting altogether. It’s been about three days…but it feels more like a month.

In the meantime, I did what I could to get the content I enjoy on Twitter elsewhere. I went over to Google+ and added everyone I could find. I even pulled in news organizations I’m interested in and removed them from Facebook–but it looks like most of them post more to Facebook than Google+. Similarly, most of the people I followed on Google+ don’t post there much. The bulk of content is back on Twitter.

I’ve also been using App.net Alpha and the iOS app Spoonbill to participate in the new App.net-powered community that I’ll just refer to as ADN for simplicity’s sake. (App.net has the capability to support multiple communities, though I’m not sure that’s been done yet.) While that community is interesting, it’s sort of weird. (One conversation I witnessed, Person A: “Don’t you have a personal lawyer?” Person B: “Of course; I have several.”) There are a few people who, like me, talk about their lives, but for the most part I see people talking about tech trends, social media theory, marketing, and occasionally politics. It’s good content, but it’s not everything I want. Not by a long shot. There’s no @Lileks there. Little to nothing about journalism, photography, design, language, culture, or travel. @Horse_ebooks is there, but I hate @Horse_ebooks. The people I actually know who have signed up haven’t posted much of anything. It feels like a large number of the active people on ADN live in the Bay Area, adding to the sort of tech elitist ambiance. I have had very few conversations there.

So no, ADN can’t replace Twitter for me, at least not now. There isn’t enough adoption, I suppose. I even sort of feel weird posting there, like I’m spamming up a special place with my worthless thoughts. Rather the opposite of how I assumed I would feel about using a paid service that puts the users first.

ADN can’t do it, Google+ can’t do it, and I refuse to change the way I use Facebook (especially since that would give Facebook more data about me). So it would appear that I have no choice but to use Twitter, at least in terms of reading.

I’ve heard rumors that Twitter will start allowing users to download their tweets by the end of the year. But rumors like that have existed for awhile. I’ll believe it when I see it.

For now, I’ll probably keep reading Twitter. But I’m not sure I’ll be actually posting much there.

Idea: Weekly roundups for social media autoposting

A lot of location-based/check-in apps have an option to automatically post your latest activity to a social network. This is really fun, but after awhile, especially if you’re using the application a lot, people can get burned out on all the posts. They might, depending on their social networking tool, block those posts, or even block you!

Another problem is that there is no real meaning to this information. Sure, it’s nice to let people know what spots you like, but by posting each individual check-in, you’re putting the onus of aggregating that information to find the meaning on yourself and your friends. Nobody’s going to go back and read all your check-ins to try to come up with a conclusion, and you’re not likely to do it either.

A third problem, which I mentioned in my post about using iPhones as travel tools, is safety and privacy. Simply put, it can be unsafe to constantly broadcast your location or other information to the world.

To deal with these issues, I suggest services offer a “weekly roundup” option. Instead of posting to social networks multiple times a day, services would do one post a week. That post would include a link to a webpage with that user’s activities for the whole week. For example, Gowalla’s weekly roundup on Twitter might look like this:

@cosleia went to Teresa’s Mexican Restaurant and 15 other places this week! Click here for roundup: http://bit.ly/link

Already, by having one post a week, the deluge of information is dammed up and released as a very manageable stream. And roundups would provide much-needed context, as well. For example, there could be various messages for different situations; if a person went to the same place several times, the message could say:

@cosleia went to Teresa’s Mexican Restaurant five times this week! See where else she went: http://bit.ly/link

And then I would know that I need to stop eating out so much ;)

Similarly, with RunKeeper, a weekly roundup could let people know how many times I ran that week, how far I went, how many calories I burned, what my best time was that week, or any number of things. People who saw the post would be able to tell if I’d improved over the course of the week, and if so, how.

We’re emerging into an age where information on almost anything and anyone is constantly available…but once the initial novelty has worn off, what’s the use of all that data? Putting a week’s worth of data together would provide context for both the viewer and the user of the app.

And finally, weekly roundups would eliminate the danger of posting your exact location in real time. You’d still be sharing your favorite places with your friends, but in a less immediate way.

Ultimately, it’s great that we have the ability to store and broadcast so much data. But if we don’t turn that data into something useful, it’s pretty pointless. Weekly roundups would be a great first step towards generating real, meaningful information from all that data.

Perhaps eventually apps could offer a special section on their sites where users could view their activity trends for weeks, months, or years at a time. It would be like Mint.com for activities! In the case of location-based apps, this part would probably need to be private, so it wouldn’t be easy for someone else to track where the user is likely to be at any given time.

Here’s hoping app creators start thinking about how user data can be utilized–not just for advertising revenue, but for the user’s own benefit.