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Diary

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.

Categories
Diary Media Ponderings Technology

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.

Twitter is becoming Facebook!

And Facebook is becoming Twitter. Dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!

Ahem.

Just thought this new tweet message was interesting. Don’t know if I like it or not.

screenshot

Web presence, branding, and managing perceptions

Facebook users are now, as of 12:01 this morning, able to pick usernames, thus creating easy-to-remember links to their Profiles. (More information here.)

For some, picking a username was easy. I was not one of those people. I went back and forth up to the last minute between my real name and the online nick I’ve had since I first joined AOL in the early 90s.

Here’s why the choice wasn’t obvious.

Differences Among Social Networks

A lot of people treat all their online profiles the same way. They put the same information in every profile and link all their profiles to each other. In this post I’m dealing with social networking sites, but many people do this for all sites they frequent, whether there are communities built around them or not.

I have always viewed my online interactions on a community basis. The people I interact with on one site are not necessarily the people I interact with on another. I don’t see the point in having the same people on every single online application. Joining people in an online world is akin to being in a club–we’re all there because we share a certain interest, and we’ve chosen these means to explore that interest. A web application’s features ultimately determine what community it’s best for, through social evolution. Similarly, the content I publish is geared towards the community where I’m posting it.

Twitter, for example, is a microblog and conversation and news source and directory and more. It’s a way to track what’s interesting to people in the fields I’m interested in, and it’s also a way for me to drive my own creativity by getting random thoughts out of my head and into the world. I don’t simply follow everyone I know, because not everyone I know uses Twitter the way I use it. Similarly, I will follow and interact with people I don’t know if they are using Twitter the way I use it.

Some people have their Twitter and Facebook accounts linked, and post the same things to both. I tried that at first, but it seemed awkward and foreign, because ultimately I use Facebook and Twitter differently. The things I want my Twitter followers to see are not the same things I want my close friends and family to see–and those are the people I want to have on Facebook.

I don’t use Facebook for networking. I don’t friend everyone who wants to friend me, and I don’t advertise my page. I keep my professional life separate as well; I do not friend employers, past or present.

Facebook, to me, has always been about organizing people I am or have been close to. It’s been a lifesaver, a way to keep track of real life friends who I don’t interact with in other ways on the web. I have old friends from school, distant family members, and work friends there. I also have old online friends there, friends from my IRC or AMRN days who I don’t see often anymore.

The way I behave on Facebook is different from the way I behave elsewhere online. I censor certain things. I keep it fairly clean, and I don’t get deep into issues like politics and religion. On Facebook, I’m managing the perceptions of people who haven’t necessarily followed my blog for years, or who don’t see me every day, or who otherwise aren’t at the forefront of my life–but who are still very important to me.

These people are not interested in what I had for lunch, unless I had lunch at a Michelin-star restaurant in another country. These people don’t want to hear me bitch and moan. These people could care less about the minutiae of my day. I keep those things out of my Facebook and on my Twitter and blog where they belong. Instead, I let people know occasionally what’s going on with me, and I read what’s going on with them and comment or Like their updates. It’s a simple interaction, a way to say “Hey, I’m thinking about you” without getting in too deep. The memes, quizzes, and applications like Free Gifts and Flair that get passed around are the same–simple ways to reach out to people I care about and don’t see often, hopefully without overwhelming them.

There’s also a certain level of trust involved with Facebook. I have private contact information there for the use of people I know in real life, and I don’t really care to make my interactions with everyone I know public. Facebook is like a walled garden where I can mingle and observe without worrying too much about the outside world.

A Personal Brand

Since I use Facebook mostly for people I know offline, my real name makes the most sense as a Facebook username. And indeed, this is the reasoning behind my choice. However, there is another factor that weighed on me: branding.

I have not yet decided on a personal brand–a way to market myself once I get going on all the ideas currently stewing on the back burner. I have many options: my real name, the name of my website, any of my online personas, or something completely new.

Using my real name for my Facebook Profile’s username could mean I’ve removed it from the running for a brand. Why? Because, as stated above, I do not use Facebook for networking. I do not necessarily want potential clients, business partners, etc. looking up my profile there–not because they’d be able to see anything (I have strict privacy settings) but because I wouldn’t want to offend any of them by declining their friend requests.

If I had already chosen to use my name as my brand, and I had created a Facebook Page for that purpose, then I could have given that Page my real name. Now I don’t have that option.

It’s Better Than Nothing

Given my consternation over choosing a username, I could have opted to wait, or not to register a username at all. Facebook usernames are permanent, after all. I can never change it. The only way I could get a new username would be to create a completely different account.

It’s a sobering fact, and one that sparked the unwelcome thought “What if I make my username heathermeadows and then we get divorced?” (A younger me would never have even entertained this notion, because obviously Sean and I are going to be together forever. But being married to Sean has gradually instilled in me not only a rather wicked sense of humor, but also a kind of cold objectivity that comes out when it’s time to make big decisions.) For that reason I briefly pondered getting my maiden name instead–and really, that might have made it easier for old friends to find me.

Regardless, I knew that the longer I waited, the less chance there’d be of getting an optimal username. Plenty of people stayed up late specifically to snag their names. My name is not uncommon, either. If I wanted my typical online name I could probably have waited, since it’s unique to me…but if I wanted my real name I had to act immediately.

In the end, I decided to just go with my gut. I sat at facebook.com/username and waited for the countdown to finish. At magic time, a blue Continue button appeared. I hit it, reflexively tagged the radio button next to Facebook’s suggestion of my real name, then hit Confirm.

It was over, just like that.

Moving Forward

The web and our use of it are always evolving. It’s possible that in the future I will want to use Facebook differently than I do today. I’ve already made exceptions to my standard rules by friending a couple of local people who I’ve never actually met.

It’s also possible that Facebook will disappear and all of this will be moot.

But no matter what happens online, my name will always be my name. So despite the above concerns, I think it’s safe to say I made the correct long-term choice.