A Social Network/Social Media Snapshot

How much (and how) is each of us involved with social networks and social media?

You can get glib answers from a number of sources–answers that I always find a little suspicious in their specificity and broadness. But those answers are only for some large group as a whole–and, increasingly, I think it’s clear that “large group” is both a virtue and a problem for social networks.

Yes, I think Metcalfe’s Law is fundamentally wrong–and always have. For social networks in particular, there’s strong evidence that there’s a crossover point at which more linkages cease to add value and start to dissipate value and relevance. That’s a much more complicated issue, one that others are looking at, and certainly way too complicated for an ‘umble post.

There is one thing I’m reasonably certain of: If there’s a crossover point, it varies by network and by person. How could it be otherwise? What I might consider a maddening flood of chatter might, for you, be a pleasantly active set of conversations. What I might consider a reasonable flow of activity might seem to you like nobody’s quite bothered to turn out the lights (but the tumbleweeds are rolling across the stage).

Avoiding the Big Picture

So any generalized statements I might make would be even more suspect than usual. Heck, I don’t even think everyone else should be like me–I certainly don’t believe other people are like me.

And yet… I’ve found it interesting and, in some cases, worthwhile to see how others handle their virtual lives and how that correlates to what I understand of their personas. So maybe one or two of you will find this breakdown useful.

Incidentally, I’m talking about both social media and social networks. Here’s the distinction as I see it:

  • A social medium is a publishing medium that encourages direct feedback and interaction–but that typically involves some significant multiple of readers to those providing feedback. I’d put blogs and wikis in this category. (Realistically, lists also belong here. I think Google Reader and Bloglines also do, but aggregators are tricky…)
  • A social network is a conversational medium–one that is fundamentally about interaction, not about messages as such. I’d put Twitter, FriendFeed, LinkedIn and others in this category. Ditto Buzz, if Buzz becomes anything other than a botched experiment in opt-out implementation.
  • Yes, you can use a social network as a social medium (I’d say that’s the case for any Twitterer with more than 10 times as many followers as follows, or any FriendFeed participant who just feeds in stuff from other sources and never participates in threads.) You can use social media as social networks, sort of, but with considerably more difficulty. (Some wikis might be crude social networks, but not most.)

And that’s way too much overhead for a simple exercise (that could yet turn into a piece of a C&I essay, a ways down the road…) (Oh, and speaking of Cites & Insights: It’s neither. It’s an online publication, impure and complex–impure because in its PDF form it’s really a print publication distributed via the web, which is what I’ve said since its founding.)

So here’s where I think I am, today–noting that I’m a fairly extreme introvert, but that I also write a lot.

Where I Am Right Now (I Think)

Here’s where I believe I am with regard to social media and social networks as of today–including what I believe to be the typical time I spend on each, and how I feel about it.

Social Media

  • Walt at Random: My primary social-media outlet. I’ve been here just under five years (really? sometimes it seems less; sometimes much more). My long-term goal has been “roughly two posts a week,” but that was before the automatic post-a-week from my day job. This appears to be post #1,226, so I’m actually averaging just under five posts a week. I’ve had 3,144 comments so far (plus more than 34,500 spam attempts!), which is just about 2.5 comments per post: Terrible for a Name Blogger, not terrible for a liblog. Of course, if I turned off Spam Karma 2 (and extended the time limit for comments, or turned that off as well, and maybe even accepted linkbacks), I’d have more than two dozen comments per post, but the comment facility would also be useless since it would be almost all crap. Let’s see: the blog has a Google Page Rank of five, which is neither strong nor weak. Checking Technorati, I see an Authority of 495 (wow: that’s a lot higher than I expected–but I no longer have much sense of what Technorati Authority actually means); Popurious says I have an Alexa rank of around 2.26 million and some 30,000 Yahoo BackLinks. Of course, it also says I have zero Bloglines subscribers, where Bloglines shows either 104 or 479 (two different feeds). Feedburner (which I’ve learned never to check on the weekend, as numbers seem to dive, then return) shows 827 subscribers, which is astonishing from my perspective. As to measured traffic–well, it depends on who you believe. I added Google Analytics code to track pages (because that’s what’s used for the new Drupal Library Leadership Network, and I’m a little surprised by the low numbers)–and, after a couple of days, I seem to be showing maybe 100 visits and 130 pageviews per day. But Urchin, which actually analyzes server logs (I believe), shows an average of 1,700 visits and just under 5,000 pageviews a day for the past week. So is the site rarely visited at all, or does it have fairly robust numbers? Obviously, I’d like to believe Urchin…and I really do wonder what’s going on with GA. (Maybe I added the code incorrectly?) All in all, I’d call it moderately successful (decent posting frequency, decent level of conversation, more than adequate readership), but then it’s really secondary to C&I, my primary publishing outlet. How much time to I spend on it? This post will take more than an hour to write (it actually took almost exactly two hours); I’d guess I average 15-30 minutes a day on the whole.
  • C&I Updates is my oldest blog, but has only one purpose, described in its name. (It’s not actually oldest by much: The oldest post appears to be from August 12, 2004.) 99 posts to date, just a little more than one post per month. No comments. 295 Bloglines subscribers, so I’m guessing maybe 400+ overall? No GPR. I probably spend two minutes per month on this one, since I create the issue announcements in Walt at Random, then copy-and-paste the HTML into C&I Updates. For its very specific purpose, it works just fine…but it’s sure not very social.
  • Oh, there’s a “blog” in LISNews too, but that’s almost entirely a mirror of C&I Updates. And LLN Highlights is my “work blog,” just as–until today, when I finished moving the last article to the Drupal LLN–the MediaWiki LLN was my “work wiki.”
  • What else? I’ve contributed (rarely) to Library Success Wiki. I’ve contributed (even more rarely!) to Wikipedia. I’m on some unknown but small number of lists–PubLib, Web4Lib, LITA-L, JESSE, and probably a couple of others. Other than issue announcements on the first two, I’m mostly a lurker on these.
  • As for aggregators, I’m still using Bloglines and now find that I have even less desire to turn over more of my virtual life to Google tools. As of today, I see 510 feeds in all, of which roughly 470 are library-related. I probably spend 30 to 45 minutes a day going through the aggregator and reading posts as needed, also tagging some in delicious. (My use of delicious doesn’t qualify as social use.) Part of that time is work time. So I read a lot of blogs and comment whenever I think it’s appropriate–I’d guess maybe 2-4 comments a week?

I think that’s it for social media. By and large, I’m OK with the time involved, and I know I get a lot out of the blogs I read. I’d like to think this blog contributes something; I’m certain C&I does.

Social Networks

Here, things get more confusing. Here’s what I believe to be the case–but, just as I’m a permanent ghost in Second Life (you can’t actually delete your account) and probably have a ghost account in Orkut and Ning, I may be a ghost in several other venues…and some people would consider my presence in one other network essentially ghostly.

I’ve almost always used my full name (as one word) for all social networks, and I’ll probably keep it that way.

  • Twitter: I’m not there now. I was once upon a time, but it didn’t work, for me, for then. I might be back: Anyone who says “Walt Crawford thinks Twitter is useless” has a reading comprehension problem.
  • LinkedIn: I’m there–sort of. Says here I have 140 connections and one recommendation. I’ve treated it as a passive involvement–if people ask me to join their network and I have some vague idea of who they are, I’ll usually accept. LinkedIn didn’t work at all for me when I was looking for a new job, but I wasn’t using it properly (I guess). Best guess: I spend five minutes a week on LinkedIn matters, and that may be too high.
  • FaceBook: Sure, I’m there. “Isn’t everybody?” is still grossly off the mark, but the behemoth of social networks is about as universal as they get. I probably check FaceBook twice a day, but I rarely have anything to say–my current status is from February 5. “Checking FaceBook” is tricky, because I’ve also been reasonably passive here–that is, if anyone asks me to friend them and I’m vaguely aware of who they are (or they’re a library person), I’ll probably confirm the request. That means I have 215 “friends”–and that’s just nonsense. Since I don’t spend more than about 10 minutes on FaceBook at a time, I just glance at the first page of Home, then check two “Friends” lists (you know, the actual friends among your friends): one family list (currently eight people) and one “libclose” list (currently 19 people). Those lists, I actually check. Oh, I’m apparently also one of 7,842 members of ALA Members and 10.747 members of Library 2.0 Interest Group: I never check those at all. I never, ever, ever respond to games, suggestions, applications…that “let us bug all your contacts” message always stops me cold. I’m pretty sure my FaceBook network is too big for me to handle, possibly because it’s symmetrical.
  • FriendFeed: I spend way too much time here–probably 15 minutes in the morning, but probably over an hour in total during the day–but I also find this one valuable and workable. Let’s see: I currently subscribe to 101 folks, and 157 people subscribe to me. I’m in three groups: LSW (427 people), Librariology (?) (268 people) and LITA & Bigwig (121 people). I’ve made 2,599 comments; I feed in titles of blog posts but nothing else (as far as I know); I offer direct comments once in a while (usually to deafening silence), but mostly take part in existing conversations. I like FriendFeed a lot, but I can’t have it “unpaused” and I can’t have it running if I’m trying to write, to think clearly, to read…but that’s true of any online medium. (Yes, I always run FriendFeed paused: it’s easy to hit Home if I want to refresh it. The “running” version just makes me crazy.) So “I spend way too much time here” has to be balanced against “I find this one valuable and workable”–which I do. It would take a lot to get me to leave FF; it’s a source of valuable pointers, even more valuable ideas, some inspiration and some virtual friendships.
  • Meebo: I probably still have an account in the LSW room, but haven’t actually been there in a long time. When it’s active, it’s just too real-time for my asynchronous/introverted nature… (Another way of saying: I realized I was spending as much as an hour at a time there, and that I was getting less done elsewhere. Maybe making the wrong choices, I had to let Meebo go.)
  • ALA Connect: I joined early on (I think). It seems like a great idea. In practice, I might touch base here once or twice a month. I’m not sure what the problem is, and I’m willing to believe I’m using it wrong.

I think that’s it…and even looking at that short list (explained in an absurd 2,000 words), I’m getting tired. (If I’ve left things out, maybe someone will remind me…)

For me, that’s just about as much virtual interaction as I can deal with. But that’s me. It’s partly my lack of multitasking competence (I really can’t write well or read deeply with social stuff going on). It’s partly that I really sort of like being truly offline most of the time.

Note again that I’m not offering advice. This is just my own snapshot–partly because others might find it amusing, partly so I can check back in a few months or years and see what’s changed.

5 Responses to “A Social Network/Social Media Snapshot”

  1. Bob Watson says:

    I think the critical issue is “attention” … getting it and having enough left over to understand what’s being communicated.

    For some, “attention” is pretty much brain-stem stuff: “Here I am!” responses to “Here _I_ am!” That can be spread around pretty wide w/o much fall-off in quality.

    It’s when your “attention needs” actually require some thought that things get dicey.

  2. laura says:

    I’m curious about why you say you spend “too much time” on FriendFeed or wherever. You say that the experience is valuable to you, but you seem wary of it. Is it that it’s not as valuable (or doesn’t seem as serious) as other ways you might be spending time? I don’t mean this to be challenging — I’m genuinely interested in people’s perceptions of their time and how they pass it.

  3. walt says:

    Bob: Very good points. There’s a whole cluster of “attention” things going on. In my case, paying close attention to one thing at a time seems critical to getting good work done…and there are more than a few studies suggesting I’m not alone.

    Laura: Partly just a way of saying it–but also, yes, I am wary of it, because time spent on FF is time not spent analyzing, synthesizing, reading, writing, thinking, meditating, going out for walks… And, for me, the rewards start to taper off past a certain point, after which it really does feel like a poor use of my time. It’s a constant balancing act. Meebo eventually failed; Ning failed almost immediately; so far, FF usually passes. And it’s only my own perception and balance; I don’t expect it to be anybody else’s. Or, to address the relative value: Up to a point, it’s a great use of time; past that point, it’s a great waste of time. That point is constantly fluctuating.

  4. laura says:

    Ah — you have actual activities you want to be doing. I mostly don’t, or don’t on most days, or I am doing things that work well in tandem with FriendFeed. If I were actually doing serious work any more, I’d probably feel similarly.

  5. walt says:

    Laura: Indeed. I’m semi-retired. The roughly-half-time I spend on Library Leadership Network is fairly well focused: finding possible material, reviewing existing articles, writing and editing new articles and revising existing ones.

    Also, I’m not much of a multitasker–when I used to have the LSW Meebo room open for an hour while I was “doing other stuff,” none of the other stuff got done, or got done very badly. If I was in a position where I needed to be at the computer but didn’t have compelling stuff to do that deserved my full attention, I’d spend more time on FriendFeed…but when I’m not actually focused on FriendFeed or writing or something else, the computer’s not on.