in blogging, iOS, social networks, tech

Year of Social

The season is changing and here, in Boulder, Colorado, it means colder nights and shorter days. It’s time for animals to wrap up their food gathering operations and finish working on cozy homes for the all too familiar winter.

 

This hibernation is also coming¬†to a very important aspect of my life. Last year, at about the same time, I dumped Facebook in favor of Twitter. I had been inactive on the micro blog since long and returned to it, only to discover so many new and amazing connections and services. I found people worth talking to and got help where I needed it. I also posted a lot on this blog here, taking it through many iterations, themes and (free) hosting providers. Now I’ve moved it to a paid provider – NearlyFreeSpeech in order to maintain a better uptime ratio.

Over the past year, a change also happened in that I changed from a twitter totting, RSS reading student to a twitter totting, RSS reading employee in a great company. Today, at the end of this inadvertent year of social for me, I am a member of the vibrant but not diverse community at app.net and the ghost town – g+; I follow hundreds more people on twitter and my Facebook friends simply lament my lack of presence there. But the wheel is turning and I feel like I’m going back to where I was before this year of social started. I’ve discovered so much to read and to consume that my attention is drawn to those feeds now. I also believe less now in flooding my friends on all those social networks with interesting links that I discover because I was never a fan of forwarded emails anyways and I sincerely believe that today, if someone wants to discover something on the Internet, they will.
On interesting links
I never really understood the value of forwarded emails. Which is why when people started flooding my social networks with interesting stuff that I could just go and discover on my own, I went on a blocking/de-friending spree with those kind folk. This is why, when I became a member of the famous Hacker News, I loved the conversation but hated the culture. There were people posting links to their own blogs and so I did that too. There were those who posted just to get the conversation flowing and so I talked to them. There were also those who posted popular links to placed like TechCrunch and GigaOm, just to gain points. Them, I ignored a lot. There’s no need of posting links about the latest Apple event to a bunch of hackers who will anyways go to their RSS feeds or their news sources and will find out about that event on their own.

 

I do not want to read scathing articles by the likes of Adrian Chen. I want to read original thought and real news reports. That’s why I dropped Hacker News like a hot spud and instead, adopted LaunchTicker.
On the Year of Social
I’d talk about how¬†social media became my friend, my mentor, my source of information and problem solving and finally, how platforms became a disillusionment. But the truth is, with ever step, I’ve known that there is no free lunch and all of these platforms really just want to use our information. Facebook is no longer a way to connect with friends because it’s so full of links and games that I rarely see a status of a friend. I’d really just like a way to see only status messages on Facebook.

 

Twitter, with its anti-people policies, has lost my vote. They should have gone to anyone but the advertisers for funding.

 

Even App.net, the newly minted social platform, though independent of advertisers and Zuckerberg, is now showing me link spam in the global feed of its Alpha.

 

There are still a lot of good links out there and people are talking about their own ideas, instead of just quoting Engadget, but that percentage is very low.

 

So where does that leave me? Well, before I unknowingly started this experiment called the Year of Social, I was just consuming on Google Reader. I had a steady flow of news feeds that told me what was going on and I was just publishing my views on my blog. Now, I’m pretty much back to square 1+1. I am back to reading all those news feeds plus some new blogs that I’ve discovered. These are great reads that I call my “Idea Blogs” and which give me a crispy view of the opinions of people. Mix this with raw facts from sources like LaunchTicker and I have a setup that leaves very less to be desired. Also, I’ve changed my RSS reader from Google Reader to Shaun Inman’s Fever. It’s just better at handling all the noise that fills the Internet today.
On Link Blogs
A lot of people who I follow blog simply because they want to. That attitude gives them a lot flexibility in terms of the way they handle information. Some of them, while recommending links to their readers, just put everything in a list and expect the reader to show interest. Others push the link out to their RSS feeds, often with some explanation of why those links are valuable to them. I find this kind of link blogging to be the right step forward, although the ideology is pretty old.

 

What other solutions exist? Well, one can star things is Google Reader, they can share stuff on social networks or they can use specific services like Pocket or Readingly to suggest links to people. Notice that I didn’t include services like Reddit here because those are just link aggregators where the value of an individual link is perhaps divided by the hundred thousand other that other people post. Instead, if you’re running a blog, you’ve probably got a steady stream of people who visit it because they feel you have something valuable to say. Those are the people who would be definitely interested in the links that you found interesting too. Building that one-to-many relationship with people who really understand your point of view is what is the right way of sharing your part of the Internet and your likes and dislikes with others. I’ve not really experimented with link blogging on my own blogs but once I rebuild this blog soon, I’ll start experimenting with that too.
On ownership
People nowadays do not have the same sense of ownership towards their data that they did when the Internet started booming. Though there were a lot fewer people back then, everyone was interested in sharing the content that they posted on their own web servers. Web pages had a simple goal – I’ve got data that I own and I feel I should put online; if you want to see it, come to my website.

 

Today, a majority of people sit it out on platforms that they have no ownership over and this leads to a loss of control over their own data. This data may be their thoughts, their photos, their essays or even simply their contact information.

 

Free web services came into existence because not everyone could afford a web server. Back then, advertisers would put their ads on these sites and hope for some clicks. This ensured that people could use those services without loosing on anything because someone else was paying the bill. But this was never a sustainable model. When advertisers saw that the value of a click decreased rapidly, they decided that the next thing is the information that people are posting on the websites. Likes and retweets became a source of Big Data and patterns emerged. Yet no advertiser was using this data directly, calling and emailing those who posted this information online. Why? Because traditional law dictates that this information could not be used by advertisers to spam users. That was a sane law.

 

Today, despite free and cheap web servers and solid, frequently updated web apps and services, people prefer to sit on platforms provided by others. This is part of the “Me Too” generation that isn’t thinking about their data and isn’t thinking about ownership but just want to be where their friends are. If you sit down to think about it, you don’t own any more than 3200 of your latest tweets or your comments on Facebook. You can definitely take them away, but you can’t expect them to not keep a copy and use it as data, because it says so in the rules. You made it on their platform, so they own it too. In fact, because of the 3200 tweet limit, I’d say that you can no longer call Twitter a fair micro blog. It has moved beyond that to become a meter of real-time information about the pulse of the Internet, catering, unfortunately, only to the needs of those willing to pump money into it for advertising purposes.
On mobile
I am an avid follower of the mobile scene. I know I’m somewhat an Apple fanboy when it comes to the iPhone, but I believe in the merits that an open platform like Android brings. One of the things I really miss on my iPhone is the concept of the Swype keyboard that Android so easily accommodates. Seriously, Apple, just let them in already!
But I digress. Mobile in social is a fairly important concept. The prevalence of a smart device in every (rich enough) pocket is essential to the information age. In fact, the concept of a smart phone is being taken even to the dumb phones by the likes of Peek Cloud. The possibilities there are endless. Once you’ve got people connected to more than just SMS and phone calls to their immediate circle, you’ve got them making content that is localized, valuable and extremely real-time. This content is going to be the forefront of the web for the next many years to come simply because there’s so much of this.

 

In fact, I feel fit to make a small prediction here. Yesterday, while I was walking towards my home, I noticed a car whose headlights were on. Hoping to alert the owner to a dying battery, I went and knocked on the door of the closest home, hoping I was right about the owner’s location. Turned out, that person was not the owner of the vehicle and did not know who was. The battery is probably dead by now, but here’s what’ll happen many (or maybe a few?) years from now – I’ll notice the switched on headlights and will login to the local ‘social network’. This will be a ubiquitous social platform that won’t be associated with any big name like Facebook, Twitter or Google and will allow me to login using SSO or an anonymous identity. I’ll drop a message to this local group and everyone in a 0.5 mile radius will get a push notification and will be alerted to the issue. People have tried this before and will keep trying it for many years. A lot of such social networks can be found on the iOS App Store even today. What makes them unsuccessful? Adoption. I’m not sure what’ll drive adoption of local networks, whether it’ll be a mandate from Obama or a new kind of social network that’s free, sassy and captures more audience than Facebook, but this anonymous, localized social network is kind of the future of social in my opinion.
Wrap-up
There’s a lot going on in the social media world right now. From Hacker conventions to the growth of mobile. As a distinct outsider, I see the value of these, but I do not see myself as a participant. I’ve got a plan from now on. I’ll only be posting original thought. Even when I’m referring people to links or blog posts, I’ll tell them why this is good. There will be some who don’t think this is a good idea. There will be those who’ll ask me what’s wrong with Facebook (hint: a lot) and those who’ll read this to the end and think, hmm, another quitter who’s gone out of the social scene. I’m not quitting. I’m taking a step back and I’m evaluating what’s worth my attention. I strongly urge all of you to do the same. You’ve got a limited number of minutes in the day and it’s not worth it to waste them on people or their useless thoughts. Concentrate on that which you like and what’s worth your time. Everything else? Well, that’s what Twitter’s for.