Bright Matrices

Writings & musings of Mike Zavarello (a.k.a. brightmatrix), a "red mage" web developer.

Tag: Social Media (page 1 of 3)

Why I Think Lists Are More Harmful to Twitter than Moments or Epic-length Tweets

Folks have been abuzz over recent and planned features they feel will sound the death knell for Twitter. When Moments came out, it was derided as forcing the conversation and overemphasizing trends. Next, we have this planned increase of tweet length from SMS-style messages to epic-length, 10,000-character novellas.

Every new addition to a network is going to have its detractors, but there’s one feature that’s been around a lot longer than I think is having a stronger and more negative effect on Twitter: Lists.

The original intent of lists was to focus a user’s assumed “multifaceted” tweet stream into more meaningful “buckets” of topic-based content. I can have all my synthwave folks in one bucket, my gaming folks in a second bucket, and political commentary in a third. A simple and noble concept, right?

As with other Twitter features, actual use has shifted from its intention. Rather than being something to curate or organize messages, lists are becoming a safe haven for folks with Twitter’s growing population and its heightened noise-to-signal ratio.

Unfortunately, there are no reliable trends or metrics for use of lists (not that I’ve found). I personally feel users are turning to lists for two key reasons:

  • It reduces the “feel-bads” that come from unfollowing someone. Whether you believe so or not, “following” someone on Twitter always feels like a commitment or affirmation, whereas lists are a heck of a lot more arbitrary. Grooming your lists instead of purging who you follow involves significantly less reputational risk (yes, that’s a thing), since you’re still, in effect, connected. Facebook did something similar in 2014 by adding a “following” feature alongside the “friendship” network it was founded on.
  • Lists can be private. Everyone and their mother can see who you follow. Lists, on the other hand, can be completely private, which allows you to curate with no fear of outside curiosity or commentary.

The big problem I personally have with these reasons is they make the Twitter ecosystem far more disingenuous. You have this group of followers who have made a voluntary decision to join your public conversations, but due to their use of lists, are pretty much turning a deaf ear to you. This is no longer real life. The bonds are weaker.

In hindsight, I think Google was on to something with their whole “Circles” ecosystem for Google Plus, but, as with other products like Buzz and Wave, it was a few years ahead of its need.

To sum up, I really, truly don’t like Twitter Lists, and it I don’t think the current use of the feature bodes well for Twitter. We already have this growing plague of folks “talking past one another” instead of talking to each other. Add greater reliability on lists and now it becomes just “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I really wonder whether this will affect adoption of new users, since they’ll be pretty much tweeting to empty air if they continue to assume that followers equals visibility.

The Perpetuating Lie of “Friends” in Social Media

This week I was pointed to a succinct and astute essay by social media pioneer Chris Brogan entitled, “We Don’t HAVE to Be Friends.” For those of you who have strong interests in social media relationships and their potential, it’s well worth the read.

The crux of Chris’ essay is that social media networks have twisted the meaning of a “friend” such that folks have taken their “loose bond” online relationships on Facebook, Twitter, etc. a bit too personally. This specific paragraph resonated most with me:

People get emotional about the whole following thing. I get it, technically. I know that one of our HUGE triggers as a human is: “What? You don’t think I’m worthy?” But that’s not what this software-based transaction is about, and it’s not our emotion to deal with. The people who tend to feel that the most (I’m not worthy) are still working on their own issues, and it’s not ours to fix.

I’ve been on both sides of this equation. While I’ve argued several times over the years that social media networks are ours to manage and curate as we see fit, I’ve also felt the nagging sensations of guilt and, for lack of a better term, ennui about my interactions (or lack thereof) in social networking. My very first post on this blog was about Facebook’s not-so-obvious attempts at using psychology to draw you into their world using personally-charged terminology. To their credit, and as Chris points out, Facebook has given its users a “humane” option by allowing them to remain “friends” while “unfollowing” their updates. It’s a practical, if a bit passive-aggressive, way of better curating your intake without rocking the boat.

“Humane curation” methods like Facebook’s, as well as switching words around from “friends” to “followers,” as Foursquare did last August, while helpful, still maintain the perpetuating lie about online relationships. There’s far too much static, curated lives, and “shouting past one another” in social networking without having to agonize over the care-and-feeding of “loose bond” friendships for the sake of themselves.

The advice Chris gives is simple and powerful: “It’s your platform.”

Make it yours once again.

Author’s note: I credit inspiration for this essay to Karima-Catherine Goundiam, who brought Chris’ essay to my attention.

Followers With Benefits?

The folks over at ReadWriteWeb posted an essay today that outlined the changes Foursquare, a location-based social network, was making to its model. Rather than asking members to become friends with others in order to fully experience all that Foursquare has to offer, they’ve moved the personal interaction piece into a separate app (Swarm) and moved to the “follow model” pioneered by Twitter. As the essay points out, Facebook did much the same not so long ago by allowing you to “subscribe” to accounts instead of asking to be their friends.

What’s fascinating to me about this trend is that we’re seeing digital evolution at its finest.

Twitter’s superiority and pervasiveness as a social network has always been its simplicity. In its early days, this was a source of great confusion among new users. They were dumped into the network without understanding how it worked or what they were supposed to do. Now, however, I see Twitter being used increasingly as a personal news and entertainment network: you “tune into” whatever suits your fancy and, quite literally, follow along. It’s the ease of following, without the baggage of asking to be someone’s friend, that makes this so effortless and so successful.

Asking to be someone’s “friend” is awkward and often charged with emotion and implied meaning, whether it’s old high school friends on Facebook or the unsolicited network invitations on LinkedIn. You’re asking to be granted permission into the walled gardens of someone’s domain, and everyone reacts to that in different ways. The “follow model” is cleaner and less cumbersome. You make yourself available to the world, as with Twitter, and let folks “tune in” and “tune out” as they see fit. There’s no agony over accepting or declining these personal invites. Plus, it makes whatever social network follows this model, such as Foursquare, feel less invasive and more welcoming.

All of this sounds like a “win-win,” right? You get to be “followers with benefits,” in a way; more of the good “newsy” stuff and less of the emotional baggage, right?

True, but the damage I see here is the signal vs. noise ratio. Twitter, for example, has already evolved over the past few years into a network where folks are “talking past each other,” posting whatever catches their eye, but not really engaging with one another unless the topic is narrow or the community a tightly-knit one. Folks want to be known. They want to be the next network superstar. They want to promote themselves and their ideas, be they whimsical, clever, thoughtful, or profane. Some days, it’s quite a lot of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I’m curious to see how further adoption of the “follow model,” should that trend continue, contributes to the evolution of conversations and interactions on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and other networks. This is still a very fluid medium, and it may surprise us to discover how we’ve adapted in the next social epoch.

A Confusing User Experience Betwixt Social Sharing Buttons in Twitter and SoundCloud

I recently joined SoundCloud, a social network for music and audio files (or, audiophiles, if you prefer). Overall, their user experience is simple, yet solid. As with other social networks, you can “like” a song, share it with your network (the user the term “repost”), add it to a list, or perform other tasks (download, share, buy). There are prominent buttons with clean, recognizable icons: a heart icon for “like,” a recycling arrow for “repost,” and a box with an arrow leading outwards for “share.” These are notably similar to Twitter’s “favorite” and “retweet” options, and, this is where I’ve noticed some problems.

When you view a single track in SoundCloud, the like, repost, and other icons are to the bottom left. On the right, there is a second set of similar icons with numbers next to them. These are “status” icons that show how many times this track has been played, liked, and reposted. If you click on any of these, you’ll see a page of the SoundCloud users who played, liked, or reposted the track.

A single track in SoundCloud. Note the sharing buttons at bottom left and status icons at bottom right.

A single track in SoundCloud. Note the sharing buttons at bottom left and status icons at bottom right.

Simple enough, right? Now, if you view your stream, which shows a series of tracks in the left-hand side of the page, related tracks will appear to the right in a sidebar. These have the same features as the single track page, except they are condensed in a smaller space.

Here's how the interface changes when you see SoundCloud tracks as related items. The icons are smaller and much closer together.

Here’s how the interface changes when you see SoundCloud tracks as related items. The icons are smaller and much closer together.

The play button is now mixed in with the like, repost, and share buttons, and these only appear when you hover over the track. They are now much closer to the status icons. What I’ve found is that I keep wanting to click on the status icons to perform a task, but, as with the single track page, this shows you who played, liked, or reposted the track. It doesn’t perform the action I expected.

This is a confusing action to me. Why? Because it is so similar to how Twitter handles these actions, and yet, the results are not the same.

On Twitter’s web interface, the main actions, reply, retweet, favorite, and more, are presented with their respective icons. The status icons, however, are shown as numbers (see the retweets and favorites titles below the tweet preview). Clicking on those numbers gives you the same result as SoundCloud (a list of who retweeted or favorited that tweet), but, because Twitter does not repeat the icons, there is a clearer distinction between these pieces of information and the actual actions you can take on this post.

A basic tweet. Notice how the actions are kept separate from the status icons, which are only numbers here.

A basic tweet. Notice how the actions are kept separate from the status icons, which are only numbers here.

The social media management tool Hootsuite does something similar in their interface. In Hootsuite, you view tweets as a series of vertical columns called a “stream.” The number of times a tweet has been retweeted is easily visible below the tweet itself. As with Twitter, clicking on this status icon shows you who did the retweeting. The actions you can take on that tweet appear when you move your mouse over the post. They are kept separate from the status icon, and, since they appear when you hover over the tweet, it’s clear that these are actions you can take right now.

Hootsuite's interface shows very simply the actions you need to take and who's sharing each tweet.

Hootsuite’s interface shows very simply the actions you need to take and who’s sharing each tweet.

I think it’s great that disparate social networks like Twitter and SoundCloud are using similar actions and iconography. It’s forming a universal language that reduces the burden on users, who now need to learn one less set of terms or icons when moving from network to network. The problem, though, is that if you as a user learn to expect one set of behavior on one network, it’s confusing when the expected behavior on the other network doesn’t match up to what you’ve experienced elsewhere.

I think SoundCloud would do itself and its users a great benefit by mimicking how its older cousin, Twitter, manages its action and status icons and limit the number of misclicks.

Corporate Social Media Monitoring, Privacy Settings, and Codes of Conduct

I came across a Forbes article in my Twitter feed yesterday that talks about how users of social media react to corporations monitoring their conversations or responding to comments they make online. It should come as no surprise to anyone that corporations are monitoring what is being said in public social media channels. Social media has become a massive communications tool for sharing experiences, insight, feedback, and criticism of how businesses and other organizations conduct themselves. We’re come to rely on rating systems and peer reviews to make decisions on where to go and what to buy, and this is valuable information for companies. It’s important to them to learn more about their customers (both potential and current), what they want, what’s working well, and what’s going wrong. Many corporations are using an array of sophisticated social media management and sentiment analysis tools to parse through the enormous amount of data shared every day on numerous platforms.

Now, while I agree with the basic premise that it may be unsettling for a corporation to just start talking to you out of the blue on social media, what got my attention most was this except (boldface is my edit):

… a recent survey from J.D. Power points to the risks associated with monitoring: 51% of consumers simply do not want companies to eavesdrop on their conversations and 43% believe that monitoring is an intrusion on their privacy.

Seriously? 43%? That, to me, is absolutely absurd, and it raises some issues about people’s perceptions of how far and wide their digital traffic can range.

First and foremost, there is absolutely no expectation of privacy on any social media channel if you are posting in a publicly available forum. “Public” means “public.” If you don’t have privacy settings enabled on your account, then you’ve opened your stream to anyone who can use a search engine. This includes corporations. There really should be no earth-shattering revelation here. Folks can use the “overhearing a conversation” argument for whether anyone should be paying attention to something that doesn’t involve them, but that’s not really how social media works. The people, or, in this case, corporations, who can “eavesdrop” on you is not just whoever is around you physically, but anyone in the world. Plus, everything you post publicly is likely indexed by Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and their kin for anyone outside your network to find. If you don’t want folks to listen in, and this includes corporations, take the conversation to private messages, lock down your settings, or don’t post certain things to social media at all. Plain and simple.

Second, this mentality is a symptom of what I’ve observed happening with social media and the workplace. Most businesses have what’s called a “code of conduct” that states how employees should present themselves in public. As employees of the company, they represent the company, whether they realize it or not. There is typically a paragraph or clause that refers to “online public forums” as a place where employees should practice restraint and decorum. This was pretty much limited to e-mail and bulletin boards back in the day, but now includes any form of social media. In my professional experiences, I’ve found that employees need an “interpretive statement” to connect those codes of conduct to their personal use of social media channels. Why is this? They don’t think of Facebook, Twitter, and other channels as something they need to be mindful of. They just post away without really giving careful thought as to how their words relate to their role as an employee. There’s been plenty of instances where folks have been fired from their jobs for what they post online, on or off the clock. Obviously, the privacy settings you put into place can affect what your company can learn about you and act upon should they believe it breaks their code of conduct, but you should still learn what those rules are and do your best to abide by them. Ask your boss. Ask your human resources folks. Use common sense. And, for heaven’s sake, never expect any sort of privacy when using work computers on work premises or work time. If you’re using company property for personal use, expect it to be monitored. All the time.

My “A-ha” Moment About the “Spiral of Envy”

Today’s entry from Mark Schaefer’s {grow} blog, “Facebook, the ‘spiral of envy,’ and our Botox life,” put into succinct words precisely what has nagged and pulled at me about social media for the past two years. The crux of Mark’s essay was that we put so much gleam and shine on our online lives that it drives others into this descent into digital madness, where we constantly feel the need to one-up our friends, or we succumb to the illusion that our world is a grayer, less exciting version of what we see on Facebook, et al. One of the commenters labeled this the “Jones effect” (as in “keeping up with the Joneses”), and that’s the perfect way to describe it. It’s an dramatic arms race: our friends showcase their (so-called) awesome lives, and we feel we need to make ours more awesome as a result. No wonder folks get all bent out of joint in these realms.

This phenomenon affected me in the latter way: feeling what I was doing here was less important and less worthy than what others were saying out there. I’ve written a few times about the so-called “silent partners” in our online relationships: those folks who follow you on Twitter or friend you on Facebook, and yet never seem to either read, acknowledge, or respond to you from that point forward. I couldn’t figure it out, despite my best efforts, and I dropped my usage to the ultimate bare minimum for several months last year as a result. Now I have something I can use to identify this sensation, and it makes that much more sense.

People put so much guilt around our online relationships. You do it, and others around you do it. Don’t dare unfollow someone on Twitter or unfriend someone on Facebook lest they find out! Better to use some curated list or hide posts instead. It’s all so much unnecessary subterfuge. We need to be honest and just realize that we’re all people. We post because we want a reaction. Sometimes they’re trivial things, but we want a reaction all the same. So, it seems natural that people will decide to share things that are the pinnacle of wit, wisdom, weariness, or woe. Mark’s right: we don’t hear about the paint drying or toddler accidents; that’s the unattractive back alley side of life. But, we also need to realize that not everyone wants to hear those shards of our shiny lives, so it shouldn’t faze us if some folks tune out.

Your life is awesome. Perhaps not today, but your life is awesome. Don’t let those shiny “Botox lives” tell you otherwise.

 

Need to Help Others Understand Twitter? Have an “Elevator Pitch”

You’ve heard it all before: “Why should I join Twitter? Who cares what I had for lunch?” or “What am I supposed to talk about?” or, even better, “We don’t have time for our staff to be playing around on Twitter all day.” It’s not like Twitter is the new kid on the block anymore; with over 500 million users and several years of robust growth under its belt, it’s becoming more and more a staple social communications platform.

So what is it about Twitter that makes it so hard to understand?

Its premise is incredibly simple: send a short snippet about what you’re doing for others to read, and read snippets others have written for the same purpose. Sometimes conversations ensue, most times, they don’t. You can be a chatterbox with everyone who’s decided to follow you or an ivory tower who talks to no one. It’s your choice.

Beyond some basic etiquette rules crowdsourced by its users, there’s really no right or wrong way to use Twitter. It can be a real-time news feed, a community of interests, a message board, a chat room, a virtual classroom, a professional development tool; whatever you need.

Twitter is simple, and that’s where the trouble comes in.

In my experiences, many neophytes and first-timers who join Twitter feel lost, despite Twitter’s helpful attempts to ease the sign-in process with suggested topics and accounts to follow. They don’t seem to know what to say or how they should say it.

It’s also a challenge for businesses, who can struggle to understand how to use Twitter to its fullest in listening to their customers and promoting their wares. If clients read about how celebrities use Twitter or who among them are considered “influential,” they can get the false impression that tweeting is frivolous or a plaything not worthy of serious consideration.

I’ve learned that you need to have an “elevator pitch” for Twitter. If you want your friends, family, colleagues, or management to really feel the energy and potential of Twitter, you have to be able to explain it in one or two sentences. Back it up with good examples of people or businesses that really make Twitter shine, and save the arcane jargon (such as retweets) for later.

What’s your “elevator pitch” for Twitter?

Image credit: Unknown

The Social Media Neophyte Who Flew Too Close to the Sun

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Image credit: Unknown; source: http://englishihonorsmythology.wikispaces.com/Icarus

I love social media. Ever since my first tweet in June 2009, I’ve learned an immense amount about the mechanics, arcana, and vagaries of these networks and their inhabitants. I’ve become an “expert neophyte” of sorts, and my experiences have become beneficial for both my career and my colleagues. Along with my first love, Twitter, I hold digital citizenships in Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Tumblr, WordPress, and Google+. My time spent in social media been equal parts amazing and enriching, but I’ve also found how overwhelming it can be if you’re not careful.

Around July of last year, shortly after I joined the hordes charging into the virgin wilderness of Google+, I had enough. I’d spent too many hours stressing over whether I was as knowledgable, “authentic,” and influential as I should be. I flipped back and forth between networks constantly, checking what I missed since my last visit and who had interacted with me in the interim. I was also in the midst of a years-long, strenuous redesign project where I was a key technical lead, and I simply had fewer and fewer cycles to spare for my alter egos. One day, I simply dropped off the grid. I posted nothing to Twitter for weeks, kept a lazy, glazed eye on Facebook, and put all my other presences, including this blog, in stasis.

I had burned myself out. I had flown too close to the sun.

It took me eight months to understand that my personal limit for fully-engaged social networks is two. I can maintain a presence in a few ancillary networks as well, but if I spend more than a cursory amount of time there, I feel the psychic strain from spreading myself too thin. I realized how easy it can be to get mired in keeping up with the digital Joneses: crafting the next clever blog post or witty comment, absorbing all the latest articles on Pinterest, getting the next Foursquare badge, or sustaining a Klout score. One simply can’t read, write, like, comment on, or share everything. It seems stupefyingly obvious, but I found that you really do start seeing trees instead of a forest if you’re not careful.

So, I’ve narrowed my focus back down to the essentials: Twitter for news, trends, professional connections, and real-time conversations, and Facebook to share life’s little snippets with family and friends. LinkedIn is delegated to my digital Rolodex; Foursquare an idle curiosity best suited for waiting at airport terminals; Tumblr a rare time waster; Google+ purely for research on how it works. Don’t even get me started about my feelings on Pinterest, Instagram, or the other new kids on the social media block.

I’ve invested a lot of time in Twitter and Facebook. To me, they’re now among the “established” social networks. As much as the landscape has changed over the past several years (AOL to LiveJournal to Friendster to MySpace and so on), I can’t shake the sensation that they’re here for the long run. As such, it will take a great deal of convincing for me to pull up stakes and move to another digital country. Because that is the choice I’m making from here on out: rather than collect more and more social profiles, I’ll replace them, swap them out. But it has to be worth it.

No more double-ended candles for me. I love social media too much to burn out again.

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