Seriously, why do we Facebook?

I’m an analyst at an online marketing company. You would think that I could easily explain what social networks are really for. Self promotion? Communication? Maintaining relationships with people across the world? The answer is messy and changes almost daily.

cat chased by turtleI personally am very bad at my own social media presence. I’m grumpy, I don’t like people, and I unfriend individuals for posting crap like Anti-Vaccine stuff with increasing regularity.  I post an inconsistent mix of articles ranging from geek culture to race issues. Basically, for myself, I break all the rules I’m very familiar with for marketing one’s product or self. If I ever have a book or comic to push, I’ll have some clean up to do.

So what am I doing with Facebook? I mostly use it keep tabs on friends I never see, and send them links to stuff I think they’ll appreciate. I’ve thought about trying to do that with email, but it never really seems to take off. I deleted my original profile and now use a new, very incomplete profile, free of my work or educational history, that is constantly asking me to fill that out. I verified with a Google Voice number I use specifically for things I don’t want contacting me. I do not upload my own pictures there. There are a handful of pages I actually pay attention to, simply because those entities for some reason put more work into their page than their real website (or don’t have a website). A few social groups use private groups to communicate, that’s the main reason I still log in at all.

zombieWhat am I doing with Google+? Basically just hanging out in a private group for the department I work for. I do like using it to find more intellectual things to follow (I have a growing list of Robot-themed pages and people) for the sake of getting interesting news on topics I like. I’m certainly not using it to connect with anyone. And since Google killed the authorship search feature earlier this year, it’s growing less and less relevant. I’m sad about that.

What am I doing with Twitter? I don’t post much, and when I do it’s usually just sending out the same links I like to post on Facebook, though I tend to filter myself much less on Twitter when it comes to sending out incendiary articles. I have pretty much zero following of my own at the moment, so I have that rare opportunity to shout whatever I damn well feel like and no one will hear me. I do, however, avoid hashtag campaigns. The GGator nonsense was more than a little scary.  Mostly I just get to follow people who are interesting; scientists, authors, bloggers I like. It’s also the best way to get immediate news, either locally or nationally, sometimes globally.

corgi runI’m trying to start blogging again, and I really enjoy WordPress and Medium. WordPress has a really great community devoting specifically to teaching people how to make the most of WordPress and develop the habit of using it. I have to wonder if other networks would benefit from such a program.

Tumblr… I get addicted to Tumblr and have to take breaks. It’s probably a good thing that no one bothers with the #NSFW tag, so I just can’t waste time there during my work day.  I like it. If you can just find your people on there, it can be a really beautiful/crazy/weird thing.  But it is really intense, difficult to wrap one’s head around, and Yahoo is trying all kinds of stuff to figure out how to make money off of it.

skateboardcatSo what about Ello? Or Diaspora ( I like both of them, but I can’t get any of the people I communicate with online to really use them.  Diaspora would really fit with one of the communities I associate with, but migrating all of them over would take an awful lot of organization. Maybe I just need to go look for other burners already on there and call it good.

I think Ello is for artists and techies right now.  I wish I had the time and focus to try and connect with any of them.  If I was actively producing art right now, this is definitely one place where I would show that off.  Although one could easily ask there why do I need something else besides DeviantArt to maintain?

I wrote most of this blog post originally in my Ello (@cheeseandglory). I only pulled it out so I wouldn’t lose it if the browser crashed. It feels an awful lot like Livejournal, or even the old Myspace blogging feature. That isn’t a bad thing. They were solid services then, and Livejournal is still very much alive and kicking.  I like that Ello currently has limitless possibilities, and that the people who are using it have to figure out how they want to use it.

white squirrelI started thinking about this very big question this morning because I’m reading a white paper from Radium One on a concept called “Dark Social,” which is a very silly name for a simple fact; almost 70% of the times a link is shared, it isn’t done through a Facebook/Twitter/social network post, but rather through directly messaging the link to someone, posting it in a forum, or *gasp* even emailing the link to someone.  That tells me that we’re still interested in a more direct communication, and a conversation about the things that interest us with the people we bother to communicate with.

That’s a big deal.  Huge, in fact.  That’s the baby being more interested in the cardboard box the toy came in than the toy itself.

terrified spacecatPeople get mad at Facebook partly because they’re being herded into someone else’s big vision about how everyone is someday going to communicate, and these people don’t feel like they’re in control.  But the fact is that most of those people have no idea how to be in control of their online lives; it takes a lot of work, knowledge, and deep understanding to really get that. They use Facebook because it’s easy, and it’s easy because it’s prepackaged. It’s like choosing the Twinkie you can eat right away over baking an amazing eclair from scratch. Or Hell, just knowing where to go to get an amazing eclair from the local small business baker.

I am aware that the above paragraph is a very big generalization that ignores the subtleties of demographics. Young people in their 20’s are much more likely to have an innate grasp of what makes a social network useful or useless. Hence Snapchat, Vine, and a million other little mobile experiments coming, going, and occasionally sticking around.  But young people still aren’t using Diaspora, an open source social network alternative that really puts the user in control, down to choosing the server your data is stored in. That might change if they ever get a stable app and someone feels like putting some resources into promoting a Pod to young demographics. That would be a very interesting experiment.

chicken riding turtleThese are very big questions, the evolution of which has fascinated me since the age of IRC channels and MUDS (yes, you read that right).  I’m very interested to see what, if any, effect wearables will have on communication and digital socializing (There’s another thing currently with limitless possibilities, that clever people with find interesting uses for eventually).

My mind may be drawn into these issues today because I recently finished John Scalzi‘s excellent scifi novel Lock In, which tackles a number of big questions about how society responds to and eventually integrates technology.  And there’s my anthropology background; I simply am fascinated by the feedback loop between technology and cultural change. Social media is can even effect how the brain is wired.

Obviously, these things chew at my consciousness pretty insistently. I won’t bore those reading my blog with too many posts like this (unless you folks actually like this sort of thing), but occasionally I just need to ramble on a deep topic.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled cat gif.