Winnowing the blogosphere

A friend recently announced that her online presence would shift from her blog to Facebook. That got me thinking. Could it be that the plethora of social networking tools and self-publishing options might actually increase rather than decrease the quality of the blogosphere? All along, I’ve assumed and observed that with so many ways for people to write about themselves, and the insatiable need for 15 minutes of fame, so many blog entries would be about life’s minutiae, of interest only to those close to the poster, if that. But consider this: Facebook is well-suited for keeping lightly in touch with others since it encourages frequent, short updates and it is a place where everyone can post. I, for one, put minor life updates there, and am certainly blogging more meatier posts here (when I have time to post). Or consider Google Reader: first I used to email interesting links to friends, then I used to post them on my blog, but now I just share them on Reader; the result, once again, is that my blog now consists more of my own content.

Thus, if people buy into the ease of these tools and migrate their minor updates and shared links to social networking-enabled sites like Facebook and Reader, there will be fewer blog posts that are self-centered or only contain links to other information. Only the more interesting, content-containing blogs will persist. That’s one theory, anyway.

I think a metaphor with transportation is apt here: like the automobile, blogs were all the rage at first and everyone aspired to have one. Now, as we become more conscious about money, exercise, and the environment/time, community, and ease-of-use, some people, at least, are migrating to public transportation/social networking sites.

Of course, for all I know, the interesting people who have interesting lives, like my friend, might be the ones migrating, and the people who blather on and on might choose to take up residence both in Facebook and the blogosphere. Luckily, I don’t have to read them.

Facebook

Over the winter holidays, I finally gave in and signed up for Facebook. I’d been resisting, since I figured I didn’t need another time suck in my life. But then I got to thinking about all my dear Boston friends that I hardly keep in touch with anymore, and how when you re-initiate contact you’re catching people up with the same basics every time before you get to the interesting parts (“I’m coming over!”) and so…I took the plunge.

My first impression: the interface was really bad! There’s no help that I could find, and no one bothers to define what the difference is between a profile and a “wall,” nor why your home page is not your own wall. There are things called “applications” that come with dire disclaimers that they access your personal data. The whole wall metaphor itself is weird—it makes me feel like I’m doing graffiti when I write my friends. And the metaphor breaks down when a one-on-one public conversation is called, not a tête-à-tête, but rather a “wall-to-wall.” Huh?

About those friends. It is fascinating and addictive to dig through your past and find people you knew once, long ago, and see how they’re doing now. Some look just like they did, many look older; some are doing what you would have guessed, some are off the beaten path. My personal chuckle is that I got back in touch with my best friend from the fifth grade, whom I hadn’t been in touch with since the fifth grade. Fun!

But who is a friend? People seem to be wrestling with this more lately, as talk of un-friending becomes more prevalent. People I can’t place at all? Not my friends. People I was friends with and we lost touch? Definitely friends. People I knew but wasn’t friends with and still appear to have nothing in common with? That’s the hard one. In the interest of fostering community, building bridges, and getting myself out of my comfort zone, I tend to err on the side of accepting these folks as friends. (Incidentally, these conundra get far worse on LinkedIn, where the assumption is that you know people profesionally. How do you respond to those with whom you’ve had little, if any, work interaction? How professional can you keep your network there when other people are looser in their standards?)

I like how the various social networks seek to appeal to users by emphasizing their interoperability with social apps (though not with direct competitors: I don’t see LinkedIn or MySpace on Facebook). I’ve set up Facebook to automatically pick up my Google Reader shared items and my Picasa pictures—and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me feel more responsible for putting up good content more regularly. I’ve also tried to make Facebook pick up my blog entries, but it seems to suck the content in and manage comments locally, whereas I’d like there to be a link to my blog entry instead.

After my initial infatuation, I am now falling into the pattern where I’ll check Facebook roughly daily. The home page, which is supposed to have a feed of all my friends’ activities, remains confusing: things are not quite in chronological order, and there are more entries than can be easily navigated. Luckily, by setting up automatic emails and an RSS feed, I can more easily scan my network. As for putting out information about myself, Facebook revives my old internal debate as to where to draw the lines between public and private lives. In the end, I post enough to convey a taste of what my life is like, but not enough so I feel like I’m on a talk show airing my dirty laundry.

On that note, now that I’ve reached the end of this blog entry, excuse me while I go update my status.

Blog, uncluttered

If you’re reading my site, you’re most likely using an RSS aggregator. If you’re not, get thee to Google Reader, stat.

Google Reader has a cool feature that lets you share with others items in the feeds that you read (and you can event comment as you share!). It also has a bookmarklet to let you similarly share any page on the web. Within Google Reader, you can easily see you friends’ shared items.

In the event you don’t use Google Reader, you can still access my shared items by subscribing to my automatically-generated Shared Items blog. (The most recently shared items also show up in a gadget in my blog sidebar.)

Why care about my shared items? With shared items, I don’t have to debate whether an interesting site merits a whole entry in my blog or a mass mailing to all of my Internet friends/acquaintances/stale contacts. I can point you to articles that, for some reason or another, I found interesting: maybe I agree with them, maybe I don’t; maybe they opened my eyes, maybe they left me incredulous. At any rate, placing these items in a separate repository allows my own blog to focus on original content about my life and my thoughts—much in keeping with the Slow Blogging article I recently shared.

It cleans things up for me as a blogger, and for you as my audience. Check it out!

Webcation 2.0

Somewhere between a vacation and a staycation lies the webcation. On a webcation, one is not completely disconnected from daily life as in vacations of yore; neither is one staying near home, as in a staycation. A webcation is a web-enabled vacation where one checks personal e-mail and the news thanks to the ever-present Wi-Fi hotspots and cell phone data networks. Webcations often take the form of road or bike trips made possible by Web 2.0 features: researching tourist information on the go from one’s cell phone, looking up traffic and maps on Google, downloading apps and blogging from the car….

Next stop: Crater Lake, OR