Saturday, March 21, 2009

Reconnecting with Facebook

In my latest blog, I shared my experience with the social networking site Twitter. I wasn’t using Twitter long, and was really enjoying connecting with family and some friends from my groups when I pointed out what I liked about using Twitter to my oldest son Joe. He let me know that it looked like Twitter was a simplified version of Facebook. “Facebook? What is Facebook? Isn’t it a lot like My Space? Isn’t it another one of those online hang outs for kids, but more so college kids?” I had had friends that had invited me to join, and people from my list serve groups were joining and writing about how great it was. There were even people on Blog Talk Radio shows talking about connecting to their group or fan pages. I had been unsure. My son told me I needed to check it out myself. I directly got on it and signed up for an account, invited a few people, and soon found my sister and a few of my cousins. It wasn’t long and I found a few more friends and family and I was hooked.

Is it addictive? No more so than Twitter. I guess that is my elusive way of saying, YES, it can be, and big time. Facebook is a social networking website, and reportedly growing at this point by about a half a million new profiles opening up each day. The group that is growing fastest is the over 30 crowd. Since I have joined Facebook, I have heard it referenced over and over again in the media. It has been the topic of discussion with family and friends. My class and I were watching the Channel One news program shown at school, and it was covering a story about high school kids giving up Facebook for lent. Of course many of the kids in my class have to be very close to their cell phones as they like to send texts before they can even get out of the school building at the end of the day. But even they are buzzing about their parents, and even a few of them, having Facebook accounts.

So what do I like about Facebook? I love having the ability to connect with friends and family. I can see what is going on in their lives and share what is going on in mine. I send out updates by answering the question, “What are you doing?” and now the recent question, “What’s on your mind?” All of my friends should be able to see my update, and will have the opportunity to comment as well. I can send people I have connected to, known as my friends, messages only they can see to their inboxes, or write on their “wall”, and then they, or anyone else that sees their wall, can see my message. I can comment on my friends’ updates, and comments can continue for as long as there is an interest. My friends and family can keep track of me in real time, or just check in for updates from time to time. I can join and support a cause with a real life impact, find friends from past or present schools, jobs or other groups in which I have been a part. There are groups and (fan) pages that allow people with similar interests to find each other and to connect through wall posts or discussion groups on the pages.

I like the many applications that can be used. The types of applications are really diverse. There are quizzes that are fun to take and tell you things like what your theme song is. There are a wide variety of games and simulations that you can challenge your friends and others on Facebook to play. I have tried out an application that allows me to identify my relatives that are on my friends list, and how I am related to them. There are more practical applications, like ones that let my tweets on Twitter update my Facebook as well. Send someone a drink, or a hug, or chocolates…all virtually, and all in fun. Well then it is also possible to have someone throw a snowball or shoe at me, or me at them. Good thing it is a virtual throw, and that it’s my “friend” sending it my way, or receiving it with a smile.

I am now feeling a bit of angst. While I love the Facebook that I signed up for those many weeks ago, Facebook has changed the format of the site (again, so I hear) and now everything seems to be a jumbled mess instead of the simple set up I started using. And when I used to have no problem finding my applications that are not actually a part of Facebook, I find that with the “new” format it is not easy to find them. I’m sure that I don’t like it at all, but with my Blackberry application on my phone( I loaded mine the day before the new Facebook came out) I still get the organization of the January through mid-March Facebook format that I am used to using. That does make me happy. Within the entire jumble of information, I am still staying connected to my friends, looking at pictures and reading updates and enjoying the many groups I have chosen to be a part of and applications that I have decided to use.

If you haven’t signed up for Facebook yet, I challenge you to give it a try. Find a few friends or family members to be your friends, or find your whole crew from your past and present. If you can’t find someone on the Facebook people search, you can send them an invitation through e-mail to join you on Facebook. Spend some time getting the hang of sending updates out, and try out new things as you feel you are ready.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Staying Connected with Twitter

There are a lot of people that I would love to keep in contact, but the fact is with work and kids and other activities going on it is often hard to keep in contact with people that I don't see regularly. Friends from the old school, extended family, people I have worked with in the past and people that have just been good friends are with the group that I classify as, "I wish we could get together," and "What have you been up to lately?" The remedy has come with social networking.

I do know the social website My Space. My older kids and their cousins and friends have been using it for years. I have steered clear as it seemed to be full of kids and topics that were not worthy of my time. I did open up an account at one time, but did not do much with it as it seemed to be a time consuming place that did not hold my interest for long and I couldn't find anyone that I knew besides one of my husband's cousins and the kids. Before you can find someone you must know their nickname, or their homepage URL. Individual's nicknames could change, even daily, so you almost need an invite from someone to find people not going by their real names on My Space. That has changed recently, and now those that are part of My Space can use their nickname on their website, but can be found with a search of their real name. It's optional at this time to add your real name to your profile. Each My Space home page has the option of personalizing many different features that are entirely up to the wishes and technical ability of the individual. Again, I do not spend time here, and have promised my kids to ignore them there. I am by no means knocking My Space. It has an audience, and has opened many people's eyes on how it could be done even better.

My next experience with social networking started during my summer vacation this past year. I encountered people in my groups asking me to "tweet" them. I ignored them at the time, as it didn't seem to be something I had the time or energy to explore. The requests increased and by Christmas break this year I was part of the Twitter phenomenon. It didn't take me long to get the hang of making updates and doing searches. Soon I had download Tweetdeck and Twitterfox to make checking updates from friends, networks and groups easier. Twitter is not complicated at all. I have control of who follows me, and that is the term Twitter uses for who can see my updates. Only those that are following me, that I reply to, or if my profile is not protected, those that look at my profile, can see my updates. I can be open so that anyone, following me or not, can see my updates. I can also have the choice of protecting my updates, which means that only those that I allow to "follow" me can see my updates. If I choose to protect my updates, my profile will not be listed on the "timeline" for others to find me. It is always my choice. If I follow someone, they have allowed my to see their updates in real time, or the next time I log in to Twitter or the platforms that support Twitter. I use Tweetdeck and Twitterfox to check my tweets if I don't have my homepage online.

Another really cool feature that Twitter has is the Twitter search. If I go to the search site, I can search for any word or phrase, and the most current updates containing that word or phrase will show up. I belong to several tweet groups, and we find each other by putting a hash symbol "#" followed by a key or code term. Then anytime we want to find what others are saying to everyone in the group we search for that group's code (i.e. #sxsw). And anytime we want to put out a message for the whole group to see, we simply use the hash symbol and term in our update. Then anyone in the group will see that update. If you are just curious about what others are saying about a topic, then do a search on a word or phrase and see how many times it turns up on Twitter (i.e. NCAA).

Another feature with Twitter is choice of anonymity. When you sign up you choose a user name and have the option of also including your real name so that your friends and others can find you to follow you. You also have a place to write a brief description of who you are so that those searching can know if you are really the one they are looking for on Twitter. But you may just go by a user name in which no one really knows who you are. Others will decide to keep you in their follow group or let you follow them based on what you say in your updates. There are also those that simply collect as many followers, and people to follow, as they can, as if it says something about their worth. I am being a bit judgmental. There are some perfectly legitimate reasons for someone having 139, or 317, or even more followers. Maybe they really do have a large circle of friends and family that have found them on Twitter. Maybe they write an awesome blog, or do a weekly podcast or some kind of TV, radio or internet program. Maybe they are know for other reasons and simply have a following. Hey, I follow Santa Claus. I think it is really cool. (Note to skeptics: He does a weekly program on Blog Talk Radio. You should check it out.)

So what are the basics of an update? It is like blogging, but much shorter. It is like an instant message, but it goes out to everyone that is following you. You are limited to 140 characters to get your message across. Your message goes out to anyone that is following you as soon as they check their homepage or if they check your profile. If your updates are protected, only those you have cleared to follow you will see your updates or see your profile page. Your update can be about anything you are doing, thinking about, have finished or are planning to do. When you send out updates, keep in mind you are sending a message to your followers, or in the case of sending out to a group, the group members are your audience. Make sure that your message is appropriate for your intended audience. If you are tweeting friends, then by all means tell them where you are going, what you are eating, what you are feeling about current situations. If you are tweeting a following of sorts, as in people who follow you because you are a public figure, they may not care what you ordered at Taco Bell or that you are mad about your cell phone reception. Then of course, I think of the Shakespearean phrase, "To thine own self be true." That is my motto, and is why I just write whatever is important to me at the time of my tweet. If people don't like who you are or what you tweet, well, what are they following you for?

To find me on Twitter, sign up for your own account and then look for me, slmar. You can see my latest tweets here on my blog. Happy Tweeting!!!