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The Cost of Convenience on Social Networks

October 11, 2012

Introduction

Technology can do great things. It can save you time and save you money. With social media, it can connect you (via the device in your pocket) to people around the world – people you otherwise would never have “met.” But is there a drawback or cost to the convenience that technology provides?

An Example: The GPS

Consider the GPS (Global Positioning System). When I purchased my first GPS unit in 2005, I thought it was the world’s finest invention. Whether I was driving near home or in a remote town, I could plug in a street address and this magical device would take me there, turn by turn.

When I moved to the West Coast a few years later, my handy GPS helped me get around my new surroundings, from the department store to the movie theater to my new favorite restaurants. But now that I’ve been out West for five years, I’m finding a “cost” for the GPS that goes beyond the retail cost.

The “cost” was a dependence on this technological marvel, which meant that I didn’t truly know my own surroundings. Instead, I’d have the radio on, take the turns that the GPS called out, but not pay attention to the route I was taking (and, as a side note, I’ve since switched from a GPS device to the excellent Waze app on my iPhone).

Now, if I’m driving locally to a place I’ve never been before, I’ll plug the destination address into Google Maps and review the route. Then, I’ll drive to my destination without any technological guidance. And I find that curbing my dependence on the GPS has helped me better learn the local roads and routes. And not to worry, Waze – you’ll still come along for the ride when I go out of town.

Now, let’s consider the cost of convenience on social networks.

Liking a Comment on Facebook.

In 2010, Facebook rolled out the “Like” button on Comments. At first, I found this a bit curious: you have a button to “Like” the original post and now, Facebook is allowing you to “Like” interactions beneath that post. As I started using it, however, I discovered its elegance: you (the poster) could acknowledge interesting or witty comments with the click of a mouse.

The person whose Comment you Liked would see your action and perhaps they’d become more inclined to comment on your subsequent posts. There have been occasions where I ponder how to respond to a comment I’ve received. If it was a witty comment, I feel the need to return the favor with something equally witty. I’ll occasionally get “stuck,” and not know what to say. So instead I simply click “Like” (on the comment) and I’m done.

So what’s the cost? More substantial and meaningful interactions between you and the commenter.

Twitter’s Retweet Button.

In 2009, Twitter rolled out the retweet button (and function). The retweet (or, “RT” for short) was a capability conceived by Twitter’s users. And prior to the retweet button (or, the equivalent function in Twitter clients), users had to manually compose retweet’s by copying the tweet content, then sticking a “RT @USER” in front of the tweet.

The retweet function made it super convenient. With two clicks of the mouse (the first to retweet, the second to confirm it), you just published a tweet, while promoting the original tweet content. Because the retweet preserves 100% of the original tweet, the cost of this convenience is an absence of commentary (from you).

When I want to add my own thoughts (e.g. “Great post” or “Excellent points”) on a retweet, I’ll manually compose it (with a copy/paste of the original tweet), then change the “RT” to “MT” (for “Modified Tweet”). This makes the process less convenient, but I find the additional commentary worth it (and I bet the original tweeter may as well).

Location-based Checkins.

Location-based check-ins began on services like Foursquare. Their purpose was to alert friends (on the service) of your location. Perhaps you’re at Happy Hour and you see that some friends just checked in from the watering hole down the street. So you go there to find them.

So that was the original point – and a fine point it was. Soon, services such as Foursquare enabled you to broadcast your check-in to your social media accounts. And our tweet stream started to get filled up with tweets, like those shown above.

So the cost of the check-in convenience is a proliferation of rather trivial tweets. If I’m following you on Foursquare, then yes, a check-in is meaningful. However, if I’m following you on Twitter (only), your location at this particular point in time isn’t meaningful.

Facebook Check-ins

Similarly, Facebook has a check-in feature that enables you to list your location, along with tagging Facebook friends that you happen to be with. For friends and family on Facebook, I am, in fact, more interested in where you happen to be.

But, the convenience of the check-in means that more significant and meaningful descriptions (of  your location) go by the wayside. For instance, compare these two Facebook posts:

And here’s the more convenient one:

“Climbing to the peak – at Mount Everest”

Photo Uploads.

Don’t get me wrong: photos are great and pictures are, in fact, worth 1,000 words (or more). Sometimes, however, the convenience of uploading 50 pictures (to an album on Facebook) gives you the “excuse” that the pictures can tell the story (on their own). If a picture is worth 1,000 words, couldn’t you at least tag each one with 140 characters?

Conclusion

On the social web, we’re able to make connections and have interactions with people from across the globe. For me, that makes old fashioned, face-to-face interactions all the more meaningful. Similarly, the ease with which we can post, share, re-post and re-share on social networks means that we miss out on more meaningful dialog and interactions. This “cost tradeoff” is something to keep in mind as social networks continue to grow and evolve.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

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How I Curate (and Share) Content on Twitter

April 13, 2012

Book store / library image.

Introduction

I once had a pile of old books that I no longer wanted. I brought them into a bookstore that buys and sells used books. After placing my pile of books on the counter, the owner proceeded to examine each one. He carefully examined the cover, opened the book to read the chapter of contents, and then skimmed quickly through a few pages.

I was expecting him to accept each of my books, but he only took a third of them. When I asked him about his evaluation process, he told me that it’s driven by limited shelf space, along with his understanding of what his customers want.

To become a regarded sharer of content on Twitter, you need to act like the used book shop owner. His shelf space has a fixed amount of space, in the same way that your Twitter followers have a fixed amount of attention. The store owner can’t sell every used book he comes across and you can’t (well, shouldn’t) share every single link you find.

So speaking of sharing, I thought I’d share the process I use for curating and sharing content on Twitter.

Curation

The Process

Like many of you, I have a daily “surfing routine,” in which I visit a number of “go to” sites each morning. For the national (and global) scene, my favorite site is NYTimes.com, for which I gladly pay to gain access. For the local tech scene here in the Bay Area, I visit SiliconValley.com, a web site of the San Jose Mercury News.

In addition to these go-to sites, I use the somewhat old fashioned method of maintaining 40+ RSS feeds, which I read via Google Reader.

I then behave like the used book store owner. To gain credibility and respect, I like to share links (content) that my followers (and even folks who are not following me) find useful. If I blindly tweet out a large volume of tweets and my followers don’t find them useful, then I’m sure to lose followers.

Content Review

While I’ve committed the sin of tweeting an article solely based on a captivating headline, I prefer to read the article entirely – or, at minimum, to skim the article to get a sense for it. Recall that the book store owner did the same thing.

When you read the article, it helps you understand what you’re sharing. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to share an article in which the body didn’t match the title at all? Yes, that could annoy followers who clicked on the link.

Another benefit to reading the article? Including a fact or quote from the article in your tweet. I like to include my own thought(s) in my tweets, rather than just tweeting the article title and link. In short, I believe that “curate and comment” is better than just “curate.”

Selection Criteria

For something to be shareable, I look for the following:

Timely: I prefer to share content that’s been published in the past 0-2 weeks. If I find a really useful article that’s 1+ year old, I mention that in my tweet (e.g. “From 2010, but still quite relevant”). Timely also refers to “what’s hot” (a trending topic, if you will). Timely topics that I’ve shared of late include Pinterest, Instagram, mobile apps and Google+.

Interesting: If everyone is writing about Pinterest (and they are), I prefer to share bloggers or journalists who provide a unique spin on the latest trend. Early on during the trend, however, an “introduction to” or a “how to get started” article is, in fact, interesting.

Useful: Related to the introductory articles that I mention above, I like to share content that helps my followers learn something new or do their job better. I often use the rule that if I find it useful, that you may as well.

Sharing

Tweet Button

I estimate that 60-70% of my tweets come from the Tweet button. Almost every site that I frequent (including most blogs) has social sharing buttons. So I share as I read. It’s efficient, because I share as I surf – and, because the Tweet button makes it so easy.

Attribute Authors

If the Tweet button doesn’t include the author’s Twitter handle, I like to search for the authors, to see if they have Twitter accounts. If they do, I like to include their handles in the tweet. This is useful for your followers (i.e. they can follow the author, if they like) and, it lets the authors know that you’ve tweeted their article.

Buffer

I’ll also use a neat tool called Buffer to schedule certain tweets be sent out at particular times. There can be times where sharing becomes too frequent. Buffer allows me to “save up” a bunch of tweets and send them at a later time or date.

You can even schedule tweets with Buffer directly from Google Reader, which I find quite useful.

Retweets

Retweeting (“RT”) is even easier than the Tweet button, as you can perform the action directly from your Twitter client, or from Twitter.com. I use the same selection criteria (listed above) when retweeting. There’s an added benefit here: the act “sends a little love,” if you will, to the person who posted the original tweet.

Conclusion

And there you have it. If you’re still with me, then I hope this insider’s look at my processes (and thought process) was useful. Use the comments section below to tell me how you go about curating and sharing on Twitter.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


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