The quicksand of Web 2.0

It’s amazing how quickly this stuff we label “Web 2.0”- social networking, social bookmarking, social music, social computing, photography sites, blogs, feeds, etc. – can suck you in.

Wait! I’m not saying that this is bad. I’m just making an observation.

Here is the startling (sparkling?) array of networks that I’m now signed up with (gotta catch ’em all!), roughly in chronological order:

We’ll leave aside the equally ludicrous number of IM networks I seem to have an account on…

Yesterday, I was reading that Stephen O’Grady has given in to what he describes as “peer pressure” and signed up to Twitter. I’d vaguely heard of Twitter – mainly because it was one of the options on my Mugshot profile – but I hadn’t looked into it yet. The idea is that you simply, and regularly, post the answer to the question “what are you doing?”. People can just say “Researching the meaning of life”, rather than writing some long blog post on the subject; or something more mundane like “getting out of bed”, “having a cup of tea”, or whatever.

What a great way to share your day with your friends, right?


When I did some research into Twitter, I found a very interesting post by the ever-fascinating Kathy Sierra, who discusses how the interruptions that social networks provide, make it difficult to get flow. My interpretation of Kathy’s basic premise is that the social tools have now become more intrusive and constant, the information more fragmentary: from email to IM, to RSS, to the snippets of activity that Twitter provides. So, we lose our ability to focus, concentrate, and get in flow:

We’ve all been at the brain bandwidth breaking point for the last five years. Email is out of control. IM’ing sucks up half the day. And how can we not read our RSS feeds, post to our blogs, and check our stats?

Park that thought for a moment, I’m coming back to it.

If I look at the networks I’ve signed up for, they can be divided into categories. OK, so these categories are not particularly well-defined or delineated, but they represent how I look at the social networking world.

  1. Stuff I use all the time, and can suck more of my time than is healthy unless I mentally hold myself back from letting do so. WordPress, Flickr, Mugshot (for the music quipping feature). I’ve weaned myself off Flickr, a bit, but the experience has diminished as a result of my not visiting so many contacts and participating in groups.
  2. Background information., Plazes, Upcoming. They don’t really intrude on my life at all. They just sit there and advertise useful information. I sometimes add a new Plaze; I sometimes browse my music network. I have to make an effort to click the button to do so.
  3. Business networks. LinkedIn and Xing. Of the two, I’ve come to be more of a LinkedIn user. Interesting for keeping in touch with colleagues, but not a significant drain on my time.
  4. Stuff I never use, or signed up for just for kicks. Spaces, Zooomr, Vox, MySpace.

The last one is, which I signed up for only today, and I’m determined to make part of my workflow – my bookmarking strategy sucks, and as a user of IBM’s internal dogear bookmarking system (now part of Lotus Connections), I know how useful this could be. I know, I know, I’m late to the party. I don’t intend to let this one rule my life. It’s a tool.

Kathy Sierra is right though: brain bandwidth can be soaked up. Do I get in flow anymore? I’m not sure. Sometimes…

I reckon I’m pretty good at multitasking (although one colleague jokingly told me recently that I have “the attention span of a gnat”, an allegation that I deny!). I’ve been doing this stuff for a while – BBSes and talkers to email and IRC and newsgroups, the web, IM and social networks. I think it has been an evolutionary path for my mind, although from end-to-end the process has been revolutionary in its impact on the way I work.

As an advocate of social computing technologies, I’m not writing this to “warn people off ” – but let’s face it – some of this stuff is, most definitely, crack. I found it quite easy to become absorbed by Flickr, but I’ve got over that now. I find that I have to have a mental “off switch” that stops me from getting too dragged in.

The fact is that some of these tools are enormously useful. As I said in my post about Lotus Connections, they can transform the way we work – in a positive way. The trick is knowing which ones are useful, and how to make the best use of them.

I haven’t signed up for Twitter, although I’ve been invited. Actually, someone IM’d me to say they’d invited me, I compulsively checked my email, no invite… hey wait… maybe this thing is addictive, after all… 😉

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10 thoughts on “The quicksand of Web 2.0”

  1. What a great post Andy! I reckon you should think about sending it in to some newspapers.

    I like your concept of an evolutionary path. These new technologies definitely require some getting used to, and it’s a step change for our brains. However, once you master some of these technologies, they equip you with superb tools to have at your disposal – tools that enhance and don’t detract. You just need to realise that you must learn to adjust to anything new and to find ways to incorporate the benefits into your daily life.

  2. […] Andy Piper’s thoughtful post about the plethora of social networking services, combined with Richard Young’s comment about PC upgrades got me thinking – is being a laggard a good thing? Context: Andy noted the number of so-called social networks to which he belongs, referencing Stephen O’Grady’s discussion about peer pressure to join Twitter: […]

  3. Great post. Very insightful. I’m surprised it took you so long to discover the joy of though! I have really come to rely on it in the last couple of years.

    Tim and Kelly make a good point. You missed the biggest network you’re a part of; being in our feed readers.

  4. I really should have realised that was useful, I just never got around to it. You’re right about the feeds. I just wish I had time for reading and replying to more of them!

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