Addiction, and choosing the right networks

It seems to be social networking, video, and Home Camp week here on my blog 🙂

Is it addictive?

Mehmet Yildiz asks:

how did you find Twitter so far? Do you agree Twitter may be addictive? Is Twitter a time consuming social networking activity; more than others i.e Ecademy?

I’m going to respond with some thoughts here, as I don’t like the idea of having to sign up on Ecademy in order to comment there.

It won’t surprise any reader of my blog, anyone who follows my social network trails, or anyone who has heard me speak on the subject in the past 12 months, to know that I find Twitter amazingly useful.

Do I agree that it may be addictive? Well, I found Flickr addictive for a time when I started, joining lots of groups and eagerly waiting for the next comment on one of my images. I found Facebook addictive for a while, adding apps and bouncing around writing on other people’s walls. Essentially I think anything has the potential to be addictive or time consuming… it depends on how you use it. I happily go for a week unplugged and without Twitter and other networks when I’m on vacation, and I do try to dip in and out… I certainly don’t read everything that ever gets posted.

Utility outweighs that. Twitter is an awesome medium for status broadcast, location awareness, lightweight chat, serendipitous discovery, breaking news, sharing links, extending networks, consuming interesting feeds, monitoring self-aware houses, and aggregating attention data.

What networks should I use?

I guess the flipside of being drawn into a single network is that there’s such a range available – so instead we might be spread too thinly.

On Monday, I gave a talk to an internal group at work, and that seemed to generate a lot of interest. One of the questions I was asked afterwards was a pretty common one:

with the wealth of social collaboration tools available it is sometimes difficult for me as a user to select those which are really relevant to me (and my daily business)… is there any tip you can give in order not to “drown” in social networks?

My advice on this is fairly simple:

  • Use the tools you find most useful.
  • Use the tools where your network is clustered. Generally speaking I find the tools I use most are the ones where my network is – so I have a lot of people on Twitter, some on Facebook and some on LinkedIn (looking at external tools) but I don’t use e.g MySpace or Jaiku or other networks so much, even though I have accounts on them and tried them out.
  • Don’t feel that you “have to” use every new thing that comes along. Try things, if you find them compelling then use them.
  • Do actually try things – don’t ignore them and hope they will go away – be open-minded – don’t just try things for 5 minutes, give them a week or two and build up a network if you can (this is somewhat ironic given how I was called out about my use of a couple of days ago).

One network to rule them all?

Related to the question of how to choose and which tools to use, my friend Maria Langer commented today:

Oh no, not ANOTHER topic-specific social networking site. When will it end? Doesn’t ANYONE have a real life they want to spend time on?

We had a short conversation on this through Twitter. I noted that The Long Tail suggests that ultra-specialised niches are the way to go to be successful… but of course a wide-ranging network like Twitter enables far greater opportunities to make more interesting connections (like, for example, me knowing a helicopter-piloting author halfway around the globe!). I completely agree with that. I don’t see specialised networks, or any other social networks, being a sign that people don’t want to have real lives, though… I can stay in touch with friends and make new connections with people I want to get to know, and still meet up with them in person. In fact if I look at the range of my social activities in the past 2 years, I’d have to say that they have been enriched precisely because of my engagement in social software.

So: where does it all end?

The point I like to make is that you need to accept that new tools are going to emerge. If we all decided that one tool was “best”, evolution and innovation would stop. New ideas will always come around and should be explored. How much of an early adopter you choose to be, is up to you.

4 thoughts on “Addiction, and choosing the right networks”

  1. The problem I have with all of these social networks is that it’s impossible — unless you don’t do anything else — to keep up with them all. I like to socialize via Twitter as I work alone in my office. Twitterrific (a Mac Twitter client) is my “water cooler” where the folks I follow stop in and make comments. I follow interesting links, @reply when appropriate, and share my own comments with them. I get what I need from Twitter.

    But I’m also a member of FaceBook, LinkedIn, Flickr, BrightKite, Skype, MyTransponder (for pilots), and, most recently, the Photowalklist. (for photographers). I’ve turned down dozens of invitations to join other social networks — including three that I got just this week. (I wasn’t sorry to see Pownce go; I liked it’s interface, but it was a dead zone compared to Twitter.) If I participated regularly in ALL of these networks, when would I have time to live my life?

    Seriously, isn’t this all too much? When will it end?

    You suggest that the niche networks might succeed, but unless they have enough regular participation from people with something worth tuning in for, how will they attract others? I can find 1,000 QUALITY people to follow on Twitter because there are hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Twitter users worldwide — AND I can ignore the rest. On a site with just a few thousand users, what are the chances I can find just 50 who can add something interesting to my life, given the high percentage of idiots and trolls out there?

    So forgive me if I can’t get excited every time I hear about a new social network.

  2. That’s a very thoughtful response Maria, thank you for taking the time to write that.

    I completely understand, and again, my own belief is that there are too many, consolidation / attrition is already happening… but we shouldn’t let that stop us from exploring what might come next.

    Quite a few networks have died off quite quickly, particularly those of the “me too” variety (of which there were sadly way too many at Web 2.0 Expo this year, IMO). I think that specialist ones could well find a niche… I was listening to Leo Laporte talk to the people who run the UK Ubuntu podcast on net@night having the same conversation about not just taking a single subject (Linux, instead of free software) but a niche within that (the Ubuntu distribution) and then putting the “UK” on the title was well – although of course the appeal is wider than that. Niche networks *might* succeed – there are still active communities around, say, the Ford Puma car or whatever.

    I completely agree with your comments about how useful Twitter is in general and how easy it is to get what you need from it.

    I guess I’m not asking anyone to get excited about every new thing out there… and you’re right to suggest that that kind of behaviour is a simple time suck.

    Ultimately, it’s up to individuals to decide what to try and how involved to get. And I’m just fine with that.

  3. Hi Andy,
    Thank you for creating this useful blog entry which answer my question in a great way. Your views of Social Networking particularly Twitter covers both pros and cons. I like the “serendipitous discovery” feature which you mention as it was the cause of our meeting here. Hope we stay in touch for sharing our mutual insights on social networking and collaborating beyond. I have also started moving some of my Ecademy blog entries to the WordPress and Blogspot in the following links:

  4. Hi Andy

    I recently posted about Tumblr (yet another social thingy tool) after being introduced to it by a friend.

    At first i wandered around a bit thinking what can I use this for – whats my angle?

    What I have started doing is a daily music video diary of tunes I’d have on my ipod (if I had one). For December, I’ve gone all festive and i’m ‘posting’ a festive tune / hit – again personal favourites.

    It seems to be generating a couple of visits – nothing startling but then I’m using it as a personal diary that other might like to dip into – I don’t really care to be honest but who knows – if someone shares my musical appreciation then they might visit our site / blog?

    I’m finding i fun to come in to work in the early hours and make one of my first tasks choosing a song. if you would like to see it in action.

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