Navel Gazing – Part 4: Social Networks

Image: Wikimedia Commons

I’m not usually an early adopter. I am too stingy for it. Spending large amounts of money on a new thing that hasn’t proven it will catch on yet and whose subsequent generations will fix all the faults the first one had? Lunacy! But there is one thing about which I can still tell the tale that I was there before most everyone else I know – and that’s Facebook.

I got lucky, though. In the fall of 2005, I moved from Germany to Edinburgh to spend a semester abroad. Conveniently, this was after Facebook had expanded to UK universities but before it opened up to everyone everywhere, one year later. So, while everyone in Germany was still connecting on the German Facebook Clone StudiVZ, I was already using the Next Big Thing to hit Germany. And that’s my claim to early adopter fame.

Facebook

It’s true what they say, Facebook is creating a sort of second, parallel internet. If you are using it, you notice stuff that you don’t notice when you are not using it. I have basically stopped using e-mail for communicating with people I know on Facebook. Instead of sending out invites to communal activities, I just create an event. And the sort of private blogging that I used to do before I started this “serious” blog (on Livejournal, I dare you to find my blog, it’s still up) has migrated to Facebook as well. Mostly in short status updates, of course, but sometimes I also still use Notes, the almost-forgotten Facebook blogging app.

Don’t listen to the haters. For me, Facebook has gotten better with every update. Now, with the introduction of Timeline and the revamping of Groups, it is finally a real “best of both worlds” experience. Before, I politely declined friend requests from people I didn’t know too well, because I am still using Facebook for lots of pretty personal stuff. Now, I’m fine with friending colleagues and distant acquaintances, because I simply move them too the appropriate list. Lists also helped me cope with my internet bilinguality (more on that next episode). I can finally write updates in German and not spam my English-speaking friends’ news feeds with them. At the same time, timeline now finally has become a reliable archive of my life and online activity and will probably come in handy some day – if only they added a good search function soon.

What does Facebook do for me, newswise? I sometimes pick up stories from there that I missed elsewhere. My friends’s status updates sometimes alert me to topics, blogs, etc. I wouldn’t have caught without them. I follow several bands, which is great for not missing when they go on tour, and movie projects (although most of them don’t really do that good of a job). Mostly, though, it still connects me with personal friends on a personal level. The few times that I have actually entered into discussions with people didn’t go so well.

If you want to discuss stuff with me, feel free to do so. Some of my profile is actually public and I allow subscriptions. The fact that I haven’t enabled public search, however, shows that Facebook is still more of a private medium for me.

Twitter

While Alex and Facebook were a natural fit, it took Twitter and me a while to become friends. I needed to read about it for a long time before I decided to try my luck there. As you might tell from this blog, expressing thoughts in 140 characters is not really my forte and I am witty only very occasionally (terrible, terrible puns are more my specialty). I also have a really old smartphone that takes ages to even load the Twitter app (I had a newer one but it got stolen – the difference on my Twitter behaviour is palpable). So I don’t tweet too often and I have few followers and even less who follow me because of what I tweet (I guess). Even though this scratches my ego somewhat, I have since found that you don’t need a lot of followers to use Twitter as an awesome cherry on the media cake.

Twitter is my serendipity machine. In its own very limited way it breaks through my filter bubble and points me to things I wouldn’t have noticed without it. Even though I follow mostly people who are either famous or from my field or both, there are enough of them and the connection with them is weak enough to transcend the feedback loop of social networking. Whenever I feel like finding something new or leftfield, I head to Twitter.

I also love to use Twitter as a running commentary on current events. The best experience I have probably had was watching the Oscars this year (always a very lonely affair in Germany because of the time difference). I had my Twitter feed running the whole time, tweeted myself and somehow felt like I was watching the ceremony with a circle of cool friends.

Twitter is not an essential part of my media diet. I also think it is a much better tool for freelancers than for regular employees – I’m not allowed to tweet about most of the interesting stuff that happens to me – and I have found that I am simply more of a blogger than a microblogger. But I wouldn’t want to miss Twitter in there. It makes for some very interesting flavouring.

The Rest

I registered on StudiVZ, the dying German copycat-cousin of Facebook, with an e-mail-address that has since been deactivated. I can’t remember my password so I haven’t been able to log in and see the devastation for some years now.

I try to use Xing, the German copycat-cousin of LinkedIn, as a business profile, giving people who don’t know me personally an alternative to Facebook. I hardly ever use it and I wouldn’t know why I should start, especially since Facebook made the list feature more prominent.

I have a Google+ profile, but I have yet to use it. Why the heck should I hang around two sites with almost the exact same functionalities? I hear people say the conversations on Google+ are better. I was never unhappy with the conversations on Facebook.

That’s about it for my media diet, but I have one more topic left to cover, so there will be a part 5 about the pain in the ass that bilinguality can be.

Navel Gazing is a multi-part blog series about my personal media consumption habits, meant as a case study and a moment of self-reflection on account of Real Virtuality’s third birthday.

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