This is a story about immersion (and possibly something else)

So much of the content I see these days is about trying to get other people to reply, response or react. Engagement is a bandied about subject that speakers whose command much higher honorariums that I do can talk about with much better length to address a certain audience. I’m thinking more about ordinary people with jobs that don’t enable them to keep a pulse on the social web though.

Those people don’t care about the things that most of us do. For them, engagement is limited to the people in their social sphere. Back to what I was noticing: There is a whole sub-culture of people who use message forums to interact with people who participate in their hobbies. Some of these forums have been on the web a long time and center around games. People will often veg out for hours playing games and then writing stories about them. 

What I notice is, there was once a time when people wrote long stories and didn’t care whether anyone read. There was a lot less noise, even though there weren’t as many people. Now? Everyone’s a blogger it seems and participation is at an all-time high. Or so it seems. Many folks bow out after a while, finding the curve higher than they anticipated from the outset. I run across the dead blogs (and twitter feeds) of people who had ambitions that just weren’t able to integrate those tools into their lives.

I don’t think this is a cause for alarm. We don’t need to have a conference about people who have dead blogs, necessarily. The best thing about having passions are that they belong to you and whether one person or six million people are as excited about that thing as you are, you toil in the often obscure doldrums of your particular interest(s) because it means something to you.

Now? Everything seems to be about focusing on ways to brand your hobbies into your career. That’s all fine and dandy, but to expect that we’re going to create a creative economy centered around people bartering skills they may or may not have is a bit unrealistic. Discussing ideas is one thing, actually putting them into action in a practical life is a whole different scenario altogether.

The secret is personal branding is there is no secret at all. It’s your life. Cultivate it however you want. Sharing has limits, but it did before there was social media too. Now it’s just easy to participate than it used to be. But just because the barriers to entry have dropped, it doesn’t mean you ought to go swimming. 

Let’s encourage less people to cultivate their social media presence and focus on cultivating their actual lives. Live, do what you do and at some point if you discover there’s some synergy on the web…then have at it. There is a cost for immersion and the majority of us have absolutely no interest in paying it. 

So let’s just stop kidding ourselves and other people.

I’ve sort of talked about this before.

Thoughts on the new, new Facebook

So the new Facebook profile is on its way. Those of us nerds who couldn’t wait or just wanted to see it in the flesh, used developer accounts to get dibs on early viewing. Here are some random thoughts that were induced by me wanting to talk about the social music features. 

The news feed features don’t seem to be working as well as I think they could be, since they’re really focused on people you interaction with regularly as far as I can tell. So you miss stuff.

But as far as the new profile is concerned…I think I like it. It seems like the right type of evolution of the Facebook profile that hasn’t changed a ton. The little photos was the first step and so, I think the desire was eyecatching the first time I saw it. 

One thing a lot of people have said is the uncomfortableness of having to go back and look at things in your timeline you’d rather not be reminded of. I’m guessing this is old relationship stuff for some people. The manual process of deleting everything or hiding things seems onerous. 

The other thing about the current changes that could be implemented better is the whole “subscription” business. Having to go on each person’s profile to determine which updates you’d like seems like a lot of work. Not to mention that friends lists have been relegated in a sense. While they’re great for privacy purposes, that’s effectively all they seem to be good for in the new setup. (Admittedly, I don’t display my friends list publicly most of the time to anyone. So it doesn’t really matter to me.)

What really matters to me are the music features. For ages, I’ve been frustrated by Facebook’s inability to really log what I listen to in other services. The last.fm apps have long been foiled and the changes to Facebook’s applications system so much had previously limited what was available. Now? If you’re a streaming music type — specifically one of those who uses Rdio or Spotify among others — you’re able to integrate your music listening into your profile. I like this for the most aware of my friends, as it does increase sociability and gives the utility value beyond inane status updates and all-important life issues. (Or anything in-between.)

That said, we’ll hear grumbling as we do when this really hits the mainstream media starting tomorrow and next week when it finally rolls out on Thursday and people get a whiff of it. It’s a huge departure from how Facebook has worked, but I think it’s a real reflection on how the social web has changed and is a pivot towards working how people interact in the digital space. 

Whether that holds up in the end or not, we’ll be able to find out real soon.

Social media brings viral venom to small town America

Having lived in (more) than my fair share of small towns through my adult life, I chuckled at the NY Times article informing those living in the “big city” about what happens when some small towns get a private forum to spread their news about the town square.

In rural America, where an older, poorer and more remote population has lagged the rest of the country in embracing the Internet, the growing use of social media is raising familiar concerns about bullying and privacy. But in small towns there are complications.

The same Web sites created as places for candid talk about local news and politics are also hubs of unsubstantiated gossip, stirring widespread resentment in communities where ties run deep, memories run long and anonymity is something of a novel concept.

A generation ago, even after technology had advanced, many rural residents clung to the party line telephone systems that allowed neighbors to listen in on one another’s conversations. Now they are gravitating toward open community forums online, said Christian Sandvig, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Something about rural culture seems to make people want to have conversations in public,” said Mr. Sandvig, who has studied the use of social media sites in rural areas.

This is no laughing matter though. In some of these towns, civility gets tossed out the window and it causes serious problems for people’s lives, all based on unsubstantiated rumors in many cases.

The Times article is specifically about the site Topix, but I’ve seen substantive conversations going on at city-data’s forums too. But most of these forums exist outside of the mainstream of normal social media chatter that goes on in the Twitter/Facebook social networking ecosystems.

Another place where this sort of thing goes down are newspaper comment pages. I suppose it’s just a way for people to write low-calorie letters to the editor, often lacking substance or coherence. Because the culture of social media in these areas is often curated from afar — if at all — there’s really no policing that gets done because the overwhelming majority of the people diving into the cesspool aren’t any degree of socially savvy.

One positive is that it’s bringing conversations that were probably happening anyway to the surface, empowering the people who find out about what’s being said to the fore. Of course, I’m not sure that ruining people’s reputations and causing them to alter their lives as a result could ever be a good side effect.

What a mess.

The origins of (personal) connectivity

Alexis Madrigal has a post up over at The Atlantic about old BBSs in a reflective post about how far we’ve come in the digital age:

Bulletin board systems were one forerunner to today’s social networks. You could post messages and photos, play games, and download all kinds of apps. On the small ones I knew, one or two of us could dial in at a time, and most were from the same area code and prefix as you were because otherwise you had to pay long distance charges. (This now sounds as strange as a description ofhandcranking a car to start it.) So, the BBS was actually a hyperlocal social network. 

I messed around with Los Angeles BBSs, but I had other things to attend to like catching lizards and playing street hockey with the neighborhood homies. But then in ‘92, my family moved to rural Washington state. Suddenly I was stranded way out at the end of a gravel road in a drizzly little city. I had friends, but they were miles away, so at home, it was just me and Wired Magazine and our new 14.4 modem. 

This made me laugh, smile and well…mostly just reflect. I came into my own on the web a few years after this. I talk about this with people occasionally and say that I’m happier than anything that I didn’t get my own computer until my freshman year of high school. My best friends got theirs after me and I often spent more time at their houses on the computer than my own, because my parents didn’t appreciate me tying up the phone line with my modem.

But what I was saying before, is that I’m glad I didn’t get into this until high school. Why? Because I started playing tennis when I was nine. If I’d gotten into the internet before I played a sport, I think the pull of technology would’ve interest me a lot more than the frustration of being not-so-good on the tennis court. Instead, it’s rooted in my mental chemistry and has been with me my whole life as a result. I think about this a lot with kids today who don’t have that luxury as I did of having a black and white TV, a record player (then a cassette deck) and being the last family on the block to get an answering machine (we won’t even discuss how long it took for us to get call waiting.) because my parents were Luddites until my brother (who is 9 1/2 years younger) got older and they decided to get with the times.

I didn’t do a lot of BBSing, for me it was all about Prodigy and then AOL and finally on the web. But all of the formative years were crucial in building relationships I still have to do this day and skills I use now. 

Creating homemade #highered solutions in a fast-food world.

I was having a conversation the other day with another friend who works in higher ed communications. She was telling me how she didn’t really think much of what was targeted at higher ed folks was really related to her being at a small, rural serving school.

It went something like this, “At what point do you just say the hell with all of it? I mean, I don’t have a big budget or lots of people at my disposal. I can only do so much in a day/week/year. When is enough just enough?”

Well, I think it’s important to consider just what cutting edge is. I remember this Air Force instructor once telling me that “we don’t measure everyone’s success here on the same scale. We understand that some people start from way back and for them to reach a higher standard takes a lot more than some other people.”

As you consider your own higher education challenges, this seems like relevant advice. Not every school has to take every idea they watch on #higheredlive or read in eduguru and immediately try to implement it. It’s no different than watching a cooking show. Work with me and I’ll try to illustrate.

Celebrity chefs make it look easy. They show the right way to do it and whip it up real nice. When you do it at home, it probably doesn’t look as good and the reactions from those in your house might not match those on the TV screen. (For instance, if your kids or significant others are fussy eaters, expect grimaces…) It’s no different than trying to sell something new to your own constituencies. You’ll get some grumbling and some grimaces. Working in the kitchen will get hot at times.

What I told her is that the key to evaluating the cutting edge doesn’t have to reach some sort of bleeding edge. You don’t have to measure your award-winning project against one that cost six times what yours did at a school far away from where you are. It’s about assessing your own institutional realities, challenges and goals to craft solutions that are relevant.

This conversation prompted an email where I wrote something worth sharing here:

1. Do your homework: If you know the institution, you’ll be able to really assess what’s wrong and how to fix it in a responsive way rather than a reactionary one. Your awesome project might be great for your resume and make a great topic, but the ones that resonate actually fix problems and give us a reason to listen.

2. Find Allies: This should be whoever you work for and/or with, but the whole adage of more heads together rings true here.

3. Plan: Here’s a four-letter word that you need to learn to love. It can be easy to want to shoot from the hip and just start doing things. But you can’t know your direction or communicate it, without knowing where you want to go and why.

We can learn from experts and let their insights guide us. But when it comes down to it, you have to run your own kitchen. Small steps are often better than no steps at all, but you have to plot where you want to go if you want to get there.

The bottom line is recognizing that you can’t make someone else’s wins necessarily fit you. It doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them; pick and carve what work.