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October 4, 2010 / Gina D.

The social networking bubble

I used to think of myself as “tech-savvy.” Then I wandered into the patch of THIRTY-FIVE — that’s right: 35 — ways to share a post from one of my favorite design blogs. While I “digg” the nested little icons at the bottom of each individual post on Charles Apple’s ACES blog, I’m struck by an inevitable truth: Social networks just have to be the next “dot-coms” — the next big bust. Mashable calls it a plateau. Either way, there’s sooooo many choices out there, it’s ridiculous, right? I mean… how many accounts do I really need? How many will I actually use? How many of those icons do I even recognize?

Not many, as it turns out. Flipping through the patch, I felt my self-awarded “tech-savvy” badge wilt.

So maybe I’m only an intermediate. But I’m learning — somewhat selectively (there’s only so many hours in the day, after all). I’m also signing up for accounts like it’s going out of style… as I’m sure it will. The ones I’d heard of, I jumped on. The others… we’ll see.

Given this is likely the future of my profession, or a very strong tie to it, I feel compelled to embrace it and soak up as much knowledge as possible about every bit of functionality within.

And while I was doing my homework, I figured others might want to play along at home. So this turns out to be a pretty long post, but full of some useful information, I hope. And, in that spirit, here’s Apple‘s end-post blogroll with info bits, possibly worth what you paid, and in many cases the extent of my knowledge on that particular network:

Twitter: (Yep, we start with the easy ones…) I first harnessed the power of Twitter as a way to group-text family members at a reunion. I signed everyone up for their own account and set them up so they each got a text message every time someone on their list tweeted — before I really understood how to utilize hashtags (#ftrob would, indeed, have been a better play there… *sigh*).  It wasn’t long after the reunion was over that I became put off by this particular medium, which allows posts of only 140 characters. On one hand, I’ve seen people use the limitation in really creative ways. On the other, I grew — and remain — tired of links, links, links. (Maybe this will help.) And the auto-forwarding haunted

I have recently turned a corner on the Twitter, however. As I was telling a couple of our reporters last week, Twitter has one really great thing going for it: immediate participation in a group discussion via hashtags. For example, I just returned from the Society for News Design’s Denver conference, hashtagged “#snddenver.” Whether you were there sharing the experience or looking for tidbits from afar, everyone who wanted to be a part of this community was — is (days after the conference had adjourned, the #snddenver discussion was still going, and the hashtag for next year’s convention has also started a-crankin’). Plus, with recent updates to Twitter, you can make lists for your contacts so you can quickly filter out whose tweets you want to rummage through.

Another useful application of the Twitter: I have linked up with a good Tweetchat that’s right up my alley: #vizedschat, though currently on a temporary hiatus, “meets” at 6 p.m. (Central) Tuesdays.

Facebook: I joined Facebook before it became cool, which was basically right after they started allowing non-students to sign up. I saw it as an alternative to MySpace, which almost always offended my visual (and, in many cases, aural) sensibilities. (Though tempted many times to join in there, I never did set up a MySpace account… Probably never will.) I find Facebook more inviting than Twitter; instead of just links, you get a little snippit of the post and generally an image. Helps me decide whether I might want to click on that link a friend of mine posted or just skip it.

LinkedIn: Geared toward professionals as a way of building and maintaining your connections — and using them to network — it’s starting to incorporate characteristics of — or even direct feeds from — other more widely popular networks, like Twitter. If nothing else, it’s a handy place to keep a living resumé.

Google Reader: The one thing I love about Google Reader is that it forces all the blogs I follow into a standard generic layout. That may sound weird coming from a designer, but the fact is, not everyone I like to follow appreciate certain key design aspects, like how hard reverse type is on the eyes. But when you get right down to it, the bottom line here is that I’m “following” a ton of blogs, but I rarely visit. I’m thinking there’s probably a better way…

Google Buzz: This one’s pretty basic. Simply put, it’s a Twitter-like format that feeds from your Gmail/Google Talk statuses. Trouble is, I don’t use my Gchat statuses that way. Given that most of my Gmail contacts are work-related, I usually put my basic contact info there, which is incredibly helpful, given that I bounce around between at least three papers on a somewhat regular basis — but it makes for a pretty boring feed to follow.

Delicious: This sort of sharing tool didn’t make a lot of sense to me when I first heard about it, especially given that my bookmarks now “travel” on Google Chrome. But I’ve recently turned a corner on it, having seen some really cool uses for this sort of site, like shared reading lists and collections of website design work among them. Plus, some blog sites offer components that allow you to feed in del.ic.ious links accord to how they’re tagged.

Digg: When I went to sign up for a Digg account about a month ago, they wouldn’t let me. That’s right: a social networking site was closed to new accounts. Granted, it was undergoing a major overhaul at the time, which apparently has led to some dismay from long-time users. Still working out the usefulness of this site, but from what I’ve been able to quickly discern about the usefulness of Digg, I’d say it offers users a quick look at trending topics — overall or of your choosing — and helps organize discussions. Currently, I’m not overly impressed with it, and that might have something to do with their new direction. If I stumble upon something that changes my mind or completely wows me about Digg, I’ll be sure to post it here. Kinda bummed they got rid of their little Digger Man logo (at least, he’s not on any of the pages I’ve landed on) especially since I only recently realized what the crap  it was.

Reddit: The Superstar Time Killer with a creepy/cute icon. I think I first heard about Reddit from reading the Facebook comments of my no-doubt cooler cousins. They’re in college, after all, so they would know. Or, at least, they were at the time. Reddit feels like the poor man’s Digg, with shades of Craigslist. The in-house wording and such feels conversational on a 20- to 30-something level: a little less fancy, a little more snark. But definitely functional. Makes me want to keep a closer eye on certain stories to see how they trend…

Ning: Seems to be a build-your-own social network, likely a la Someone Famous. Maybe Conan built Team Coco here. I doubt it, but I really don’t know. I do know the bookmarks component is by invitation only, so… pinkies up, everyone! OK, so that’s not really fair. I mean, Gmail is by invitation only — at least it was the last time I invited myself to open a third account… er… yeeeah. (P.S. – Mashable says Ning has six benefits for biz: 1) feedback; 2) discussions; 3) content and media; 4) inspiration for customers; 5) participation in existing communities; and 6) helping site “evangelists” feel special. UPDATE: Ning Everywhere. (In case you needed a reminder of social media’s omnipresence.)

Bebo: Affiliated with AOL (yes, they’re still around, and looking just as newserrific as Yahoo!), Bebo’s interface is like looking at all avenues of your Facebook at once: profile, video, pics and posts all arrange on your home page, not hidden behind various links and tabs. There’s also a section on your Bebo profile where you can link up feeds from your Facebook, Flickr, Delicious, Twitter, You Tube, AOL and MySpace feeds, for starters.

Blinklist: Another weblink sharing device, like Delicious, except that Blinklist gives you a button for your browser rather than relying on the site you’re visiting to provide an embedded button. Potentially easier to use, it’s maybe a bit less known because it’s a browser mechanism as opposed to a singular page/post promo device. (More information and suggested uses here.)

Blogger: I launched my first blog through Blogspot, which is what Blogger was before it was acquired by Google to become its blogging arm. At the time, it seemed the simplest option out there; WordPress felt too complex for a beginner, especially not one who thought CSS was referring to the sound a snake makes when its laughing.

Tumblr: Blog + Facebook + Twitter + Reader + Evernote = The feed I always forget I have. (And for the record, I had an account here before John Mayer made it famous by deleting his Twitter account.) Tumblr has some very good things going for it, though, like its simple interface. In fact, it feels like the sort of social media site Twitter might be trying to become. I would point beginning bloggers here, but it’s just as appealing for us intermediates as well; lots of “boxes” means lots of opportunities for thinking outside them. Or, if you want a blog but don’t see writing being a big part of that, this sort of blog format will probably appeal to you, with the right motif in place. Like most popular blogging interfaces, Tumblr offers some cool themes, even fancy ones, if  you’re willing to shell out a few bucks to throw together a website with some extra oompf. Or try your hand at building your own.

Designbump: Digg/Reddit for designers that helps you navigate links galore by categorizing some on the side, so you know what’s trending — or what’s about to. Also has a section of editor recommendations, which helps make sure you don’t miss out on anything interesting.

Design Float: Again… exhibits qualities of Digg, but more design-focused, like Designbump. Doesn’t have any sidebars on the main page, though, like Designbump does. So… no editor picks, and you have to decipher the trends from what’s coming up the main feed. I’m suddenly thinking there’s a reason their logo looks like a life-preserver.

Evernote: Big fan, although I am trying out Springpad (further down the list), and it seems to do the mobile stuff better — or at least in a more inviting way. Still, Evernote has all the right features: a button for your browser, a relatively simple mobile app, and it works offline then synchs up with your online account the next time you’re connected to make sure you always have access to all your Evernotes. Came in real handy during SND Denver since the place I was staying at didn’t have WiFi: I could write up, categorize and tag my notes when I got home, and everything would synch up the next time I had an internet connection.

FriendFeed (not to be confused with #ff, or “follow Fridays“): Nope. Don’t have this one yet. But references to it keep popping up, so maybe I’ll be getting an account here soon. Feels much like Twitter 1.0, though, which kinda leaves me wondering why I should bother. Maybe just to keep track of who has more friends: BeyondTetris or Obama. Nah… That’s just depressing.

Mixx: Seems to be a tool geared toward more serious content publishers. On the surface, it strikes me as something corporations would pay a lot of money for despite it not being the best such service out there — but one that sure looks good on paper. Then again, I haven’t tried to use it, so… dunno, really. UPDATE: This link appeared extremely disconnected in the wee hours of Oct. 13.

Netvibes: Billed as “Dashboard Everything” — which sounds like the fifth circle of hell to me — it looks a lot like My Yahoo, which eventually entangled itself with att.net, but now seems semi-separated, but similar? …I have no idea. Haven’t touched in years. And now I remember why.

Newsvine: This looks like a site straight out of my dad’s farming magazine. (Sorry, Dad. Love ya!) In all seriousness, though, this seems to be a depository for what other people think is news. I already have one these: it’s called my INBOX. Just sayin’… Also, it’s a bandwidth hog. Seems to be always be refreshing the window.

Yahoo! Buzz: UGH. Yahoo! switched up all their user profiles a few months ago with no warning whatsoever, and POOF! We all had Yahoo! Buzz feeds. Joy. Personally, I generally used my Yahoo ID to go into chat rooms and on dating sites — places where I was trying not to divulge much more than the basics about myself. I certainly wasn’t going to start a Twitter-like feed on this account. Plus, I really didn’t care for the total disregard for users during the big changeover, which basically wiped users’ profiles and dumped their photos without so much as a single “heads-up” e-mail. Can’t tell you how many times they told me they were getting rid of GeoCities when that was finally leveled. Or how many solicitations for Match.com I got when they tore down Yahoo! Personals…

Orkut: Communication by “scraps” (think “tweets”) seems unfortunate. On the surface, it looks like Google (or whomever sold the site to Google) tried to clone the new Yahoo! format, though I’m not sure why. If you dig in a little, you find that it wants to offer you more selective tweeting as you can determine who (individuals or groups) sees each individual post. I could definitely see the appeal of that as I’ve been waiting for Facebook to do the same and let me segregate some of my “friends” into LinkedIn-esque “walls.” Plus, create-your-own social category feeds. But I’m a little unnerved by the fact that I automatically have an Orkut account because I already have a Google account.

Plaxo: The name makes me think of Flexo, though it does seem less sinister. But I’m not sure I really need one more place to keep contact info “handy.” Isn’t that why I have an Android cell phone?

Plurk: Huh? Investigating this site for yourself isn’t going to answer that question, so let me save you the trouble: cute, but… no. Plurk arranges your posts — and your friends’ posts — in a horizontal “timeline” of slim posts that expand when you scroll over them. Considering I have something like 250 friends on Facebook, I can’t imagine the clutter that would ensue on a Plurk timeline. So I’m planning to just… steer clear.

Posterous: From a visitor standpoint, it feels like a snootier version of tumblr with a Post-It for an icon. Maybe Jon Stewart’s critics should start their grass-roots counter rally efforts on a site built here. From the user’s standpoint, it automates the blogging process. Send an e-mail with an attached photo, and Posterous parcels everything into its probable place in your selected configuration.

Slashdot: Reddit for Baby Boomers? Billed as “News for nerds. Stuff that matters.” OK, so maybe it’s for SON of Baby Boomer. Heh. But really it feels a lot more like Newsvine than anything else, with its feed coming solely from the recommendations of others.

StumbleUpon: They have a cool infographic defining what the hell they are right on their home page. So helpful! Really, though, I’ve heard of this one for some time, just never really jumped in. Looks like it has some potential, and I can see the appeal, but I think other similar sites have a higher profile these days.

Technorati: I think my uncle mentioned this one to me a few times… Could be wrong. Basically, a blog-tracker, among other things. Useful, I’m sure, if you want to be sure to always read certain blogs. Personally, however, I’m more of a post/blog wanderer.

MyLinkVault: Seems a bit Delicious-esque, except with widgets, so it offers up a customizable layout of all your favorite links that you can organize however you like. I can see the appeal, as it eliminates time spent scrolling through your own menus elsewhere, including at the top of this browser page.

N4G.com: Pretty simple concept here: think “Digg for gamers.” Personally, not my cup of diluted sack of sticks and leaves steeped in hot water, but it would seem I’m at least nerdy enough to visit once in awhile.  (OOOH! Space Invaders…)

Springpad: This program acts a lot like Evernote, but with a bit of Google flair (though not affiliated with Google, as far as I know). The most noticeable difference between Springpad and Evernote is the organization of snippits and such. Evernote wants you to tag everything to keep it organized and offers four ways for mobile input; Springpad categorizes it from the get-go, whether it’s stuff for productivity or stuff for life. Plus, it lets you input items in via media, barcode or even proximity.

Virb: Sort of reminds me of Tumblr, with its “elegantly simple” design and such. It appears they’re in the middle of a redeisgn, or at least a re-branding, but I’m sure they  have their act together to take  your $10 in exchange for  what Tumblr is mostly willing to give you for free.

The Web Blend: Designbump for techies, or the mostly-web-inclined… Lots of links to help you find some ins into programming, pick up techniques, or even peer into the latest trends. Share links, comment on links, and other stuff, links links links.

zaBox: Designbump-like collection of all things designy, from illustration how-tos and tips to resources on fonts and brushes and vectors, to more detailed tutorials on popular Adobe and Corel programs as well as a section with web design and job-hunting tools.

Some others I came across — or that came into existence — while I was building this post:

Diigo: The website formerly known as Furl, this one  claims to have evolved into a web toolbox with features the seem like Evernote, Delicious and Posterous all rolled into one. Bonus: a highlighter and sticky notes; downside: I’ve never really been the sort to overuse either in real life, so I’m not sure I really need a virtual set all that badly.

Gnolia: This social bookmarking site dropped the “Ma.” from its name. Apparently, it’s been around for the last five years or so, but during the course of researching and writing this rather lengthy post, it is no more. It has ceased to be. And all that’s left is a “Thanks for playing” note. Farewell, Gnolia. We hardly knew ye.

Blogmarks: Also going through a bit of a redesign, this .net site is a nonprofit “social bookmarking service” that comes from France — is it wrong that I find their conical logo hilarious? I say no.

PingApple (the computer company, not the designer/blogger — at least not that I know of… Heh.) also recently got into the mix (sure — why not?) with Ping, which I’m sure purposefully rhymes with “bing.” I don’t really know what to think about this one, especially since I find that I’m not really even using iTunes itself all that much these days. Why should I when Pandora‘s always within reach? Take that, Steve Jobs.

There’s more out there, I’m sure. I know there’s at least one out there I’m totally forgetting because it’s been eating at me for days. And a few dozen were probably created while you were nice enough to read through this post.

My advice is to find a format you like, and build build build. Then promote the bejeebers out of it on whatever more popular networking site/s come to mind or tickle your fancy. With all the automatic forwarding setups each one has to offer, I’m sure you can find a way to simplify your notification chain to minimize your contact with them, if so choose. And feel free to share some tips and pointers in the comments here.

Want to make more sense of it all? Seesmic is posting some helpful videos and such on their blog about “Building Your Brand.” I watched one… It was OK — mildly informative. But then I figured it was a lot easier to just make T-shirts and wear them to SND Denver… (It kinda wasn’t, but more on that later.)

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