Magazine article Information Today

Amateur Hour in the Social Space

Magazine article Information Today

Amateur Hour in the Social Space

Article excerpt

If someone approached me even five years ago and explained that one day in the near future I would be filtering, collecting and sharing content for thousands of perfect strangers to read--and doing it for free--I would have responded with a pretty perplexed look. Yet today I can't imagine living in a world where I don't filter, collect and share.

--Nick Bilton, NYTimes.com Bits blog (http://bits.blogs.nytimes .com/2010/01/22/adding-controlledserendipity-to-the-web)

In January, my colleague Gary Price and I spotted this "'Controlled Serendipity' Liberates the Web" blog post. And we both had similar reactions: "Filtering, collecting and sharing content" are things that information professionals (and information aggregators/vendors) have been doing for a long time in print and electronically. It's how we roll.

Alas, it's become quite obvious that bare-bones filtering/ collecting/sharing is how everybody rolls these days, which is one reason why social media sites are so compelling. I've loved RSS for a long time, and I still use it regularly. But these days, I find myself checking Twitter more often, while most of my RSS feeds languish to the point where I am forced to declare "RSS bankruptcy" (to mark everything as "read" and let it all start to accumulate again).

What's in a Tweet?

But Twitter, in particular, is a service people tend not to like very much when they first begin using it. They bring a certain mindset with them that tweets are nothing more than 140-character snippets of trivia about That Cute Thing Your Dog Did and where you're going for dinner tonight.

But once you invest a little time in Twitter by finding interesting people and entities to follow and discovering other new entities and people when they follow you, the service becomes increasingly useful. As we tell the reporters, it's like having your own personal wire service. People share links, pictures, video ... lots of things you would probably never stumble across on your own.

And Twitter is so very immediate. If you've ever followed a breaking news story on Twitter, you understand this. It takes time to update a website, get something onto TV, or (of course) into print, but Twitter is updated instantaneously by many people, organizations, media outlets, and others.

You know the word for this is synergy: "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts."

The Value of Social Media

About 15 years ago, I was just beginning to teach folks about email, telnet, gopher, and FTP. Then, I taught HTML and website design and then moved on to blogging and RSS. These days, I'm teaching social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) mostly to nonlibrarians. Even with all the mainstream hoopla over these services, I still see a lot of resistance. As I noted before, many people still regard them as frivolous, or they fear them as a monumental time-suck. And, of course, if not used judiciously and strategically, that is exactly what they can be.

People often ask me, "Why do I want to be on Facebook?" or "Why do I want to be on Twitter?" So I give them what I think are the following two main reasons:

1. There's a conversation going on "out there" all the time. You can either choose to be part of it or let it pass you by. If you're a businessperson, chances are good that somebody somewhere is discussing your industry (or your specific company) in the social media space, right now at this very minute. …

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