Category Archives: essay

Social networks: Hermit or herd?

Elaine Chan and Priscilla Chan, licensed by Creative Commons

Facebook is changing us. We use it to stay in touch with many people from all areas of our life. Often these aren’t people we know well – they’re just people we knew from one thing or another. But we can see into their lives: see what’s bugging them, what bands they like, who they’re dating and what sort of person they’re after. It’s not usually life-altering information, but it’s enough to feel like you have an idea what their day-to-day lives are really like. This is kind of voyeuristic in terms of workmates and old school friends, but when it comes to close friends or family separated by distance it is an absolute godsend. To stay abreast of the little things means you feel closer to that person’s life.

But it also changes normal relationships with friends who are in the same town. You get invited to lots of stuff via Facebook. What if you don’t log in often? What if you’re not savvy enough to set up an iCal feed for Facebook events in Google? Well then, you miss out on the party. Tough. Now, what about those that did make it to the party. How do you explain that fancy dress costume to the boss? Your workmates all saw the photos before you even got over your hangover the next day.

But wait. There’s more. There is actually a good side to this networking business. It’s like what they always say: It’s not what you know – it’s WHO you know. If you know a whole lot of people and they all know you’re looking for a new job (Status update: “Bob is finished the degree and officially looking for a graphic design job!”) then that’s a whole lot more eyes and ears and “I know someone..” conversations to get you started. Much better than searching the papers, finding only courier and snack bar assistant jobs.

Of course, this status trick can backfire too (Status update: “Tim is sick of his boss and his whiny voice.”). Teachers have been fired for saying what they really think of the kids. Not a smart move. Or worse, you could get sprung taking a sickie. You might also get fired just for lazing away too much of your day.

So, educate yourself and your friends/kids/whatever on how to lock down your social networks. Keep your address and other personal info safe, keep your secrets locked to close friends. Seriously, how much do you want your high school friends to know? Think first. Share later. Then, make sure you are happy with your conduct going public. Don’t bludge, don’t pull sickies and don’t do dumb things in front of cameras. If you do accidentally get caught on camera then chat to the person who owns the camera ASAP. Preferably ask them to delete it, but at least ask them to lock down the photo for the sake of your job.

Generally, the benefits of social networking outweigh the dangers. You might even manage to teach yourself to be a more upstanding citizen. Out you come hermits! Come play with the herd.

What trends can we see developing online?

Today we’re going to get a little more serious about analysing current online trends. This should give you something to chat about with the lawyers at that dinner party this weekend, k? Right, let’s get into it…

Social
There has been a huge uptake of people using social networks in the past few years. Facebook may not be perfect, but it has certainly made a difference to the way many people use the internet. Despite calls that Facebook is merely a directory it still proves popular and there are still a lot of people who haven’t joined the social networking revolution, so we’re likely to see even greater expansion in Facebook and other networks in the future. I think this is great as network size really matters. Social networks are also great for teens “trying on” identities for size. However, this might not be such great news for those wanting privacy, or wanting to avert social or social networking disasters, but that’s life.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image by via CrunchBase

The divides are building between the various networks and the haves and have-nots (not to be confused with rich and poor), with significant evidence to prove that one is better off when utilising social networking habitually compared to those who don’t use online social networks. Use of social networks also seem to be teaching poorer kids essential web-based skills, such as basic html and graphic manipulation, thus helping them gain basic skills for future employment. Other studies are merely keen to note the changes in writing as a person realises they are in the public eye.

Web 2.0 Networking
We will see further interoperability between websites as there is currently a movement away from the “walled garden” syndrome. No-one wants to be seen as the only site that won’t share. That is, of course, except Facebook which is the reason the term “walled garden” was brought into web 2.0 usage.

Twitter hashtags are a great user innovation, co-ordinating disasters with ease. I’m sure we’ll see far more of this as time goes on.

Entertainment
The recent popularity of social bookmarking has paved the way for entertainment via RSS feed. And while more everyday people realise why the geeks have relied on RSS feed readers for so long, there is a sudden explosion in RSS aggregators, such as Popurls.com, which take popular feeds and show you what’s interesting on the net today.

Easy to find MP3s online – Still Alive by Jonathan Coulton

Even more exciting is the developments in internet radio, TV and movies on demand. With Last.fm working to create a personalised radio for each user, plus social network video such as Youtube, Vimeo, Hulu and Blink.tv.

Access
Cloud computing is becoming the norm, as people want access to their email, files, bookmarks from wherever they are. Combined with this, there is a massive increase in people using mobile phones, iPhones, PDAs and wirelessly connected laptops to access the internet. This convergence and subsequent increased mobility drastically increases the connectivity of the average person. It will lead to demand in web apps specifically designed for the mobile-connected person, which will ultimately be a whole lot of fun.

Business
Finally, we are seeing businesses and politicians getting involved with social networking. It is giving them the eyes and ears they have sorely needed for decades, however there are a few bumps and wrinkles still to iron out. All the really fun developments are in looking for work, virtual job interviews and online freelance jobs.

.. And the magic 8-ball says

Christian Heldt, licensed by Creative Commons
Will iPhones take over the world?
.. And the magic 8-ball says: Hmmmmm… Outlook good.

Well, iPhones and millions of similar phones trying to achieve the exact same thing will take over the world.

It seems only yesterday I began to wonder how I would live without a mobile phone. Now it seems I’m handicapped by not having an iPhone or similar, with me wherever I go.

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image by via CrunchBase

Internet and phone technology is converging so rapidly that they’ve nearly swapped places. I use my phone to update Twitter and my computer to make VOIP phone calls.

It’s all to do with timeliness and price. There’s no point telling twitter “Hey, I went to a great place this afternoon.” Twitter is about NOW. You want to be saying “Oh wow. I”m at this huge castle and it’s fantastic!”. You’ve got to stay current. Plus, you’ve got to give those cubicle-dwellers something to be jealous about.

As for phones, who would pay commercial rates when you can pay AU$15/month to call anywhere in the world via Skype? That’s cheaper than the line rental on most landline phones. As long as you can get your internet access without needing a landline, you’re pretty much set*.

But it’s even more involved than just this. People are posting audio blog posts via mobile phone, iPhones and Blackberrys let people easily** check email, bank accounts, social networks and just about any other website. So, the conversation is not just one-sided anymore. People stuck in bars can conveniently talk to their real life friends online while they wait for douchebag real-life friends to turn up late. All this rather than talking to the hottie at the bar. It makes so much sense now that I put it that way.

Pointlessness aside, this really means that people can stay somewhat mentally connected while physically roaming the world. No more Saturday nights staying at home waiting for the phone to ring – oh wait, that’s the 80′s. No more Saturday nights at home messing around on Facebook! Time to get out there and live a little!

* Although Skype do state that they are not a replacement for a real phone and should not be relied upon for emergency calls. So, keep a mobile handy.
** It’s true that you can do this on old clunkers too, but it’s just EFFORT.