My Usage of Micro-Blogging
Social networking has gotten a lot of press recently. As the Internet continues to mature people try to understand what it can be used for and how it might add value to their lives. One niche that began with the younger crowd but soon reached mainstream was the blog. Blog which is short for weblog began as a way for someone to maintain a log of information on the web. It was just a few short years ago that if you interviewed the typical person on the street they would have no idea what a blog was let alone tell you that they had one. People were still getting their feet wet on the Internet and having a web site made up of a few static pages was seen as a luxury for the rich and technically advanced. I remember when I first built Now Hitting. It was primarily a series of static pages that I hand coded with individual styles. I had what would probably be classified as a precursor to a blog that I called “Diary of a Diehard”. This was again hand coded but allowed me an area where I could write small entries about baseball and specifically the Arizona Diamondbacks. This was one of the more popular aspects of Now Hitting and drew by far the most visitors to the site. It was also one of the more painful areas to maintain as I had to create a new page per entry and I was coding each of them by hand. Not really the most efficient use of my time but I could definitely see value in it.
Moving forward a few years saw an explosion of interest in the Blog format. Companies and software packages sprung up giving would-be writers and web designers new tools that could simplify the management of a blog. After reviewing several of these packages I chose Movable Type as my platform. It seemed like a good combination of features coupled with ease of use and scalability. I don’t regret that decision. I have gone through several iterations of their software and feel fairly comfortable that I made the right choice. That doesn’t mean there have not been challenges. I am still fighting with the template files of my photo blog 1Photo2Share as I try to figure out how to get comments to show up in a separate pop-up window. This functionality was available in earlier versions of Movable Type but has been removed in the 4.1 release. This continues to be a thorn in my side and one I need to devote time to solving. The great thing about blogging is that it gives you an avenue for creativity and perhaps sharing something that someone else might be able to use. The problem is that the Internet is a huge place and getting larger with every passing moment. Trying to get your message and your blog out to the general public takes a lot of work and a lot of time; two things I don’t seem to have a lot of in my life. What I needed was a way that I could begin networking with others who might have similar interests and letting them know about my blogs. Hopefully that would spark interest and they would then share my sites with their friends who would share with their friends and so forth. The opposite would also be true, I would be able to find new sites and be exposed to new writers that could then share with my friends. It becomes a matter of traffic manipulation and weeding through the noise levels to find the gems on the Internet. This seems like a natural fit for a social network and in particular a micro-blogging service.
Micro-blogging is the latest in tools and technologies that attempts to connect people. It’s primary purpose began as a way for friends to let other friends know what they were doing or where they were doing it. In its basic form it provides for a text entry of roughly 140 characters which is the equivalent of 2 typewritten lines. The goal of micro-blogging is not to provide an avenue for writers to write entries but rather status or brief updates. As an added benefit you can also send links to notify friends when you have visited or updated web pages or blogs. When first started you saw the status of everyone using the micro-blogging service. When it was small that worked rather well. As more and more users found the service this became overwhelming. The services adapted and allowed you to choose whose status you were following. This is done a concept appropriately called “following”. You can follow an individual which means that their updates show on your feed. They in turn could choose to follow you in return meaning they would see your updates. By managing your friends and contacts you can decide what information and who you are interested in. As your needs and friends change you can modify your follow lists to react accordingly.
One of the earliest and most popular of these sites is Twitter. The great thing about Twitter is that it is the biggest meaning a lot of your friends may already be on the service. Enrollment in Twitter is easy and it’s free. Once you have an account you can begin searching for people and following them. Depending on who you are following and how pervasive Twitter is within their lives this feed may be very fast moving. You can find me on Twitter through my Twitter feed. Besides a brief status that I may add, I have also incorporated several automated feeds to notify Twitter of changes in my electronic life. Whenever I update this blog, Diary of a Diehard, or post a picture to 1Photo2Share I have Movable Type post an update to Twitter that notifies everyone of the new entry along with a link to go read it in its entirety. I’ve also included a Twitter Widget on my web page to show the last entry I made to Twitter. Using an application called Now Playing I have incorporated iTunes into my Twitter feed so that it sends Twitter the name of the song I am currently listening to. It works as a type of visualizer. Not only does Now Playing update Twitter but I have also incorporated it into Joomla so that it will show the song, album art, and rating on my web page. I also have it set so that it will look up the song on iTunes and provide a link to it in case you want to listen to that track or purchase it. This is what happens when you have way too much time on your hands.
While Twitter has a lot of interesting uses, one thing it does not do well is provide for conversation. It was never designed for that. It was always developed to provide a short status to friends and family nothing more. Users though want some type interaction and there is not a day go by that you don’t see members attempting to talk with each other via Twitter. It’s painful to watch or keep track of the various replies and responses. Because of this shortcoming a new micro-blogging service was born; one that made conversation a little easier. Plurk is similar to Twitter in that it allows you to post short messages of 140 characters or less. This is where the similarity more or less ends. Plurk uses a timeline metaphor that shows messages moving from left to right similar to a project plan timeline. Plurk also allows you to respond to other’s Plurk entries and these responses are held with the original entry allowing users to maintain a conversation amongst themselves. Plurk will notify you of new entires and new responses. Like Twitter you can choose to follow specific individuals. Plurk describes these relationships in two ways. You can add someone as a “friend” which establishes a two-way follow of communications or you can become a “fan” of someone where you are following their Plurk entries but they do not necessarily follow yours.
One interesting and sometimes annoying concept in Plurk is that of Karma. Karma is Plurk’s way of rewarding or punishing behavior on their system. At its basic level Karma will increase when you use the service and penalize you if you are not an active member. The problem is that Karma is not well defined from a user’s perspective so if you overuse the system or people cease to befriend you or follow your timeline your Karma takes a hit. It’s interesting but somewhat meaningless. The problem is that Plurk uses this Karma number to lock or unlock features causing everyone to get caught up in the Karma game. I have found that I am spending more time on Plurk than on Twitter just because of the conversational nature of the service. You can find me via my Plurk feed link. While Plurk has a lot of possibilities, it too has its share of problems. It is painfully difficult to find friends and lacks a simple search tool for finding conversations or people. It does allow importing friends from some other services but the usage and success of that is questionable at best. The one bright side of Plurk is that there is a growing community who is more than willing to help each other. They have also begun threads to allow friends to find each other on other micro-blogging and social networks. The Plurk interface makes this a little easier to accomplish than Twitter. Both of these sites are invaluable if you are looking for information or to try and keep up with friends.