September 28th, 2012

storyteller doll

On Social Networking

Let's start with a celebrity death. Andy Williams was most famous for singing "Moon River," a song that is notable largely for having a range small enough that even many people who can't sing can get away with it. I have to admit that he fell into the (large) category of people who I hadn't realized were still alive.

My other news tidbit is that Jason Varitek has been named a special assistant to the general manager for the Red Sox. I am very pleased. There are few players nowadays who play their entire major league career with one team. (Tek did do a minor league stint with the Mariners, and had also played for the independent St. Paul Saints. But all of his time in the majors was with the Red Sox.) He is, by all accounts, popular with the players and I hope this move will improve their performance next season.

My main topic today is social networking. I've done this for a long time, having been a big user of Usenet (and a few local bulletin boards) starting around 1985. Back in those days, computer access itself was a significant barrier. And Usenet generally required some familiarity with text editors that had a certain learning curve. I was unusual in not being a computer scientist, though I am an engineer. I remember what a big kerfuffle it was when AOL first gave Usenet access to their users.

For me, being on-line had a lot to do with finding other people who had at least some of the same interests I did. No matter what you were interested in - be it Celtic music or detective fiction or Jewish genealogy, there were people out there to discuss it with. I hung out mostly in a few places -, soc.women, rec.arts.books, - but no matter where I went, there was interesting conversation. I went to boinkcons and met net folks in person, too. I am, in fact, still friendly with many of those people.

As the net grew, so did the number of spammers and trolls and a lot of interesting activity retreated to private mailing lists. There are plusses and minuses to that. The big minus is, of course, the barrier of entry having changed from knowledge of a subject to knowing the people to get you hooked into those lists and communities. I do use one semi-private board somewhat regularly and I think it could come across as cliquish to newcomers. But, if one opens things up, the trolls follow quickly.

My history with Livejournal is more complex. I first became aware of on-line journals via someone I knew from storytelling who was keeping one. I began reading other OLJs and writing my own at Areas of Unrest to document my preparations for my mid-life crisis. There were a mailing list and a couple of websites for people in that world. And, eventually, a number of those people migrated to LJ, largely for its ease of use. I admit that the ability to tag entries easily was also a big factor for me. At any rate, there were people I knew from other connections on LJ and many of them continued writing interesting things. Some of them still do, though some have stopped writing anything longer than a facebook status.

I resisted facebook for a long time. When I did join, I found it useful for tracking down people I'd grown up with. (Keeping up with local gossip cuts down on the length of phone conversations with my mother.) It's also been fun to reconnect with people from various other segments of my past, e.g. summer camp. I find that some of the groups I've joined function somewhat like Usenet did, with interesting and surprisingly in-depth conversations.

So where am I now? I use facebook a lot. I still post long entries here. I check google+ only sporadically because, frankly, there just isn't a lot there. (I do have a couple of friends who use it and don't use facebook.) I check dreamwidth for the few folks who don't auto-post things from there to LJ.

But what I find most interesting is the growth of specialized sites, many of which have grown away from their specialty. Flyertalk (and, to a lesser extent milepoint) provide useful information for frequent flyers, but also have general social aspects (some of them limited to people with a certain amount of time on those sites). When I first joined Ravelry, I intended to use it to catalog my yarn stash and find patterns. I still intend to get around to that someday, but I spend most of my time on the site on a few of the groups, most of them travel related. (Oddly, Library Thing doesn't seem to have gone in that direction. Maybe book people are more focused?) Anyway, I think those sites work because there is some common bond to start with. Back in the Usenet days, having a modem was enough of a common bond.

I'm not sure what any of this means, but I figure I'll keep doing it as long as it's fun. If nothing else, social networking has helped me meet numerous kindred spirits along the way. That's good enough for me.