Thursday, February 18, 2010

Social Media: The New Social

Day 3/150

I gave my presentation today at Portage Senior Center and so today's post is about that. I seem to have gone some good distance in succeeding to deconstruct social media in a way that seniors can get their heads around it, and which does address some of their anxiety.

In particular, I liked this series of the slides:

Social media *is* socially interesting, and it *is* technologically boring, however much news reports and geeks like to talk about it as though it's new, and fancy and complicated.

Social media are all just web sites, like any other. They appear in a web browser and you get around in them by clicking on links.


There's no real technical difference between the Facebook web site and the CNN web site. The difference is that you probably didn't write the stuff that shows up on the CNN web site.

If you've ever done a search on Google or shopped online and entered your address and pressed the "Submit" button then you've already mastered all the skills you need. Every social media web site boils down to filling out a web form on the web.

Flickr has a form. Instead of a message as such you tell the form the location of the photo file on your computer.


YouTube has a form. Like Flickr, you tell the form the location of the file, in this case a video file, and then add some information about that file, which will enhance and enrich the post.

Facebook has a shorter form, but there it is. You add your status message and click the submit button.

Social media grew out of "blogging", (blog is short for "web log") which became popular when services like first made publishing on the web just a matter of filling out a web form. Blogger, and other services like it, made it so you didn't have to have any technical knowledge to publish a web page. The blog pedigree is apparent in social media, and is the first essential ingredient in what me generally regard as a social media web site.

Once you click the submit button, there isn't really anything magical about what happens next. The web site just stores the information and displays it back to you and others who visit the site. Blogs present posts in reverse chronological order. But with a something that's just a blog you don't have the social factor -- all the posts displayed at a blog are by an author, or a set of authors defined by someone else. Your choices are really to either visit the blog web site or not to visit the blog web site.

Social media web sites allow you to select whose posts get displayed together. You're picking a bouquet of authors and their posts will appear in an arrangement especially created for you. This process of selecting authors, usually people you know, is the social element of social media. Social media is the ease of blogging combined with a subscription model, resulting in a reverse chronological display of content.

If you isolate the display area from all the distracting stuff around it, you can see that this is true, especially with Twitter. I've picked some people to follow. Their posts (made using the simple form) appear here on my display of the Twitter web site. Like a blog they are arranged in reverse chronological order. The image that each of the people I follow selected to associate with their profile appears next to their posts. Their user names appear at the start of their posts, and if I want to see all the recent posts by just that author (a la a blog-like display) I can just click on their name.

The presentation was generally well received. The feedback featured the word "informative" heavily, which could indicate that it was a bit long, which it certainly was, but that's why I brought cake. Questions are always a good indication of what was missing from the presentation. The questions I got were "How long does the stuff I post on Facebook stay on the web?" and "Can you delete your Facebook account after you've created it?" I hadn't thought to cover either of those subjects. I did notice they were keenly interested in my contrast and comparison of the social mechanisms in Facebook and Twitter, that with Twitter anyone can follow you without obtaining your permission, but on Facebook you have to explicitly authorize someone to become your friend.

I took a survey of sorts at the start of the presentation. There were 17 participants. The audience was divided evenly between owners of laptop computers and desktop computers. Everyone had a cell phone. None of them knew whether or not they had data plans. Two were sure they had SMS messaging, but didn't speak up until I said "text messaging" rather than SMS. AT&T was the preferred network by 2 to 1. One person used GMail. All but three people had digital cameras or phones that could take pictures. Only two people had a way to capture digital video.

The "150 Days" series is a post-per-day review of design topics to help me brush up on skills and become a better designer and new media producer as part of my career reboot. 

No comments: