Henry Powderly

Journalist, Editor

professional portfolio + personal projects

How Many Social Networks Can One Man Join?

Posted on 26 Nov 2012 in Blog, Journalism | 0 comments

There is no shortage of social networks, in fact, it seems like a new one emerges every time the app store refreshes on my smartphone. But the question remains: How many can a person actually join and keep updated?

The answer, of course, depends entirely on a person’s lifestyle and motivations for sharing on social media but for me, the number is nine: Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr, Foursquare and LinkedIn though I use “regular basis” loosely here for few networks. Also, were it not for mobile apps, keeping these updated would be impossible.

Each of these networks may offer a unique experience, but I’m finding more and more that there is a major functional overlap. Conventional wisdom says each of these has a unique audience with different content appetites, but I’m not sure how much I buy that. If I’m on ninenetworks, aren’t many others? So how varied is the audience really, especially since the only way to expand your own reach is to follow a host of users?

I do think these questions will persist, and I expect a bit more integration in the future. If I were betting, I’d say the service that ties them all together hasn’t arrived yet. The smartphone may have come the closest to unifying the social media experience, but it’s still not perfect.

As it is, here are a few thoughts on each network.

FACEBOOK

At this point, Facebook’s ubiquity has killed its former cool factor, not to mention its string of updates that have made it harder to keep track of those you connect with and its recent tweaks to the Edgerank system that severely limit what you see. But since everybody’s on Facebook, there remains no better place to keep track of your network.

Pros: Most people and brands you want to follow are there, and mobile apps make it easy to manage your network. At the same time, the lack on anonymity makes for a much smarter conversation among your connections or like-minded followers of your favorite brands. It’s also been around long enough now that folks are too vested in the platform to move on.

Cons: Don’t fool yourself, Facebook decides what updates you see, even though you already opted in to follow certain people. Since the Edgerank algorithm tightened a while ago I see far less interaction and keep getting served updates from the same people. It’s unfortunate and has made me lose a lot of interest in the network. I am not going to pay to be able to reach my connections better. It would have been better if Facebook kept the filtering options in the user’s hands (I had already blocked all Farmville posts), but Facebook’s need to make money seems to be forcing its hand.

Verdict: I’d put Facebook on death watch since the user experience is no longer exciting, but the society’s buy-in runs too deep here.

TWITTER

Not much has changed with the micro-blogging network, but high-visibility events such as the Arab Spring, the 2012 Election and Hurricane Sandy have shown how powerful a platform Twitter is for broadcasting. Citizen journalism’s greatest moments lie here.

Pros: Feed is unfettered. You see a straight list of updates from folks you follow, and can choose to follow trends, hashtags, and events much in the same way. Mobile apps make updating simple, and brevity of posts make surveying a vast range of info manageable most of the time.

Cons: Too much self promotion, to the point where it becomes noise. Also, straight feed system fails when you have followers who update at breakneck speeds, taking over your feed. Engagement and conversation not as high on Twitter, too. I get far fewer comments and replies than Facebook. Follower counts can be a farce too. So many folks just follow you so they can get a follow back, boosting their own audience while not caring at all about being part of yours. Oh, and then there’s the bots, trolls, porn and spammers.

Verdict: Great broadcast tool, even better network for taking the pulse of civilization, but 140 character limit has outgrown its usefulness. My advice: Switch to a 50 word limit.

WORDPRESS (.com and .org)

This open source blogging platform has retained its usefulness and has even integrated its own social network on WordPress.com, which allows folks to follow favorite blogs. Though it seems most rely on other networks such as Twitter and Facebook to drive readers to their WordPress posts.

Pros: You control the process, no content limits, and there is a greater tool set for crafting content. Whether you let WordPress host the site or run your own WordPress blog on another server, the customization options for themes and post types keep getting better, and the posts you find there are generally thought-out and polished.

Cons: It’s hard to commit to regularly writing a blog, and for most people I know their blog is the first social platform that gets ignored when work heats up or life gets hectic. It’s also much harder to build a blog audience than it is to grow your Twitter followers. The reality is, a blog post that may have taken you weeks to finish may get only a fraction of the interaction as you posting one sentence about your dinner on Facebook.

Verdict: Worth the effort if you prize having a corner of the Internet that is truly all your own, but better social integration could help. An important platform to support. Also, the more I read about The Slow Web, the more I see a WordPress resurgence on the horizon.

FLICKR

This Yahoo product is still a great place to store your photos online and to make connection around your photography, but it hasn’t changed much.

Pros: Easy to use, and allows you to set licenses to protect your work while contributing to the Internet’s vast image archives at the same time. Groups can connect shutterbugs with similar interests.

Cons: Presentation is a bit dated at this point since it hasn’t changed much over time. And if you really want to use this as your cloud drive, then it lacks much of the “drive” functionality of Google and Dropbox. The paid version helps with space and categorization. Also, no trackbacks makes it hard to know when your work has been used, even when you’ve assigned Creative Commons rights to the photos.

Verdict: Still a great photo management service, but it has stalled when it comes to innovation. Frankly, this is one network I’ll stop using soon. Seems a better solution would be tied to “hub” services such as Facebook or Google+.

GOOGLE+

Google’s answer to Facebook has a lot of great tools, and with Facebook pushing its Edgerank to the point where it is alienating users this could be the next big network.Time will tell, because as of right now it seems nobody is there though Android and Chrome are making huge inroads.

Pros: Slick interface on the computer, and organizing your connections into different circles seems a very clean way to categorize your following and keep up to date on what each circle is posting. Mobile apps are also very easy to use. Integrates with all Google products, so if you are a Gmail, Drive and Calendar user it really does make it easy to use Google+ as your social hub. Google and Chrome apps also add nice enhancements to the experience. For example, you can use Chrome as a Twitter client. Also, Hangouts are awesome, love this idea for videoconferencing.

Cons: Nobody is there. A lot of brands may be, and a lot of Google folks, but the people you actually know and connect with on Facebook are not. Facebook has major buy-in. Google+ may be a better platform, but switching is too hard.

Verdict: If Google figures out how to import all the sharing a person has done for years on Facebook they could take over this sphere. But until that happens, it may be a long time before Google+ is used by the masses.

INSTAGRAM

Networking around quick mobile snapshots with square aspect ratios that have vintage-style filters applied to them. It’s the Internet version of sharing Polaroids.

Pros: Instagram is fun and adding these photo filters can make even mediocre photos looks amazing, which is what I think inspires folks to want to share them so readily. It also takes the social pressure from either curating cool content or coming up with witty observations and simplifies it. Instead, sharing basically boils down to, “I took this cool photo, check it out.” Photos take the wordplay out of storytelling, which makes it far easier to do for the masses. Smartphone proliferation is a huge driver here as well. It’s also great that you can use other vintage-style photo apps such as Hipstamatic to share to Instagram.

Cons: Seems a nice Web-client would be great to help people follow their feeds as well as curate galleries based on hashtags, though I know Instagram is starting to give users their own profile pages on their site. I use a slick Chrome plugin to track my feed in the browser. The other concern, now that everybody is on the vintage bug, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before it becomes less cool. Time will tell. Plus, Facebook bought this, and at this point I’m not convinced they won’t ruin the experience.

Verdict: Still very new and a lot of fun. Also showing it’s potential in news event situations such as Superstorm Sandy and the 2012 Elections, giving people a way to only follow relevant photos in lieu of text.

TUMBLR

This this the one and only true microblogging platform. While it doesn’t go so far as to limit posts to 140 characters, it does make it very easy to blog by taking out the pressure to write long posts. A quote, a photos, a few sentences, even a link can make up a post on Tumblr. Seems to be the choice of those who want a blog that’s low maintenance compared to Blogger and WordPress.

Pros: Tumblr is very simple to use and set up, though it offers enough customization option to give user the ability to imbue their blogs with personality, much more so than Twitter can. Arts and photography used to be the driving categories here when it came to users, but a renewed interest in the platform has brought more depth, especially among news sources. Custom domain option makes it easy to integrate Tumblr with your own website, which is great.

Cons: Reblogging is great, but Tumblr doesn’t really make it easy to host a conversation around your posts. Broadcast and sharing by circulating info is the name of the game here. Also, much like Twitter, if you follow brands that post constantly it can make it hard to see content from the less prolific folks you follow.

Verdict: Tumblr will always have a place in the social landscape. It’s still the easiest way to start a blog that you don’t want to overthink.

FOURSQUARE

The first location based check-in network. Some folks love it, I admittedly do not.

Pros: For starters, it’s great for finding where your friends are for a possible meetup. At the same time, it’s not secret that a recommendation from a friend is far more valuable than one from a stranger. That’s what a check-in is, a recommendation. Businesses can set up promotions that can save you money, too.

Cons: Foursquare is the most intrusive social network there is, requiring you to share your exact geographic coordinates with the entire world. For me, an obsessive type at times, it put way too much pressure on me to check-in everywhere, making it impossible to unplug. Also, seems to me that telling everyone where you are also conveys where you are not, which could be dangerous. Plus, Twitter and Facebook now have location check-ins.

Verdict: I see why people like it, but I just don’t see the point.

LINKEDIN

Business minded networking intended to be more professional than sites like Facebook and Twitter. Perfect for folks who want to connect on a professional level, but would rather keep their personal sides out of it.

Pros: Keeping it professional can tend to keep the conversation from straying. Great way to take your résumé and make it a much more living and social experience. Access to job opportunities a nice plus, and the connections aspect which can help you make important professional introductions can really pay off. Design is nice, and options to create and join groups relating to you business or expertise can foster good conversations.

Cons: Site changes that make it more Twitter-like in recent months have in my mind cheapened the experience. For example, a strange new feature that let’s people endorse pre-selected skills with a click of a button seems to have taken the thought out of the recommendation process. Does anyone care if somebody endorsed my skills in AP Style? Also, Twitter-like behaviors such as random folks connecting with you just to add to their own connection numbers is also weakening the experience.

Verdict: Still doing what it aims to do, staying professional, but recent changes haven’t really enhanced the platform.

While these may be the nine major networks I use, soon to be eight after I delete Foursquare, it is by no means the extent of my social reach. I left off networks like Fictionaut and social profile services such as RebelMouse, Klout, Paper.li, MuckRack, About.me and Contently.

Suddenly I’m reminded of horcruxes.

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