I’m sure this happens to you too: your family and friends ask you what social networks are for, if they should join or not, if they’re safe, if they’re easy to use, how to begin…
Others ask you for advice on how to organise the information they access. Every day we receive dozens of links to interesting websites and content. Things that flash by at the time, but which months later we are reminded of and want to find. This post reflects on both these things.
I will begin by saying that there are many, many social networks. Some are for general use, and may have hundreds of millions of members. Others are specialised and have fewer members, but they share a common theme. Whatever kind they are, they all let us connect to other people and share our opinions and experiences.
Probably the best known of the specialist or vertical networks is LinkedIn (specialising in the professional sphere). Another, in this case an internal network, is the HPD (our High Performance Desktop) which with its “BBVA network” is a good example of a specialist social network where BBVA professionals can create groups and write our opinions on the wall.
But in my opinion, these networks are limited in three ways:
First, the limited length of the messages we can publish (140 characters on Twitter or 420 on Facebook) is good enough for recommending articles or sharing photos and websites, but falls short when we want to give in-depth comments on news or express opinions. We often need longer texts and want to include photos and links to expand on our thoughts. For example, a few weeks ago I received a link to a website showing the patents of Steve Jobs. Seeing that the patents were simply drawings, I made an immediate association with Leonardo; but how could I write something interesting about that association in 140 characters, or even in 420?
The second drawback is that we can read what our contacts in the social network post all day on their wall, timeline or stream (the names on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, respectively, of the page where each member publishes messages); but when a few months (or weeks) have gone by and we want to re-read something which caught our attention, it can be difficult to find. We know it’s there, but we have to remember who wrote it and a close approximation of the date it was published to have any hope of finding it.
And the third is that it not easy to follow the subjects that most interest us, because contributions are spread through the different networks. A witty phrase, a link to an exhibition, a holiday photo. How can we separate the different entries by subject?
Fortunately, there are two tools which are as useful and powerful as social networks, and which complement them perfectly:
The first is the blog. A blog is a website like this one where you are reading this article. It belongs to us and we are responsible for its content and format. We use it to write our opinions and include photos, links and videos. The information on a blog goes from us to others. Information is organised using “tags” (labels), enabling us to index content and making searches easier.
There are many free blog providers (the main ones are Blogger and WordPress), and a common characteristic is that no programming knowledge is needed for publishing on them. Texts can be written using the browser, and most will let you post via e-mail. This is why there are hundreds of millions of blogs on the Internet, on every conceivable subject.
The second tool is the feed reader. In this case, information comes from others to us. Almost all websites produce an information flow every time a new article is posted. Feed readers enable us to follow the ones which interest us. Let’s say we’re interested in painting. After a while, we have identified ten people with the same enthusiasm who blog regularly, and we’re interested in this content. We also enjoy the art section of a couple of newspapers, and follow the “VIP Art Fair” online. We can set our feed reader to receive all these sources and have all the updates appear in a single location as soon as they are posted. There are many of these. I use Google Reader.
Now I can talk about how I organise everything I read. A while ago I gave up using the bookmarks in my browser. What I do now is this: I use a blog with a host which lets me update by e-mail. There is an e-mail address associated with the blog and everything I send to it is automatically published. All the browsers I know let you send a link by e-mail, so every time I see an interesting link in a Twitter recommendation, by e-mail or online, I send it to the blog address. And there it is published… for ever. Later, if I have time, I add tags, although the blog’s own search engine is usually enough to find what I’m looking for.
To summarise: If you want to write about a subject fairly often, the best option is to create a blog and use the social networks to publicise what you post there (for example, this is what my colleagues who manage the BBVAtech project do every time they post a new text). If you follow blogs on a given subject, it’s worth finding a feed reader and adding your sources.
Ah! and of course, don’t lose the habit of recommending records, books, films, events, plays and exhibitions to your contacts. That does fit into Twitter’s 140 characters!