Thursday, July 14, 2011

The multifurcation of social media

by J J Cohen

So I'm on Google+.

It's been about a week, during which time most of the conversations have centered upon how to distinguish the site from other social media. At first, I must admit, I thought G+ would simply mirror my activities on Facebook and Twitter. I posted that I wished some program existed that would cross-post to all three at once so that I would not have to do so manually. Then Sarah Werner shared Tim Maly's Unlink Your Feeds: A Manifesto. Maly's plea not duplicate information across these spaces but to craft ways of distinguishing each forum resonates with me: I do get tired of seeing the same information about the people I follow presented as a tweet, a FB link, a blog entry that appears in my RSS reader, and now as a Google+ post. Why not specialize what is presented in each location and thereby create something uniquely suited to each?

Google+ is in its mewling infancy, so it is difficult to predict what it will in time become. Right now it seems a concentrated and tech savvy space which has attracted those with an abiding interest in social media and scholarly -- as well as other forms of -- communication. (At least among those who are posting actively; there is also a large population of people who signed up and are wondering what to do next). The ability G+ offers to classify those to whom you are connected into various circles, though, means that inevitably much of what it accomplishes will replicate Facebook, though in a more controlled, private and specialized way: you can post the vacation pics to your family and the Latin blegs to your medievalist friends. Here is how -- tentatively, and for the time being -- I am using the service.

Facebook is good for all purpose social updates, comic interactions, and quick catching up on various friends' and family members' lives. It's a dive in and skim kind of space, an enjoyable break from (say) composing a public lecture about affect and stone. Twitter is great for sharing links, for some quick and spontaneous interaction, and sometimes even swift feedback on questions and ideas. It's where I learn the most about digital humanities and the scholarly uses of social media, as well as a locale where I interact with many non-GW graduate students, especially (but not only) those who for various reasons wouldn't think of friending me on FB. As a blog, In the Middle offers a forum for more sustained rumination on medieval studies, critical theory and humanities topics, since there is no character limit to posts. If it has become less interactive over the years (we don't attract nearly as many comments as we used to), that's not because it is less read -- our audience is at an all time high -- but because such conversations seem to have relocated to Twitter and FB. And many of us are experiencing social media fatigue: it's enough to keep up with email.

At present I am thinking of Google+ as a hybrid space, a cross between FB and a blog, where there is social interaction around posts that tend to be much more substantial than anything I'd put up in the House of Zuckerberg. Another description: G+ is a workshop, where current research and essays and talks in progress come together, and topics of interest (especially, so far, meta discussions of social media) receive more sustained conversation. Facebook is the most personal venue, Twitter more professional, Google+ (so far) even more academia-oriented, and this blog a professional space with the occasional personal excursus.

We'll see if I feel the same way in a month. Meanwhile, are you on Google+? How are you using it? And even if you are not, do use different social media differently?


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I find this post quite encouraging for my current situation. As I prepare to begin my PhD this fall, my advisor has suggested that I spend time examining the various modes of interaction that the community at large is embracing. I have really enjoyed discovering a variety of blogs, but I have yet to spend much time with the various social networks. I'm hoping, though, that Google+ may offer a clean beginning and the potential for a less chaotic integration into what seems an overwhelming new world. I'm looking forward to my invitation and seeing how well the new platform integrates with my regular online routines.

Anonymous said...

Scott McCloud has started an interesting public thread on G+ that begins as a comment on the clean design of G+ (and commenters note how much better the visual arts look on it), but also included people commenting on how G+ might make it easier to keep the various personal and professional threads of their lives separate in one account, *rather* than maintaining multiple social media accounts. That's kind of what I'm hoping for, too: although I'll keep blogging, I'd like to more or less get rid of FB. Or maybe at least reduce it to only my friends and family, a true personal networking site.

Btw, it's interesting to note that the most enthusiastic users of G+ that I've seen (in my limited, anecdotal experience) are scholars, digital tech people (from computer programmers to digital humanists), and artists. I've got to get Bullock on and convince him how much better his photos will look there than on FB.

Eileen Joy said...

I hate to admit it, but the recent burbling of Google+ to the surface of the social media pond [or ocean] has actually filled me with dread. I know from what I have read that it actually intends to be, not a supplement to Facebook, but its chief competitor, and that alone intrigues and mystifies me. I mean, I *get* that, eventually, Facebook would have to face some sort of competition, but the whole point [and value] of a social network is that it actually exists in one place [online cosmos] where you can always find it [and those plugged into it], and even if the idea of multiple and not necessarily connected social networks appeals to some people [vis-a-vis Tim Maly's "Unlink Your Feeds"], it does not appeal to me, because I can't keep up with all of this anymore. I have found that just blogs, email, Twitter, and FB have often kept me from safeguarding discrete stretches of time I need for writing and working on my research and have also affected my overall attention span. I realize that this all sounds very negative, and I don't mean for this to be a negative rant *against* anything--I'm typically never against anything and I see any and all creative innovations as good, because you never know where things might lead. This is more of a personal admission on my part that, as someone who is already maintaining or contributing to multiple email accounts [personal and professional: 5+], Twitter accounts [4], FB accounts and pages [5+], and blogs [4, but more coming soon], list-servs [1], plus a failed attempt to try out Second Life [I'm not tech-savvy enough for that one and the people in there kind of scare me], not to mention a commercial website I am getting ready to launch for punctum books in a just a few short weeks, I am just ... exhausted.

For the most part, I enjoy all of this and love having multiple projects going at once and getting as many people involved in all of this as possible, but unlike Jeffrey [who I am convinced sleeps about 3 hours a day and is also a better time-manager than me], I'm not sure I want a space, separate from this weblog, in which to share ongoing work. HOWEVER, if one day everyone migrates over to Google+, abandoning other spaces, I'll migrate, too. I try to never "say never," but I thought it might be worthwhile to at least *confess* here that I am beginning to feel that my limit for online interactions has been reached and has even exceeded my ability to juggle my life: work *and* play. Having just spent about 2 months abroad [in Copenhagen, Dublin, Dijon, and Paris], I re-learned the pleasures of spending most of each day out in public spaces, among crowds of people. Of course, I almost always had my laptop with me as well. I guess this is my way of saying that I would like to work a bit harder at better crafting a life that is both *out* in local public spaces while also being "plugged in" to a larger, more globally networked online "public," while still maintaining space for quiet, uninterrupted reading, reflection, and writing. And then also, of course, intimate, playful face-to-face encounters with friends and family.

Anonymous said...
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Jeffrey Cohen said...

Yes there are times when social media prevents me from getting work done. I can use it to procrastinate. I suppose without it I would avoid work by cleaning my shelves or arranging my folders into color coded stacks, but it is right there on my laptop, so the temptation is easy to succumb to. But then again, I seldom spend more than a 5 minutes at a burst on Twitter, G+ or FB. I skim the feeds, add a comment or two ... and return to the essay I'm composing, maybe even a little refreshed. Social media can be a small reward and a brief respite rather than a block to getting work done.

The scholar's life can be a lonely one. I go hours some days speaking to no one, even if I am working in a public space. Social media offers a connectedness that I like and would not otherwise have when I'm laboring in essay writing's necessary seclusion.

So, Eileen, I don't feel like Google Plus has become yet another electronic responsibility in a world that demands more and more. Like you (but not quite so much as you) I administer various accounts and oversee an electronic presence for entities other than myself. It can be a drag. But all in all my e-time is limited. G+ didn't demand MORE time, it simply drew some attention that had been going into FB and Twitter. I'm not spending more time on the internet because of Google Plus. I don't think I'm online more now than I was, say, last year.

The only e-forum that demands a significant investment of time when I turn my attention to it is this blog. As I composed the post yesterday, I was acutely aware that the hour it took would better be spent working on the lecture I'll soon be delivering in Melbourne. Still, I'd been thinking about the issues I discussed and wanted to formulate them into something semi-coherent. So yes I'm a little behind because of it, re: rocks and art, but it did help me to advance my thinking on another topic that I enjoy meditating upon, the professional uses of social media.

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks for these further comments here, Jeffrey, all of which is much in accord with my own feelings and orientations to various social media sites and blogging. I just wanted to be honest, too, and confess that sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed and also wonder sometimes about what we [maybe] might now call an "un-mediated" life; at the same time, as I have also said frequently on this weblog and in various BABEL statements/venues, the scholarly life, traditionally, can be a very lonely and isolated one, and I think weblogs and social media such as Facebook have really ameliorated that situation in ways that have even enhanced various persons' professional careers, including my own. So it isn't just about being more "connected" on a convivial level, but also a professional one.

prehensel said...

Anyone else see this? Brian Keller's piece at NYT is mostly about reporters writing, but hits on some of the questions about technology here: