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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

CPD23 - Thing 6 - Online Networks

There is a lot of personal reaction to online social networks and rightly so. Given that social networking sites have become such a big part of our lives in a relatively short space of time, we should step back and think as users and information professionals about how we use them, how we post, the messages we convey and what that says about us, and also about who and how our data is being used.

On the whole, I am inclined to have a healthy engagement coupled with some scepticism about online social networks. Here's a quick summary of my experience of some specific tools:

I already use Facebook and have done so for over 3 years. I find it very useful to keep in touch with old friends and family and share news and photos.
Increasingly I also use the 'Like' and Groups functions to keep in touch with charities and other community or interest groups that I choose to receive news about such as The Kennel Club, RSPCA, Handpicked London, BBC Breakfast as well as a few work related feeds from the likes of the FCO and others. I think the development of Facebook for organisations and groups to use makes it a very powerful tool and for this reason alone I am not currently convinced by the need for another tool like Google+ since it seems like a 'me-too' application. I am careful about monitoring my privacy settings and also ultimately about the pictures and posts that I put up. People can be very quick to take things out of context sometimes and it is interesting to know who responds.


Again, I've been a member for a while but in different ways. I'd agree with LinkedIn's founder, Reid Hoffman who describes 'Facebook as the backyard BBQ; LinkedIn is the office'. Initially I found LinkedIn less user friendly to use, but over the past few months I've been using it more, particularly again by subscribing to particular interest groups. I subscribe to a wide range of professional groups such as Sue Hill Recruitment, Export Control Professionals Europe, UKTI, LIKE, KIM Professionals and much more. One of the powerful aspects of LinkedIn is the ability to request recommendations from colleagues and other contacts.

As part of assessing my experiences of using the site for Thing 6, I asked a few of my LinkedIn contacts for recommendations - and many thanks to those who have contributed - all your comments are very much appreciated. I think recommendations are probably one of the most powerful aspects of LinkedIn. If you aren't yet convinced by it, I'd encourage you to think about doing so, since it is increasingly used by recruitment professionals and employers (and is an aspect of how we present ourselves).
I wouldn't say I've cracked using LinkedIn totally though since I need to find a happy medium about checking updates from groups (especially when you are subscribed to so many). I don't like being inundated all the time with emails about new postings especially if they are not always relevant to my day to day work. Secondly I also feel that my profile lacks a pithy summary of my skills (who knows maybe it will help me get a new job) and I intend to look at ways to enhance my profile.

Other online networks
I don't use either LISNPN, the network for new professionals in the library and information sector or Librarians as Teachers network - basically because I don't really fit into either category of information professional since I've been qualified for over 10 years and work in government.
CILIP Communities is also not high on my radar - I don't make a habit of checking it daily although I do appreciate the weekly updates from CILIP which includes a summary of latest news from the CILIP Communities blogs.

I am however signed up a few government online networks including Civil Pages, which is a private social media network for civil servants. Likewise, I am signed up to the Communities of Practice for public service which is the hosting forum for a number of online groups in connection with my day to day work such as the Dotgov workspace for those inolved in webpublishing on the Businesslink, Directgov and NHS Direct websites and other government groups such as a consultations forum.

Room for new online networks?

Despite my scepticism of Google+, who am I to predict the future?

For what's its worth, I do think it is interesting to remember social networks like Friends Reunited which were really popular a few years back but which have lost their way slightly with the rise of new upstarts. (ps does anyone really still use Friends Reunited? Answers on a postcard please...!) I am sure that as long as there is money to be made from online social networks, as long as people feel disenchanted with existing tools and companies (eg Facebooks use of our data) and as long as somebody comes up with new software or a a new business plan, there will be an ongoing stream of new social media tools.

Some basic questions I have about social media are:
  • how do you keep people constantly interested in new aspects of an online network?
  • how do you keep realtionships personal if you have more and more followers and friends?
  • how do you bring on board those who express no interest in digital networks?
  • how do we keep productive with the allure of online networks to distract and occupy our minds?
  • how will it continue to develop via mobile applications?
  • how will it continue to map onto existing connections in the real world?

I think it will be interesting to keep informed about the ongoing debate and also to look back at previous viewpoints. For instance, keeping tabs on other bloggers thoughts about the future media in 2011. If you want to know some good places to keep tabs on current trends, I'd recommend keeping an eye on discussions on the TED network or taking note of the Social Media Today online community. For those who are interested in what we used to say a few years back about social media take a look at a Guardian panel  discussion which took place in 2009 and caught my eye - called 'After social networks, what next?'

Two final thoughts

Charles Darwin once said "It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change".

Finally I came across this cartoon (taken from Where's My Jetpack - via theduffyagency) in which, Future Man  explains social media and also provides some food for thought for the future:

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