Spreading Myself Thin

I mentioned the other day on Twitter that I was spread out across too many social networks.  I have Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, the blog, a Ning I’m participating in.  It’s all too much.  But each of those networks is a slightly different audience, so I feel compelled to participate.  There are things I like about each of them (except Facebook; its redeeming qualities diminish every day).  I used to have a fairly nice setup where I’d read blogs mostly, and then I’d check in with Twitter a couple of times.  And then I had Facebook sending me email when I was really needed there.

Also, I’ve been doing this social media thing for almost 10 years.  Some of my tools are aging.  Delicious has been purchased and revamped into a nearly unrecognizable form.  My RSS feeds from there that fed to various resources pages is no longer working.  I’m waiting for a fix. And I moved my blog over here when Haloscan quit working (ah, Haloscan).  Aside from the technical changes, there’s also the shift in culture.  Does anyone besides Alan Levine blog anymore?  Even Laura at 11D hasn’t been an every day sure thing.  All the action is happening elsewhere.  Some are claiming it’s going to Google Plus.  I think most people are still in Twitter.  And therein lies my problem.  Not all my Twitter people are posting regularly to Google Plus yet, so I still have to check there anyway.  But most of my Google Plus people are still on Twitter.  Only my old high school friends are on Facebook.  And they’re just not on my priority list.

And then there’s the question of where to post myself.  I like the longer form of the blog, but most people prefer shorter snippets, which all the other social media out there offer.  I do post links to both Twitter and Google Plus.  And I love the way I can share things from my Android easily (much more easily than via my laptop–go figure). But much of what I want to share requires more typing than Twitter or even maybe Google Plus. I guess I’m trying to figure out what the best bang for my buck is.  I have a hard time imagining “blogging” over on Google Plus.  I guess that’s how journalists felt (feel?) about blogs.  I’m Internet old.

Here’s a cute video that gets at my dilemma:


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The Facebook Dilemma

It’s all over the interwebs that Facebook’s latest changes to privacy setting is evil.  Plenty of famous people have left FB.  Plenty of people I know have left Facebook.

I’m on the fence.  My kids are on Facebook and for my teenager, especially, it’s a nice way to see what he’s up to.  It serves as a conversation starter.  And you know, I like to keep an eye on them in case trouble arises.  Also, my dad’s friends are all there and they let me know how he’s doing, also important to me.  And then there’s all the old friends from elementary school, high school, college, whom I wouldn’t know anything about if it weren’t for Facebook.

But, I’m not a fan of the how difficult it is to set privacy settings nor am I a huge fan of having my information used for advertising purposes.  But, I already do that in other ways–credit cards, grocery store cards (at least FB doesn’t know what food I eat (yet)).  And while I may feel a bit squeamish about that, it’s not like I didn’t know.  I mean, I get the service for free.  They have to make money, so naturally, it’s all about the ads.

Right now, I have everything set to “friends only” though honestly, I’m not entirely sure about that.  That’s what it says, but who knows.  Which is part of the problem, yes?  And then there’s the fact that my “friends” on Facebook run the gamut from people in my field I’ve met briefly to people I see every day to family to former students.  Not all of those people need to know everything about me.  Which is why I don’t post much there.  I could make things more granular, but it’s a hell of a lot of work.  I’d have to group my friends and then go through each of five or six different privacy areas and set what each group gets to see.  Also, I have tried to change my network, but it’s so school based still, I have to tell it what year I am.  Really?  I can’t just be a resident of the Philadelphia area?  I have to have gone to school there.  See, I don’t want to be in my high school or college or even graduate school network.  I don’t live near those people.  I  have little in common with them except that we attended school together 20 years ago.  And every network I’ve tried to join requires a college email.  Hello, we didn’t even have email back then.  Either that or I didn’t go to school around here, but I live here.  Hello?

The people who read my blog and follow me on Twitter are a whole different group of people, so sticking with just those means I lose connections to people who are just on Facebook.  So it’s a dilemma.  And I haven’t decided what to do yet.  I feel like I need/want to be there for lots of reasons, good reasons, but I also feel that their business practices are problematic.  So I’ll keep thinking about it for now, see what the fallout really is, and decide what to do later.  I feel very Scarlet O’Hara about the whole thing.

Social Networking Tips

Nancy White commented on my Parenting in the Online World post that she wanted to know more about what to do and not do on sites like Facebook.  I had mentioned that parents should not comment publicly on their kids’ wall posts and that is a key tip, but let me lay out a little more detail.  Let’s start with some more on Facebook.

First, the wall.  The wall is generally public, though people can control who sees it.  But it’s best to simply assume that everyone can see it.  Think of it as being in a coffee shop.  Would you criticize something your kid said or did loud enough for the whole shop to hear? I hope the answer is no, though I have unfortunately witnessed such incidents.  So that’s one thing.

Also, don’t mention personal things like bathing habits, underwear size, girlfriends or boyfriends, parties, etc.  The bathing and personal habits might be obvious.  But you aren’t always privvy to the social life of your teen and you never know if you say “hey, are you going to john’s house?” on her wall that you might have created a bad social situation for your teen.  The same is true for your own postings.  It’s not friendly to say, going out to dinner with Susie and Sarah, knowing that you’re intentionally leaving out Martha.  Just be careful when posting about social engagements.  You might hurt someone’s feelings.

Be careful about publishing religious and political opinions.  I have my views posted in my profile, but I rarely post anything on Facebook about those opinions.  Facebook generally attracts a wider variety of people with a wider variety of opinions.  If you’re cultivating a network for professional reasons, you might lose people by posting staunch opinions about something.  I defriended someone who posted some really mean things after the health care bill passed.  Saying which side one is on is probably not a huge deal, but spouting off personal attacks can make you look unprofessional.

Don’t post messages to the wall that would be more appropriate in an email or personal message.  Many of these may fall into the categories above.  Before posting, consider whether you want the whole world reading what you’ve written.

This should be obvious, but don’t post about your drunken or sexual escapades.  Grownups may not need this, but teens and college students might.

For a humorous take on Facebook faux pas’s, check out Failbook.

Ok, now for some more positive things.

It’s quite alright to post some personal things, noting what you’re doing, what music you’re listening to, etc.  Just consider how others might view it.  Keep it simple and you’re usually going to be okay.

Do post links that are interesting to you, especially ones related to your work.  I actually have Twitter and Facebook connected, so that what I post to Twitter makes it to Facebook.  Since much of what I post to Twitter are links to articles, that ends up in Facebook.  Think of it as providing a service, especially if many of your friends are in your field.  You’re filtering for them, providing them the things that you think are important.

Post links to your blog posts if that’s an important part of your professional life.  Again, I installed a plugin that automatically sends my posts to Twitter, which then sends it to Facebook.

Make connections to people.  I have to admit that this is problematic in Facebook.  It’s easy enough to connect with high school, college, even graduate school friends, but reaching out to random people is more difficult.  It’s much easier to do in Twitter or LinkedIn.  But, you might connect with them in another venue first and then find them on Facebook.  And they may not friend you.  Maybe Facebook for them is a purely personal venue and they leave their professional lives on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Likewise, tap into your connections when you need to.  Are you looking for a job?  See which of your friends are in your field or in your area and send them a note (do not post on their wall!) that you’re looking and ask if they know of anything.  Obviously, this can be done in other venues, like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Also, try your best to maintain those connections even if you don’t need them now.  Make comments on people’s posts, respond to questions via Twitter or Facebook that you know something about.  You never know when you might need a connection or when they might need you.  It’s best, too, to do this naturally.  Don’t go too much out of your way or you might look desperate.  Instead, just keep an eye on your feed and comment when you have time and the mood strikes.  But make time to do it and it will pay off.

Keep your profile professional.  Have a good picture.  List contact information and websites.  List employment and education.  In a way, this is like a shortened resume.

Consider starting a group or a page.  This can raise your profile.  You can create a page for your business or non-profit or you can join groups related to your field.  Again, be careful about what you join.  These may show up on your wall or profile and you probably don’t want people to know that you’ve joined the neo-Nazi group or a sex group.  🙂

Okay, on to some other sites. Many of the same rules apply, but keep in mind that each site has its own vibe.  Tread carefully until you get the feel for it.

LinkedIn. This is a purely professional site.  Keep your information up to date.  It serves as a resume.

Link your presentations (if you do this kind of thing) using SlideShare.

Search for jobs on the site if you’re looking.

Connect with people.  Since this is what the site is for, if you see someone whom you think could advance your career and that person is connected to a friend, get introduced and connected.  It’s like getting introduced at a conference or cocktail party, just virtually.  On the homepage, you’ll often see a list of “people you may know.” Take advantage of this and add them to your network.

Get recommendations.  Ask former employers, co-workers, students, etc. to write recommendations for you.  These appear on your profile and can be a real added bonus.

Connect your blogs, Twitter feed, etc.  LinkedIn allows you to show your other sites on your profile.  If, like me, you use these for professional purposes, by all means, include them.

There’s also a question feature that may be useful to you.  People post questions about things in their field.  Answering these well can get you a “best answer” star, which will show your expertise in a particular area.


Twitter is just status updates, but you can make those updates count and you can learn a lot from other people’s updates.

Pick people to follow.  Search on Twitter’s site for people in your field or check out the people someone you know and respect follows and follow them.  If you pick well, you can end up with great information as people post news and articles that can keep you up to date in your field.

Post questions that you need answers to.  Poll the twitterverse.  This can be a great way to connect to people as well as get information.

Like Facebook, be wary of the personal update.  Everyone posts some, “OMG, I ‘m busy!” or “I’m headed to the ballgame” posts, but if you’re using Twitter professionally, keep these minimal.

Retweet things that are interesting.  Twitter allows you to retweet someone else’s post, giving them credit.  This can get you a new connection.

As mentioned above, post your own blog posts.  Be careful about this if you’re a prolific blogger as people can get annoyed if all you’re posting is your own stuff.

One final word of advice about any of these sites.  Turn them off when you need to focus.  When I’m writing, I turn off Twhirl and close Facebook and other web pages that might be distracting.  These sites can be a time suck, so be aware of how much time you’re spending.  While it can be productive, it can easily take you away from what’s important.  Constantly re-evaluate.

I’m sure others have advice or other sites to include.  Let me know in the comments!

Parenting in the Online World

It is in theory a theme of this blog to discuss issues related to parenting and managing technology.  And I do.  A quick search of parenting and technology or kids and technology will yield quite a few posts.  Laura pointed to this New York Times article about how parents’ concerns about the Internet have shifted from worrying about online predators to concern over cyber bullying.  Frankly, I think the shift is good.  The likelihood that a child will be harmed by an online predator is very, very slim while the chances that they’ll be exposed to harmful comments and even hurt by them by friends and acquaintances is pretty certain, sadly.

Laura asked about parental security software and I rejected the idea completely in my comments.  I think software to “protect” your kids from bad things online is pretty silly, actually.  First, it’s not perfect at determining what’s bad, and it might block good things and not block all the bad things.  Second, if, as a parent, you think it is blocking all that it needs to, you might stop paying attention to what your kids are doing online.  The best way, I think, to help your kids navigate the online world is to stay involved.  Here are some things you need to do:

1. Get online yourself.  Set up a Facebook account.  Figure out how it works.  Friend your kids–yes, friend them and don’t let them block you.  Do not, however, post things about what your kids post publicly.  That’s just mean.  If you have a problem with something, talk to them about it.

2. Keep the computer in a public place and check in with your kids while they’re online.  Stand over them and ask, “So, what are you looking at?”  Ask lots of questions about what they’re doing or have been doing online.  Do it in a way to show interest–your kids will find some funny and interesting things that you will never find–but also have a critical eye about what they’re viewing and think about whether it’s appropriate.

3. Talk to your kids about appropriate behavior online.  We started with not posting personal information like address and phone number.  Now we’re talking about posting things that might get them in trouble when applying to college or a job.

4. Limit the amount of time your kid spends online.  This is the hardest for us.  Since we both work online and play online, we blur the distinction.  Our kids can’t tell if we’re working or playing while we’re on the computer and we’re on pretty constantly.  The same is becoming true of our teenager.  He had to make a video for class and a lot of his assignments are posted online.  As a typical teenager, he multitasks, switching between Facebook, YouTube and his schoolwork.  We’re just beginning to talk to him about limiting the multitasking.

The site mentioned in the NY Times article, Common Sense Media, is a good one and one I’ve mentioned to parents and teachers.  There, you can find out trends and if your teens or kids aren’t forthcoming about what’s happening online, can give you some material to work with when asking questions.  They also offer programs and curriculum for schools, which some schools are adopting.  It’s a very good idea.

Even with all of the checking up and checking in, your kids will do things you don’t know about.  Geeky Boy uses the IM feature in Facebook more than anything.  I have no access to those messages.  He also texts a lot on his phone.  Again, I don’t see those.  But I ask about them.  Over spring break, his phone kept buzzing and  he kept texting and I asked, “Who are you texting?” And thus, found out about the girlfriend.  We have rules, which he’s been mostly good about following.  The phone cannot be out during family interactions–at the dinner table, during a family outing, etc.  It has to stay in the office during the evening (to avoid middle of the night texting).  And it will get taken away if his grades fall.  Yes, it’s a brave new world, but it seems better to me than some of the things I did as a teen, most of which involved being in places where my parents had no way of contacting me if they even knew where I was.

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Facebook vs. Twitter

I’ve been on Facebook more over the last two weeks than I’ve been on Twitter.  They are, of course very different applications in many ways, but they have similar features, most notably, the status update, which is almost all Twitter really is while Facebook sports many other features.  I have almost completely different friends on Facebook than I do on Twitter.  I’ve had a Facebook account since 2004 and back then, I had a handful of friends from the tech and new media fields.  We were all just taking FB for a test drive, kicking the tires, seeing what’s up.  I started a Twitter account in 2007 and really started using it heavily during a conference in early 2007 as a backchannel.  Since the conference was a techie oriented one, most of my friends were also techies in the education field.  In fact, I can clearly delineate my friends on Twitter among higher education folks, K-12 folks, and then a few random people thrown in for good measure–moms, news and job sources, pure technology folks.  I use Twitter to find information from people who have their finger on the pulse of different areas.  People point to articles, new applications, or make quick suggestions.  And often, I do the same.

Facebook, on the other hand, contains almost exclusively what I’d call “past friends.”  These are people I befriended in high school, college, and grad school or worked with at one time or another.  For good measure, I’m friends with a few old blogger friends, my mom and dad, my kids, a couple of cousins, and friends of my parents.  It’s a broader net, for sure, as there aren’t the same interests tying us together.  And yes, I spend much of my time there managing my virtual enterprises, but I also take note of what my old friends have to say, and I’m starting to feel somewhat reconnected to some of the ones that post most often.  For the most part, my friends in Facebook are not particularly technologically savvy as far as I can tell, or, at the very least, don’t care that much about technical stuff.  It’s just the opposite for my Twitter friends.  Even the educators are very tech savvy and very interested in technology, especially the ways it’s changing education.

Both tools make it fairly easy to keep up with lots of people at once.  At a glance, I can see what conferences people are attending, what they’re reading, what they’re spending time on (grading and cleaning are popular).  But each has its own vibe.  Facebook is slower paced and more personal, while Twitter is fast and more about people’s professional lives. In Facebook, I tend to find out about people’s marriages, deaths, children’s illnesses while in Twitter, I find out when books are published, meetings go bad, or other professional events.  I wouldn’t want to completely combine them and I think many of my FB friends wouldn’t want to migrate to Twitter and vice versa.  So, I live in two separate worlds, hopping back and forth depending on what mood I’m in.  I think the variety is good for me.

Two Restaurants and a Farm, and a Gracie update

That’s what I’m virtually managing right now, thanks to Facebook.  One of my former students posted on my wall, “Please stop getting me addicted to these Facebook games!”  I have not been much of a Facebook person even though I’ve had an account for six years.  I actually started playing the games to give Geeky Girl something to do on a snow day.  And now I have two restaurants and a farm.  I’ve also discovered that people who post a lot in Facebook aren’t usually the ones playing the games and people that I never thought are playing Facebook games.  I know, because most of the games require you to share stuff with friends in order to move up the ladder.

One thing that’s kind of nice about the games is that you can spend ten minutes doing a few things and then come back in a few hours to see what’s going on.  There’s no need to “play” constantly; it’s more like maintenance.  But, I can see where these games will get old after a while.  They have been a better distraction than tv.

Meanwhile, on the Gracie front, we’ve decided she’s part prairie dog.  She looks like she’s always on the lookout, even to the point of occasionally standing on her hind legs.  When she’s not on the lookout, she’s asleep.  She is extremely mellow and will sleep in our laps, on a towel, or of course, in our bed.  We’re pretty much past any house training issues.  She had one incident a couple of nights ago, but has been fine ever since.  And I took her on her first ever walk with the Gentle Leader.  It worked pretty well.  She didn’t like it for the first five minutes, but after that, she quit pulling.  I’m sure it will take a couple of weeks to get her to maintain that regularly.  And I need to slow down her pace a bit.  She practically sprints.  It’s really more of a prance.  The biggest issue now is getting her and the cat acclimated to each other.  I’d welcome suggestions.

The Problem with Facebook

I agree with Alex Golub’s stance in his IHE piece on Facebook. As he argues, the lack of granularity in friend settings creates a situation where you either cloister yourself or you don’t. It’s a very different world than the one we actually live in, where you have people that you work with and would go out to dinner with and people that you work with but wouldn’t. In other words, Facebook forces you to draw clear lines when there aren’t any. I’ve had a Facebook account since 2004, and I’ve had this blog that long and I twitter and generally put myself out there all the time, so I’m not squeamish about having a public persona. I think most people have gotten past fear of Facebook, and thanks to some highly publicized incidents, most students have figured out that posting risque pictures is a bad for future job prospects. As Facebook goes more and more mainstream, however, things are getting kind of weird.

For example, most of my high school classmates have now found me on Facebook. The first person to find me a couple of years ago was my best friend (we’d already found each other’s blogs), and that was cool. It was a great way to stay in touch and it faciliated the ability for us to visit each other. But then the peripheral friends started friending me and I wasn’t sure what to do about that. So I friended them and that was okay, but now all my current real friends are mixed in with former students, former classmates from high school, college and grad school and it’s getting pretty messy. I unsuccessfully tried to use Facebook to arrange a gathering while I was in my home town over the holidays, and that failed miserably (I totally felt like I was in high school again), not because of Facebook, per se, but now I’m wondering why I have those people in my friend list anyway if I can’t even contact them to have lunch because I’m not entirely sure I want them to know about my day-to-day activities. And likely vice versa.

Over the weekend, I friended the mom of one of my daughter’s friends. This, too, strikes me as odd. I actually wrote her a note when I friended her just to say that I was surprised to find another mom on FB. I did it mainly to keep in touch with the mom circuit. She works full time, but also seems involved in a lot of local mom-related activities.

So, I think Facebook makes me feel like George Costanza–my worlds collide.

Growing up Online: a Review

Last night, I watched Frontline’s Growing Up Online. It made some attempt to be balanced by having researchers make some positive comments about the Internet, but it only showed negative examples–a boy who commits suicide, a girl who finds forums for anorexics, another who posts risque pictures of herself, etc. I had to pause the show a lot in order to yell at the tv. First, I was shocked by how many parents had no clue. They hadn’t bothered to learn email or word processing much less MySpace or Facebook. To them I say, figure it out. Set up an account. You don’t have to use it all the time or at all, but you need to know what it is your kids are doing. I was also surprised by how many parents let their kids have computers in their rooms at a young age. Maybe by mid high school, a computer in the room is okay, but I still think having it in a common area is a better idea. But still, parents shouldn’t try to be nosy–respect your kids’ privacy. Don’t lean over their shoulder every five minutes.

The worst parent was the woman who was the PTO president. She educated herself alright, by buying into the media hype about online predators. Then, when her son went to a concert among several hundred teenagers who were drinking and video-taped and photographed themselves doing so, she emailed all the other parents. As she said, about 50% of the parents thanked her for pointing out the material that had been posted online. Those parents were the clueless ones. The other 50% said either, “Mind your own business” or “What are you? Naive? This stuff happens all the time.” After that, her son wouldn’t talk to her, wouldn’t tell her anything that was going on. In essence, she’d turned something private–an issue she had with her son–into something public, by emailing all the other parents. Ironic, I’d say. I was with the son. One commenter on the Frontline site said they thought she was doing a good job. However, I thought snooping and asking for passwords was the wrong way about it. She should have just talked to her kids. There’s really not a need to pry unless you suspect something bad is happening. If you’re talking to your kids regularly, you should know when something might be going on. She never said she suspected her kids of anything. She just figured they were doing bad things because the media told her so.

The discussion on the Frontline website goes back and forth about kids’ rights to privacy or not, with some saying that they have no rights and others asserting that they do. I fall decidedly on the side of kids having a right to privacy. And hello, if your concern is what your kids are doing in public, then Google them, or search for them on Facebook or MySpace. That’s public. And if you find something you don’t like, talk to them about it. The suggestion many make about taking away the cell phone or the computer won’t work. They’ll use the library computer or their friends’ computers. And then you’ll settle into the false idea that your kids aren’t online.

There was also a little bit on education and technology, with one teacher shunning technology altogether. I was rolling my eyes at her. On the other hand, I didn’t appreciate the technophile saying he need to be an entertainer. If you’re just using technology to entertain kids, you’re doing it wrong.

All in all, I didn’t think there were enough positive examples. Where are the kids who are doing creative things online? Who feel disconnected, but find good friendships online? Who use their online world to help them work through problems constructively? I think there are plenty of these. We just don’t hear about them because parents aren’t going to call the news show and say, hey, my son created a cool movie online.

I do think it’s important to understand that bad things can happen online (just like the real world)–cyberbullying, even online solicitation–and that parents should talk to their kids about their online life. We have talked to our kids, 8 and 12, about being online, about not giving out personal information. We limit their time online. When they’re online, we ask what they’re doing, who they’re talking to. Most of the time, even when playing online games, they’re playing with kids who live down the street. When I was 12, I was on the phone all the time. My son is chatting through Runescape, mostly with people he knows. He’s also already participated in a boycott online when they changed the game because of a few griefers. For now, I feel his online activity is positive. And I hope that will continue. Perhaps because both Mr. Geeky and I have online lives and we talk about the pros and cons all the time, our kids understand that being in the public eye means being responsible. That’s a message that didn’t get through in the Frontline piece last night. There really wasn’t a middle ground. It was almost like the piece showed these kids as if they were part of another culture that we’d found on a remote island and everything they did was mysterious and odd and needed to be squelched and brought in line. We need to remember: they are us.

Privacy–or not–on the Internet

Although we’ve had many, many instances of people getting into trouble because of things they’ve posted online, we still haven’t figured out where, exactly, to draw the line. Three separate incidents in the last week have me thinking about the issue more closely. First, at my own institution, there was an incident involving a party posting on Facebook that ultimately resulted in a Student Government officer being impeached and going home for the rest of the semester, perhaps never to return. Do a Google search and you can find out a little more. Many have said that the SGA officer, though wrong, was unfairly raked over the coals even after she apologized, raising the question of how much is enough, especially when the whole incident will live on the Internet perhaps for many years to come.

Another, similar incident, was first brought to my attention by Bitch, Ph.D. and then elaborated on by Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science. A law student who administered an online bulletin board for other law students recently had a job rescinded because he refused to curb the harassment of female law students on the board. While many feel he deserved to lose a job over the incident, some have questioned how much one’s off-work statements and actions should affect your job.

A similar incident occurred with a Millersville University student who was denied her teaching certificate because of a single MySpace photo captioned “Drunken Pirate.”

While I definitely feel that when blogging or posting online, one has to be aware that everything can be seen by current and future employers, I think employers should be a little more thoughtful about how they consider such postings. If one finds pictures of a future employee online showing him or her drunk, does that automatically eliminate them from consideration? Shouldn’t one balance that with other information? Many people get drunk on occasion and increasingly, those incidents are documented and posted, often because they want to share the rare occurrence with friends. If an employer is concerned, maybe they should call references or ask the future employee directly.

Some may respond to such incidents by only venturing online under a pseudonym or not venturing online at all, but I think increasingly, people want an online presence that’s going to include many facets of their lives and personalities. And I think eventually, employers may have to learn to sift through information about people they find online more thoughtfully.

My suggestion for the student at my own institution whose mistake lives online in the student newspaper and Facebook: control your online presence, create a blog highlighting your accomplishments, write positively and move that presence above the other one. Sure, future employers may find the old mistake living in the Internet archive, but if everything else they find is positive, it’s going to be greatly minimized and maybe not even an issue.