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Some Thoughts on Social Networking

By way of giving advice and/or comparing notes with other bloggers who use them, I thought last night I’d write some thoughts on some of the big social-networking sites: which ones I use, and which ones I get the most benefit from.

First up, there’s my new account on Twitter. Yes, I resisted joining Twitter for a long time, and the thing that still bothers me most about it is the same thing that kept me from signing up originally: the 140-character limit makes it almost impossible to have a real conversation. That said, I’ve found Twitter unexpectedly useful in a different way: I find I’m often using it as a scratchpad – for bookmarking links to stories I want to write about, or for quickly jotting down ideas that work their way into posts later. And it’s far and away the best aggregator for rapidly-breaking news (as I found out during Skepticon IV, when I used it to keep abreast of the unfolding “Gelatogate” scandal).

The other big plus to Twitter is that, unlike its competitors, I don’t get the sense it’s constantly trying to pry as much information out of me as possible. Anonymous and pseudonymous accounts are fine (something that other social-networking sites have often gotten wrong), and its privacy settings are simple and straightforward, albeit somewhat easier for spammers to exploit than the others.

Next, there’s Facebook: the King Kong of social networking. It’s still the biggest of all the social sites, and in terms of raw numbers, it still sends me more traffic than any of its competitors.

However, personally, I’ve never been a big fan of Facebook. I especially hate the current layout, which makes the site virtually unnavigable. And that’s not even to mention the constant and bewildering changes to their privacy settings, which I have no doubt are intended to confuse users into unintentionally surrendering as much as possible to data miners, or the creepy way it tries to track your activity across external websites. My countermeasure: I hardly ever log on or post there, other than to announce new posts on my blog, and I don’t fill out most of the biographical sections. They can’t mine data I don’t give them.

The new kid on the block of social networking is Google+, and while it still has a lot of rough edges that need to be sanded off, I think it has potential. The Circles idea in particular was excellent. Unlike on Facebook, where every friend relationship has to be two-way and consensual – meaning that if you’re a blogger who accepts friend requests from strangers, like I do, your front page gets flooded with posts from people you don’t know – I can choose whose posts I see, and I have precise control over who I share something with. These are both very good things.

But G+ still has to work through some growing pains. There are a lot of seemingly basic capabilities it doesn’t offer, and there are readily apparent bugs, like the way it often can’t find thumbnails in links I post (Facebook hardly ever has similar problems). Also, I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about the way it’s linked to my Gmail account and other Google services. This seems like putting too many eggs in one basket, privacy-wise.

Last but not least is Reddit. Although Reddit is more of a link-sharing site, I count it among the social-networking sites because I use it for similar purposes. It boasts a very large and active atheist community, and like Facebook, it sends me a lot of traffic – not as much on a daily basis, but I’ve had tremendous hit spikes from being front-paged there. And I have to admit, it’s one of the most reliable guilty pleasures on my bookmarks list; there’s always new randomness and hilarity to take in there.

Of course, as regular readers know, Reddit and I have hadour differences. As much as it’s done for the cause of atheism – raising money for good causes, giving advice, supporting people in tough situations, and so on – it has an ugly underbelly: far too much casual sexism, and far too much acceptance of casual sexism. We can debate to what extent this is just the background cacophony of the internet, rather than something Reddit-specific, but it’s something the community could be doing a lot more to police to create a more friendly environment for everyone.

If you use any of these sites, have you had comparable experiences? Or are there others you use that I didn’t mention?

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