Friday, April 09, 2010

Blogging, Facebook and Twitter

I spent more time than I should have yesterday investigating the story of Germans in New England and especially the remarkable story of Wilhelm Kirchner. I still have to finish writing this up. In the meantime, I thought that I would continue the musings that began yesterday with Rupert Murdoch and the future of blogging.

Two inspirational stories dealt with just that, two inspirational stories. Now in Salute To Ratan Tata Ramana has provided a third. This story of the aftermath of the bombing at The Taj hotel in Mumbai is truly remarkable.

Now here I want to look at conflicting aspects of blogging and the internet, again using fellow bloggers to provide examples.

In Sunday Essay - too much information, I spoke (among other things) of the way that 24/7 reporting could create instability. I also spoke of my own sense of tiredness at constant exposure to negativity.

Like many bloggers, I also use Facebook and Twitter. There are other platforms, but these are the three main ones I use.

All three can in fact add to instability and the pervading sense of tiredness. Facebook and Twitter in combination with the mobile phone now play critical roles for good and bad in political or social action. Blogging itself allows people with common views to find and talk to each other, reinforcing and consolidating those views, again for good and evil. The whirl of information and opinion gets faster.

I am, of course, not alone in thinking that there is something not quite right with the world. Ramana's Wandering Mahila-Gen Now And Their Tomorrows deals with pressures on kids from an Indian perspective, while Bullying And Ragging (we called it heckling at school) deals with a second.

In thinking about this, I remind myself that many of the same arguments about the new media were (and are) in fact used in regard to TV. Like TV, our individual use will change as we gain in experience. Further, the new media in fact provides an apparently contradictory correction to one of the most pernicious results of TV news, the rise of the 30 second sound bite.

At one level, Twitter and Facebook look similar, with very short posts. Further, some people use in them in the same way.  Yet, and this assessment is based on my own experiences and hence is necessarily partial, the key distinction between them is that Twitter is first and foremost a communications tool, whereas Facebook is more concerned with community.

When I look at my own use of Twitter, I use it first as a device to keep me informed in certain areas. At the moment, I only follow 19 fellow Twitters. That's deliberate. Time is short. So, for example, I follow Wollombi or abcnewengland because it gives me local information, fellow bloggers because they give me leads. maximos62 is an example here. The retweet facility is also valuable in giving me access to things that other people find important.

On the other side of the equation, while I have experimented with different modes, I basically use Twitter to provide details of new posts. I do not have a lot of followers, just 34 at last count. They are people or organisations who have some interest in areas that I write about. Unlike my general blog audience, there is quite a strong New England focus.

When I look at other people's use of Twitter, I also see this communications focus. If Twitter is to survive into the longer term, it will have to find a way to monetise this communication. 

Facebook is different, for here the focus is on community and friendship rather than just communication. Here I have noticed several interesting changes over the last year or so.

The first is a decline in intensity of usage. Eldest has 461 friends, youngest 385 friends. By contrast, I have just 49 friends.

When Facebook began, both girls moved from MySpace and used it quite intensively. Now they post much less frequently. Instead, they use it as a device to keep in touch across a broader contact network (both girls, for example, added friends from their Asian trip), post every so often just to keep people in touch, but otherwise use if for specific communication and organisation purposes. This includes things like social events or, in the case of youngest just at present, the organisation of Macquarie University's ancient history review. The proportion of their broader friendship group who appear on their pages on a regular basis is quite small, certainly less than 5%,

The second change is the aging of Facebook. This has been quite noticeable in terms of numbers. Further, older people seem to be more intensive users, perhaps because it is still newer. There is also, as you might expect, a higher professional element in usage. Older, I should add, is a relative concept. I am just comparing with my girls!

Where you will find the young is on some of the special interest pages. If you look at You know your from Armidale when..., for example, you will find lots of younger people.

The third change is the use of Facebook for campaign purposes. I have mentioned SAVE BELLINGEN HOSPITAL before. Originally started by fellow blogger LYNNE SANDERS-BRAITHWAITE as an unofficial page, this Facebook page has become a powerful weapon in support of the official campaign.

Of course, both Facebook and Twitter were quickly discovered by the big end of town in political terms, but only now are we learning how to use them at local or regional level.

One of the things that I also find interesting is the growing convergence between blogging, Facebook and Twitter. Ten of my 49 Facebook friends are in fact fellow bloggers. The same names recur in my blog followers, in those I follow. Not surprising of course, but its actually part of the power of the new media, the sense of community.

My musings have taken me some distance from my starting point in this post. So to finish.

In all the confusion and change associated with the on-line world, in the mess and imperfections, in an age where the sense of weariness can be overpowering, blogging provides an opportunity for reflection and review. If you blog on a regular basis as I do, if you have to respond to the thoughts of others, then your views cannot remain static.

I think that this is the core strength of the medium.

Most bloggers do not reach a big audience. It is the interaction between the totality of bloggers that has an impact. Twitter, Facebook and other platforms have a supporting role, but cannot substitute.

To put all this in a purely Australian context, Australian politicians may use Twitter etc to achieve immediate ends. However, their ability to do so is constrained in the longer term by a myriad of bloggers who, no matter what their individual positions may be, actually chip away at the immediately politically acceptable ephemera.        


Rummuser said...

I am truly grateful to you for the links. I find it hard enough keeping up with my email, phone calls and the blog world. I am member of both twitter and facebook but am not active in either. All those who are responsible for having got me involved there know that I am inactive and forgive me!

Jim Belshaw said...

You have my complete sympathy, Ramana!