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Social Networking Stowaway

I've spent quite a bit of time on various social networks over the past few months.  I've been trying to figure out if they are interesting, useful, or both.  Of course, I've got the perspective of a 46 year old business person whose musical taste hasn't changed much in 20 years.

LinkedIn:  This has been by far the most useful.  It's really a business network much more than a social network.  I use it to both capture my contacts as well as to leverage their contacts.  By seeing who knows whom I have been able to extend my own network and introduce people to entrepreneurial teams.  During 2007 LinkedIn reached some sort of critical mass where many skeptics, including me, started to see the value.  I think that LinkedIn is essential for any business person who needs to network with others.  You can use it for background checking, sales prospecting, recruiting, and other research.

MySpace:  I haven't spent much time on MySpace.  I think that it is really great for independent music artists, but I haven't been too focused on that.  A couple of start-ups I know do some marketing on MySpace because their target market includes MySpace users.  But, overall, MySpace is all about hooking up.  It's very seamy to my 46-year old eyes.  I would only keep a MySpace account to keep an eye on my kids if they have one.  For me, it's neither interesting or useful.

Twitter:  Twitter is the most interesting (but not necessarily useful) of all these services.  It's a blog of 140 character posts.  You can easily post to it from your cell phone.  People use it to comment on what they are doing right now, what they had for lunch, where they are, and how they feel.  I've really tried to get into it, but I can't believe that the few people who follow my posts really get much out of it.  And, nothing personal to the people I follow, but I don't get much out of their posts.  I feel very current by using Twitter, but it is squarely in the interesting category, rather than useful.  If you want to get a sense of Twitter, check out TwitterVision.  You can see the random things that strangers post.  If you are really bored, you can follow me on Twitter here.

Facebook:  On Facebook, I feel like a social networking stowaway.  Facebook started off as a social network for college students, first at Harvard and then nationwide.  I set up a Facebook page as soon as they opened it up to university alumni (through my @alum.mit.edu email address).  High school students started to use it, too.  If you go to a Facebook page, you can see multiple modes of self-expression, photos, links to friends, messages, etc.  If all your friends are on Facebook, it's a great way to keep in touch.  If you go to college, you can easily keep in touch with your high school friends who are elsewhere.  The content and discussions are generally very social and light.

College students have felt safe on Safebook because they felt that only students at their university or their friends friends could contact them.  It's nowhere near as seamy as MySpace.  But, there is still plenty of content inappropriate for younger kids.  And, too many college students portray themselves in ways that they would hate to have their future employers see.

Some of my adult contacts are on Facebook.  And, I have had several activities that have brought me in touch with college students.  So, we are all 'Friends' on Facebook.  But, other than tracking some of their daily comings and goings, or seeing what videos they are interested in, I don't find a lot of use for Facebook.  There are hundreds of new applications, but nothing that has really caught my interest beyond self-expression.

I think that I must seem like a 'spy' to these college students.  I don't fit into their social interactions, but I am privvy to all of it.  I am committed to continue to use Facebook because 1) this type of social interaction is the future and 2) my young teenage kids will be on there before I know it.  So, I try to act like a kid, joining Facebook groups, posting videos I like, posting graphics of my favorite sports teams, tagging people in photos, updating my status regularly, and actively 'Friending' new people I meet.  Very, very interesting.  So far, not useful.

Maybe more of my adult friends will join Facebook, and we'll use it as a true social network.  If this continues to happen, the kids may move on to something else.  Kids like being separate from adults, and once adults adopt something, it's no longer cool.  Maybe, in a few years, my friends and I will be using Eons, a social network for people over 50.  I have to say that I am skeptical.  I think that social interaction styles are formed when we are young and change slowly.  Some people can change, but the masses change VERY slowly.  50 year olds aren't likely to quickly adopt social networking vs. phone and email (and email was already a change).

I met someone today who was 30 years old.  He told me that he was too old to understand Facebook.  Wow.  How does that make me feel?

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