Jaiku and the like

I’ve been a fan of social media for several years now.

My interest began with Jaiku, which uniquely allowed conversations to be grouped and which allowed replies to exceed the normal 140-character rule then the norm with Twitter.

I first mentioned Jaiku in my old self-hosted blog and this is the earliest post I can find on WayBackMachine.

Sadly the site was soon gobbled up by Google as part of an early attempt to join the burgeoning social media explosion.

Google tried and failed to compete with Twitter and Facebook with their Wave and Buzz, neither of which caught anyone’s attention. They eventually came up with Google+, which seems to have attracted more widespread attention.

I regularly access Twitter and Facebook, as both reader and contributor. But how many sites do I have to visit to keep up with all of my online chums and family?

I can find my peers on Twitter and regularly find things that support my own CPD. I also share things that interest me, mainly work things, but often more light hearted things too.

Some of this occurs with Facebook too, but I tend to use this more flippantly and really only go there to see what friends and family from across the world are doing or to share scurrilous stuff that amuses me.

But I don’t visit either site as much as I once did, mainly because much of my recent work has been ‘online’ and both sites have become a distraction. Actually, that’s untrue, I do visit them regularly, but not at the times I used to (I used to access pretty much synchronously). Now they often have to wait until I pick up my iPad and view the posts via Flipboard – which is a much nicer experience.

I’ve been reluctant to move over to (or to ALSO access) Google+ because I really don’t have the time to get involved over there as well. I already have to make critical decisions about how, where and when I communicate with colleagues and friends. I’m lucky enough to have a good number of online friends, that I can call friends – because I’ve met them, often I’ve also worked with them and I can trust them and their judgment.

However, my F2F friends, those I went to school with or met in another ‘work’ life, do not generally have such a rich and powerful online presence as me, so I’m used to contacting them by telephone, text and/or email. I’m sort of worn out now, with all of the ways available to communicate.

It’s like those days of Betamax, VHS and Video2000 – so much choice, but no clear winner. Yet.

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Gowalla and Foursquare

I have become quite alarmed recently as several people have inquired about my sobriety. Oh dear, how can this be? I like a pint of beer – but not so much or so often that people should feel the need to mention it?

What can be the cause?

Some months ago. I took to using situational social Apps like Gowalla and Foursquare as I moved about the country. These Apps just sit on my phone and use GPS to register (with my instigation) my presence in place ‘a’ or place ‘b’.

I started with Gowalla for no other reason than it seemed to be the one least used by friends. I had thought there were too many of my Facebook ‘friends’ using Foursquare and that Gowalla needed some attention.

I started by noting my presence at a number of venues already registered with Gowalla and then as I became more used to the system, I registered a number of venues on the system myself. These venues included the local village, where I shop, the local pub where Sharon and I might meet after work for a drink before dinner and the local bakers – which is a real delight. All was going well until my connection to the Gowalla servers became very erratic. Some registrations wouldn’t load while others just disappeared. I found this frustrating and decided to reconsider my actions.

Although I have no real reason to use these tools for my own satisfaction, they are systems I felt that I should experience and research as part of my wider work role as the use of virtual and situational services has great potential. Gowalla’s lack of reliability made me move over to Foursquare – I didn’t particularly want to, but my peers were saying “use ‘Foursquare’ Dave”.

So, on Foursquare I can (and have) now become the ‘Mayor’ of various places. I become mayor by being the person that attends/visits a venue/location most frequently in the previous 30 days (don’t quote me on that, I’m working from received wisdom here). Each visit to a registered site gains me points which then show on a leader board that shows how you compare to your other friends. So an element of competition does creep in here, which makes Foursquare a little more user friendly than Gowalla. There are other services – I just haven’t used them much yet.

The big problem is, as alluded to above, people now think that I am a alcoholic!

Many of the venues already registered on Foursquare and Gowalla are social venues like nightclubs, pubs and restaurants. These are the sort of venues that people go to to relax and perhaps stay for longer than one might if buying a pack of aspirin at the chemist (although some chemists are registered). It’s much easier therefore to register your presence at a venue where drink is served than where you might buy milk or petrol. And I do!

What I don’t do, is register my presence at every place I visit (they may not be registered or I may not have the time or inclination) or at home – somewhere I spend that vast majority of my time. Giving the exact location of your home may well be folly – especially if you happen to note that you are going on holiday soon. The pub visits therefore stand out and even if they are at the end of (or in the middle of) one of the beautiful walks we have around my locality they just make me seem like an alcoholic.

Hic.

Social Avatars

This is me before the ghostly washoutI’ve been thinking a lot recently about the way in which people represent themselves online. I’ve been specifically interested in the avatars people use on sites like Twitter.

My first Twitter avatar was a pair of green bowling shoes with red toes. I must have used that one for over a year. Then for no reason whatsoever, I changed it to a ‘crop’ from a photo I had of a robin on a power line. The ‘crop’ showed a magnificent winter-blue sky with the tiny dot of a bird mid-lower-right third of the image. I used this for over a year before changing, this time on purpose, to a disguised ghostly image of me. This change received some negative comment, as did the next slightly disguised picture of me with a halo effect.

So I’m now back with the robin. What have I learned/observed during this experimentation with avatars?

I think we all develop a virtual representation of ourselves that becomes an online reality. By tampering with my visual representation, no matter how tiny it is, I upset the equilibrium with which ‘followers’ and/or ‘friends (used in Twitter/Facebook terms) view me. A friend who has seen me deliver workshops and met me on many occasions socially and professionally had been upset that the ghostly washout did not represent the colourful me. Another friend suggested that the halo image was portrayed to her as an old granny (doing her knitting?). Both examples of comment were true. The ‘washout’ did not work as a representation of my work and/or character and the ‘halo’ did indeed look like a granny doing some crochet work! The impersonal images of bowling shoes and robin elicited no comment whatsoever.

granny effectThis leads me to believe that we look for true representations of someone in a photographic avatar and where the person is known by us socially and/or professionally, we feel personally slighted when that image does not represent the person we know. A non-human representation does not evoke the same response.

I’d also felt a slight discomfort when colleagues and friends changed their avatars too, but I wasn’t sure why. I was not surprised therefore when James Clay said (when we last met) that he was fed up with people changing their avatars.  My ears pricked up and I asked him why. He suggested that it isn’t as easy to identify a ‘tweet’ if you’re scanning through the (whichever) interface to read items of interest. And it suddenly occurred to me that that’s why I had the discomfort.

ghostly washoutWhen we become regular Twitterers (is there such a word?) we have to learn that we cannot read everything – no matter how many people we follow. We have to treat the stream of ‘tweets’ just like we would view a stream. A stream flows, it passes by us: that’s it. Therefore recognising the tweets of our favourite tweeters (I’ll look back on this one day and say “WHAAAT?) is done quickly by eye and we learn to recognise that person’s avatar.

Discomfort is caused when our avatars change, so to anyone thinking they should change their avatar – think twice.

Thank you to everyone who commented on my avatars while I was in the experimentation stage. Please do not be offended that I have changed back or that I have not specifically mentioned you here. And please be assured that I was not offended in any way or at any time. I suspect that I will re-visit this one day as I really do find it an interesting subject closely allied to human computer interaction.