2009 January

Facebook Folly? That’s Up To You.

Recently Kristen Tillotson, a columnist for the Star Tribune, spent some time waxing on about Facebook and the distracting, even destructive, addictive behaviors we all engage in as Facebook members.  I admit, I am not a regular reader of her column.  In fact, I may never have known about this one had I not been headed to a meeting one afternoon, channel surfing on the radio, when I happened to stumble upon the Lori and Julia Show, featuring Kristen Tillotson as a call-in guest.  I didn’t know it was her.  I just know that I tuned into a conversation disparaging Facebook, specifically the “photo frenemies”.  According to Ms. Tillotson, “photo frenemies” are people who post photos (to FB) of themselves looking awesome and you, the hapless victim, looking like crap.  This makes them a “frenemy“.  In all fairness, the subhead for the column explained that “…Facebook imitates life in the realm of social faux pas”.  The problem with the essay overall, though, is the suggestion that life is still so much like high school, and “social faux pas” are the grown-up equivalent of the kinds of activities in which “mean girls” engage.  Frankly, the article rang familiar, much like the sort of defensive drivel I hear daily from people who are intimidated by Facebook and other social networks.  Instead of copping to the fact that they don’t feel equipped to navigate the unfamiliar waters of social media, they assert that the media is flawed by human pettiness and, as such, not worth their time.  In short — it’s bunk. 

I’ve talked about most of this in a previous post, so I really just want to address Ms. Tillotson’s take on Facebook in this one.  She talks about Facebook needing editors because of all of the “abuse”.  Here’s the difference between the world she’s used to living in and the world of Facebook.  If I don’t care about her column in the paper, it doesn’t matter.  If I buy the paper, her column is in there whether I like it or not.  Whereas on Facebook, if there are people I’m not interested in I simply delete them.  Or I drop them from my news feed.  Or I relegate their updates to the bottom of my pile.  They’ll never know. 

Ms. Tillotson calls out those people she calls the “oversharers”.  She suggests that there should be a status message filter that blocks out tedium.  I beg to differ.  That tedium really levels the playing field.  Frankly I think those people that are constantly hob-nobbing with someone cooler than you or updating their status from their spin class are full of balogna.  Humans are boring.  We have inspired moments, but for the most part we are all creatures of habit.  The important thing is to not try to prove anything with those status messages.  By suggesting there is something wrong with the average or the mundane, we’re rejecting authenticity.  We’re asking people to try too hard and that defeats the purpose.  Those status messages allow us little glimpses into the experiences we all share.  Here’s my advice: if you want to “overshare”, that’s fine.  Just keep it real.

As for the “exhibitionists”, they might bother you, but don’t be a prude.  You might not want to prance around in your boxers, so don’t.  That’s the beauty of it.  It isn’t necessarily exhibitionism.  I prefer “expression”.  Perhaps you should try it.  Your Facebook presence is a chance for you to express yourself in ways you may have never explored before.  Write a little, make videos, share poetry, update your interests, add photos.  You’re painting a picture of yourself, and adding depth to your brand, with every keystroke.  Take advantage of this opportunity and the blank canvas – and the 140 million others like you who are reaching out in virtual space trying to connect.

The “photo frenemies” aren’t frenemies at all.  Let’s face it, we all have those pictures of us in our scary mullets or the evil gingham prom dresses.  If getting older doesn’t allow you just a little bit of perspective, then throw in the towel.  This stuff is FUNNY.  Besides, when have you ever liked a picture of yourself to begin with?

Come on!  It’s not about labeling someone a “climber” or judging someone for the number of friends they have or don’t have.  It’s not about judging at all.  See, my thing is, if you can’t see the fun and value in Facebook; if you can’t really see that this technology is allowing us to reconnect with old friends, enrich current friendships, expand our communities and our views of the world, be more involved, network a little, have a say, express ourselves, share our stories and take some risks then I feel sorry for you.  If you think Facebook is just like high school, and not the good part of high school, the crappy-I-would-rather-forget-those-years part of high school.  Well.  Maybe the problem isn’t with Facebook at all.  Maybe the problem is with you.




Back That Thing On Up

This past Thursday, I gingerly celebrated what I hope is the end of weeks and weeks of laptop problems. The point of this post is so important, that I’m going to give you the punch line before I finish the setup: BACK UP YOUR DATA.

Trust me on this one. Last year, one of the smartest people I know (a developer, no less) had a computer meltdown and lost all of his cherished digital photographs. He spent hundreds of dollars on data recovery. This same person guiltily admitted to me a few weeks ago that, despite that experience, he’s still not backing up his data. Sometimes, smart people can be so dumb.

Hey, it’s a new year (I can still say that as long as it’s January, right?), and a couple of weeks ago I heard a local radio personality vow that 2009 would be the year that she became more tech-savvy. Obviously, I fully support that resolution, and learning how to back up your data is a fantastic place to begin. Because if your machine self-destructs (or is shoved into the next life by a jam-covered toddler or a cup of coffee), all the tech-savviness in the world can’t save you.

Here’s what happened to me: due to some problems with my wireless connection I had to wipe out everything on my machine and reinstall the operating system (new Geek Girls: this is known also as the OS. On my Mac, that’s OSX. If you’re on a PC it’s Windows Vista or another version of Windows. For the super geektastic it might be some version of Linux, like Ubuntu.). I actually had to erase and install the OS and restore my data three times. Four if you include Thursday, when I finally gave up, bought a new machine and transferred all my data over.

Lucky for me, I’ve been doing backups of my data almost daily since November. I have to credit Apple here for an application called Time Machine which makes it crazy easy to backup your stuff. All I had to do was buy an external hard drive (I went with a cute red Western Digital Passport), and every time I connect it to my laptop, my machine backs itself up. It alerts me if I forget to plug it in for a long period of time, warning me that “Time Machine hasn’t backed up in X days.” But, now that I’m in the habit, I plug in the external drive daily. It’s usually plugged in when I’m at home, and often at work as well (I just toss it in my laptop bag when I leave the house).

But, even if you’re not on a Mac there’s really no excuse. There are lots of online backup services out there. (Of course, you take a risk in that if the company you’re backing up with goes out of business, there goes your data. On the other hand, it sure is handy to back up your data somewhere far away so that if your house burns down your data is far away and safe. Just sign up for a well-known service and not anything named Billy Bob’s Backups or I CAN HAZ BACKUPS PLZ and you should be fine.)

The bottom line is this: think for a moment about how much you rely on your computer every day. Think about how much of your life might be on there. If your first reaction is, “Oh, I don’t have anything really important on there,” I want you to try one thing before I’ll believe you: turn off the computer right now and put it in a closet. Go for one week without using it. You can use other computers to access web sites or email, but you can’t use your main computer. After a week, tell me that you don’t have anything really important on there and I’ll believe you.

Honestly, I’ve felt completely lost without my stuff over the past few weeks. At work, I was unfocused because all my To Do lists are on my laptop. I didn’t know what personal errands I needed to run (also a list on my laptop), and don’t even get me started on all of the passwords I had to try and remember when I was on a loaner machine trying to visit all my usual online haunts.

So, if you do have anything really important on there (as most of us do), I’ll say it again: BACK UP YOUR DATA. It’s as easy as 1-2-3. Actually, wait, it’s as easy as 1-2:

1. Find a web site and  start remote backups ASAP. I’ve heard great things from many sources about Mozy. They even have a free personal account (up to 2GB). If you need more, you can get a subscription for less than $5 a month. Not bad. You can also check out this excellent PC Magazine article listing the best online backup services.

2. If using an online service makes you uneasy, start shopping for an external hard drive and back up to that drive regularly (but humor me and use an online service until you buy your drive and get everything set up).

If you’re on a Mac, the whole thing is dead simple with Time Machine and there’s no excuse for not using it. As soon as you plug the drive in, your machine will say something like, “Hey, I see you have a drive connected, can I please do some backups for you?”

If you’re on a PC, check out this excellent article from LifeHacker on how to automatically back up your junk.

Two steps. You can handle that. If you do only one geeky thing this year, do this one. You’ll thank me someday when there’s jam oozing out of your keyboard.

The Truth About Twitter

Over the past year, Twitter seems to have hit its tipping point and truly entered popular consciousness. (@idpkbrian called it when he saw a reference to Twitter in a Wal-Mart ad in a movie theatre this summer.)

Just to be contrarian, I think it’s time I shared my Twitter peeves. Let the Twitter scroogin’ begin!

Twitter != IM
If more than half your tweets start with @, you might want to consider downloading an instant messaging client. Of course, if all those @ replies are interesting to your followers, more power to you. But, more often than not, @ replies consist of stuff like, “@ so-and-so, what are you doing tonight? I’m washing my hair!”

Know what I say to that? #annoying! Pick up the phone, send an email or use instant messenger.

Watch the re-tweets, Mister.
RT, or re-tweeting, is repeating what someone else said because you thought it was funny or interesting. That’s fine, but if more than half your tweets are RTs, what the hell are you doing? Add something interesting to the conversation, or don’t talk. (This from the girl who tweets pictures of her kid. Who do I think I am?)

Twitter is also not RSS
If all that you or your company are tweeting about is your latest blog post, please stop. If we want to read your blog, we’ll subscribe to your RSS feed. (If you sprinkle your blog notices among other interesting tweets, no worries.)

On a related note, if all you’re doing is @replying to people who mention you or your competitor, please stop. You’re killing me.

Quantity vs. Quality
This goes for tweets and followers alike. If you’ve been on Twitter for six months and you have thousands of tweets, you are either:
a) incredibly interesting and knowledgable
b) self-obsessed
c) in need of an IM client (see: Twitter != IM)

The answer is most likely b or c. Sorry.

Low or No-Value Tweets
When it comes to followers, I’m glad you have X-hundred or thousand. Good for you! Seriously, good for you. But, you don’t have to tweet every time another 5 people start following you. “I have 100 followers!” “I have 110 followers!” gets old very fast. As someone who’s following you, I obviously think you have something to say. Rattling off your number of followers is not that interesting. If I want to see how many followers you have, I can look at your profile anytime I want. On a related note, it’s really not necessary to publicly thank all your followers.

I am Not a Snob.
I saw a video last month decrying Twitter “snobbery.” The basic message was that if you have a ton of followers and don’t follow all of them back, you’re not social media, you’re solo media.

Um, no. I certainly don’t expect every blog that I read to also read my blog. Similarly, I don’t expect everyone I follow on Twitter to follow me back. I’m busy, they’re busy, we’re all busy, and keeping up with 2,000 tweeters may not be high on my list, or theirs. There are certainly people with thousands of Followers and Followees, and God bless them (see: @stephenfry). But, I have a full-time job, a blog, a husband, a house and two kids. I use Twitter to follow some friends and some industry people that I think are interesting. That’s it. And it doesn’t make me a snob, it just means I’m smart enough to know my own limits.

The Elite
It bugged me when bloggers did it years ago and it bugs me now that tweeters are doing it: lists of who is “elite” based on number of followers or number of tweets or other wacky methods. What bugs me is the “I’m more popluar than you” mentality that smacks of junior high school. The beauty of where technology is right now (Web 2.0, if you will) is that we all have a voice. Not everyone can start a radio or TV station, or start printing a newspaper, but anyone can set up a Twitter account, a web site, a blog, or a Facebook page — and if they have something interesting to say, they’ll find an audience.

If anyone has this kind of right, it seems like Mr. Tweet does. He looks at it in terms of influence and relevance, which seems right on the mark. Trying to calculate who is elite based on followers or tweets just seems silly to me. I’ve seen people who have made thousands of low-value tweets. That ain’t elite. Where Mr. Tweet gets it right is in understanding that it’s in the eye of the follower: what’s relevant to me may not be relevant to someone else. This is not high school. There is no “in crowd.”

The Echo Chamber
Just like in real life, there are clusters of Twitter users. Many of us follow many of the same people. The result is that I might get the same article tweeted 5 times in 5 minutes. (related: my RT gripe). @jongordon noted a few weeks ago that it seemed like Twitter was made up of 90% PR people and “social media experts” and sometimes, it sure seems like he’s right.

Everyone was all a-buzz about the Motrin Moms a couple of months ago, but only ONE DAY after the whole thing happened there were so many tweets ABOUT it that it was impossible to find the tweets that actually WERE it. Echo….echo…echo…

I got a lot of Amens this week when I tweeted, “the more people use twitter, the more it becomes a place for ego-tripping and butt-kissing. i’m ready for that to stop now.”

Here’s what I’m talking about: the ego-tweet is the standard annoying bragadocious comment. This was brilliantly parodied by @lolife who said, “Having lunch with @god, then a meeting with @obama and then drinks with @bono before my date with @superhotchick.” Ego-tweets are all a variation on that theme. #snore

The butt-kiss tweet is usually a reaction. It goes something like this: powerful client-type person tweets about their business. The bajillion vendor-type people who follow this person go into a tweeting frenzy, each one trying to prove their smarts and derring-do. “Why yes, @powerfulclient-typeperson, we are incredibly strategic and smart!” And then we’re all subjected to the equivalent of a group capabilities presentation in 140 character bites. Which makes me, and all the kittens in the world, weep.

The Circle of Life
Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter. It’s changed my life, cleared up my acne and I have lost 15 pounds since November. It’s just going through an interesting phase.

If you think about the arc that blogs have followed, it’s easy to draw parallels: began life as geek-only tool, gained popularity, users started defining crietria which make them “elite” to set them apart from all the newcomers, companies thought they were a golden ticket, blog ad networks developed and PR companies actively wooed bloggers, some bloggers were outed as shills and some managed to make a living at it, “real” journalists bristled but grudgingly started accepting blogs, blogs pronounced dead.

This same arc applies to Twitter. When I joined almost two years ago, there weren’t a whole lot of other people tweeting. Now that it’s hit the mass consciousness, the elite lists have started popping up, more and more companies are tweeting (and just like with blogs, a few are getting it right and the rest don’t know what to do), Twitter ad services have started popping up and will soon start to infiltrate. When I was watching CNN last month they were scrolling tweets across the bottom of the screen which means that sometime later this year, you can expect the “Twitter is Dead” headline to hit Wired.

Of course, blogs aren’t really dead — they’re just not the Next Best Thing anymore. Now, that mantle is carried by Twitter. We’ll see how long it lasts. In the meantime, happy tweeting. Follows or rotten tomatoes can be directed @irishgirl.

[cross-posted on the MIMA blog]

Note to new Geek Girls: if you need to know more about what Twitter is, you can check out my earlier post. There’s no shame in not knowing, but there’s no excuse for not learning!

Digg the Delicious RSS

Geeky Reader Madge from Minneapolis asked, “RSS. Digg. Delicious. What the heck do they all mean and how do I use them?” Great question, mom! I mean…um…Madge.

Let’s digg in!


I did a three-part series on RSS a couple of months ago, which you can read here, here and here. In a nutshell, RSS is a way for sites to syndicate their content, and for readers to subscribe to it. Common Craft did a fantastic short video explaining it all here:


Digg allows people to share stuff they think is cool. The more people “digg” something (an article, video, or image), the higher it rises in the rankings. For example, here is a list of the most popular articles on Digg over the past 24 hours. On the left, you can see how many diggs each article has. (Getting “dugg” can result in a lot of traffic to an article, sometimes to the point that the site is overwhelmed with traffic and either goes down, or becomes very sluggish. This is sometimes called the “Digg effect.”)

Anyone with a Digg account can submit something they think is cool (like, say, a Geek Girls Guide article). If other Digg users see it and also like it, they “digg” it. Users also police the content by using “bury” on duplicate, spam, or off-topic items. And, it just wouldn’t be Web 2.0 if they didn’t allow you to build a “network” would it? So, you can connect to friends on Digg to share diggs with each other. Or…just install the Digg Facebook app.

Digg has a good explanation on their site as well.


Delicious is a social bookmarking service. Wha? Okay…do you know about bookmarks in your web browser? If you don’t, read this paragraph. If you do, skip to the second paragraph. Bookmarks are a way to create a shortcuts to sites you really like. Every web browser has this (some may refer to bookmarks as “Favorites” but it’s the same thing). So, if you visit CNN every morning, you can create a Bookmark and click on it instead of typing “www.cnn.com” into the address bar every time. (Or, you could just subscribe to the RSS feed, right?!)

Delicious stores your bookmarks online. So, whether I’m on my computer, my mom’s computer, or the library computer, I can log in to Delicious to see all my favorite sites. In addition, I can “tag” the sites with keywords to keep things organized.

Here’s a snapshot of my Delicious account: