Amongst all the drivel and headaches apparent on the World Wide Web today, there have sprung a variety of interesting and addictive means of keeping in touch with people. These social websites and online applications allow you to “follow” you friends, family and colleagues in an intended non-intrusive manner and will often have rather positive outcomes.
This text will explore a few particular social websites and how they have affected my life in both the positive and negative light. The tools that are to be critiqued are as follows:
- Last FM
These four are the sites/applications that I have used the most over the duration of the semester and I feel that they have equal positives and negatives on which to write.
Each of these four tools differs widely in how they are intended to be used. I say intended as they are easily and often abused with postings of irrelevant material. This will form the focus of the article. In terms with my own personal experiences I will comment on which of these sites/applications I believe stay true to their intended usage by the users.
Here’s a brief run down on each of their functions:
Last FM is a website that offers a downloadable plug in that runs in conjunction with your choice of media application. By analysing and uploading your playlist from the chosen application onto the Last FM website it allows other members of the social community to view what you are listening to. This in turn leads to recommendations of what music you may be interested in derived from what other members with similar music tastes to your own have on their playlists.
Twitter is a social networking website that allows the user to communicate with other members simply using a section of text up to 150 characters in length. These posts or “tweets” as they are commonly referred to, can be updated at the user’s leisure as often as they like and can offer an insightful view into their life for others to see. The application can also be used in conjunction with the user’s mobile phone so that tweets can be made anywhere at anytime.
Facebook offers a similar service to Twitter but in a much larger form. User’s of Facebook can create profiles, upload photographs, and use online applications which may take the form of playing a game with other online friends. The website offers a platform which allows people to keep in touch with their friends and family in a way that is greater then a simple instant messaging system. The profiles of your followers are open for you to look at anytime and you are notified whenever someone you follow makes a new post.
Delicious, although more of a research tool then a social application, offers its users interaction through the ability to post interesting/useful URL links to the website for others to see. It builds upon the idea of your private book marking tool within your own web browser application but brings it into the public realm. Delicious posts can be categorised via a sort of forum system so that relevant links for a specific topic can be grouped together. Very useful for online research or for finding similar websites to those that you may already favour.
Now that each of the social applications that are to be critiqued within this text has had their intended use captured in a nutshell, it is time to expand, agree and disagree. They each have a strong purpose to their existence, no matter how deep you will have to dig so find it.
Keep in mind however, that the following sections are based on my opinions and personal experiences with each of the applications in question. I will do my best to offer grounded arguments into my views but if you do not agree with me, don’t rant about it in a comment.
I am not going to stick to the order of the applications as they were listed above; instead I am going to go by my level of usage with each. So first things first, let us look into the world that is Facebook
Facebook, as I have already mentioned, allows you to keep in touch with people that you choose to befriend on the network and to find people as they become members. When used as it was intended, Facebook permits the user to keep strong ties with their followers and may also lead to the tracking down of an old friend that they haven’t seen in a while.
With the additions of being able to maintain a personal profile for your friends to see, playing games with other users and making use of an on board E-mail tool, Facebook has a lot to offer people who like to socialise.
I have quite a lot of experience with Facebook myself. I have only been a member for a few months as I was originally deadest against signing up. You may ask why. I was initially against Facebook and similar social websites as I believed it to be more social to actually phone or meet up with a friend rather then just snoop around their profile or post comments that other people would never read nor respond to. This changed for me when I started seeing people I once knew, but had lost contact with, in passing over the Christmas break. A couple of words were spoken but the majority jus slipped past without acknowledgement. I bit the bullet and joined Facebook to track these people down, which to my surprise has worked, allowing me to rebuild the lost connections. In my view, this is the intended use of Facebook.
However, over the years of its existence, Facebook has birthed a bunch of fanatical addicts. They can not seem to go for an hour without posting to their profile or leaving a comment on a friend’s wall. And with all the applications and quizzes available through Facebook, it is no wonder that these hardcore addicts hardly leave the website. As according to Mark Freiert on compete.com (colleague of site founder Bill Gross)
“Facebook addicts (as opposed to Twitter or Myspace users) focus more on engagement - interacting with applications, music and people both on and off the platform” (http://blog.compete.com/2008/03/19/social-addicts-facebook-vs-myspace-twitter/).
This view of a Facebook addict in the year 2008 has changed somewhat with the introduction to mobile access via the user’s mobile phone. Being able to post to Facebook on the move allows these addicts that would normally stay at home to actually go out and be social, whilst posting at regular intervals. If you can’t leave the service, take the service with you I suppose. For example, a post appeared from one of my Facebook friends that read “in a movie with my friends”. This made me wonder if the mobile aspect was really necessary. This abuse of the Facebook realm is reminiscent of some of the posts one would receive on the social application Twitter.com.
Twitter behaves in a similar, yet more limited way to Facebook. You can find friends to follow and maintain a simplistic profile but other than that it is the social aspect that links these sites together.
The Twitter space can be used in the intended way for leaving informative posts that leave your followers in awe, or it can simply be used to post inane lines of text that really do not benefit others or add to the user experience in a positive way.
This networking application can be used rather effectively by people such as businessmen and women and university lecturers as it can quickly reach a wide number of people in a short amount of time when access to a computer isn’t possible. An example raised in a lecture was that if the lecturer was running late, they could simply tweet about it. This would lead to a large enough portion of the class receiving the status update and word would spread. This can be said to be the constructive side to Twitter and in my opinion, the way it was most likely intended to be used initially.
My experience so far has been limited as I only use the online, not the mobile form of it. As much as I can see the point to being able to update ones status on the move via a post to a social networking site, I must also admit that I see it as not being entirely necessary. A mobile phone was created to call or text message people directly, not to yell out hoping someone might actually pay attention.
Twitter has been explained as being “reality TV without pictures” (http://www.stevelawson.net/wordpress/) due to it being constantly flooded with “spam-like” posts and totally irrelevant messages which people simply cant turn away from. The report from which this quote is derived then goes on to defend the purpose of Twitter by saying that even E-mail inboxes can be spammed continuously but the purpose behind the address remains.
This supports what I see as the intended use of Twitter. You will always get the “topic pirates” and those that wish to high jack a functional application in an attempt to bring it crashing down. To solidify this view, I managed to find a rather comedic view on the world of Twitter on youtube.com. This flash cartoon entitled “Trouble with Twitters” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN2HAroA12w) explores the side of the social networking phenomenon that an outsider is likely to have heard about; the posting of trivial trash that no one would benefit from, all possible form your mobile phone.
This view of Twitter mainly focuses on the stereotypical addicts and not on those that use the site as it was intended. One quote that raises form this carton that I really must say speaks of truth in terms of the addcit Twitter society is as follows:
“…when we are disconnected we can’t Twitter, if we can’t Twitter we don’t exist”
That is the danger of Twitter and other social sites such as Facebook; it is easy to forget that you actually exist outside of a network. This leads to the continual posting mentioned where the usefulness and informative nature of the posts give way to the trivial side of life.
Now onto the world of Last FM. This service allows the user to find other forms of music that they may wish to listen to based on recommendations from other user’s or compatibility matches from the site itself (based on genre and keyword matches). I spend a lot of my spare time listening to music at my computer terminal, in my car or via my iPod during those long trips to uni. As a result, I have found this social network to be the most beneficial of those that were suggested to us in the comp3505 content. I have purchased quite a few albums now from the iTunes store that were suggested to me by Last FM and I must say that I am yet to be disappointed.
With all this said, I was at first rather reluctant to download the required plug in for my iTunes as I am very particular when it comes to what I install on my computer and I saw it as being rather intrusive. However, after biting the bullet and going for it, I discovered how useful this application is for the likes of people such as me.
By providing a profile, forum entrance and the ability to tag favourite songs, Last FM allows users to track down other uses that they would like to interact with. The compatibility matches between users’ music libraries acts as grounding for self discovery. A couple of times music has been recommended to me that I really had my doubts about. But after listening to the tracks, my music tastes have broadened allowing me to grow. It is also an easy way to keep up with band information as it often links to websites both official and fan based.
There are not many ways that this social application can be abused and therefore I feel it stays true to the intended usage. Any form of network abuse is ultimately hurting the user’s own reputation and doesn’t have a direct impact on any other users. This, I feel acts as a great deterrent and keeps the site running true. One user in particular raises some very good points in a comparative blog posting. Although I have not directly quoted this text, it does back up some aspects of what I have been saying. Read the entry here: http://www.stevekrause.org/steve_krause_blog/2006/01/pandora_and_las.html
Last but not least, Delicious.com joins the fray. Delicious, in comparison to the other sites and applications reviewed so far offers less of the direct social aspect, focussing rather on the indirect approach of sharing internet site bookmarks in a public realm.
I must be honest in that I have not really used Delicious as much I should have in order to comment in a valid way about it. However, I have noticed one thing. The sites usage remains true as long as users only post relevant links to the heading they are posted under. For example, posting a bookmark to a site about cabbage farmers under a header or group that focuses on physical computing can be said to go against the intended use of the site and therefore reflect negatively on the user experience.
With that said, as long as the site is used as it was intended to be it can be a massive help in activities such as online research, troubleshooting or indeed finding other social networking sites.
In conclusion, I feel that by addressing my focus on the intended usage through the questions of what (in my opinion) the applications intended usage is and how it is enforced and/or high jacked clearly expresses my views and underlines my personal experience with them. Yes, my looks into the sites/applications are heavily based on opinion but I have attempted to validate them wherever possible.
As long as a given application is used as was intended, the user experience remains in a positive light. No body likes a topic pirate.