February 2, 2009

Dispatch from the GenX Bridge

I’ve really been feeling my Gen Xness the last few months. I dislike framing Web 2.0 or Library 2.0 as generational issues (I think it has far more to do with whether you’re used to creating and sharing content overall), but the rise of Twitter and FriendFeed in particular have made me feel like even more of a bridge because I get stretched thin trying to explain both sides of an issue to two groups who aren’t really talking to each other about these things. Like Johnny Cash, I walk the line.

As a GenX bridge, one side of me understands the Boomer confusion at these public posts and wonders why these folks can’t just call, email, or text a person who could actually do something about the problem they’re encountering. Recently, I felt this most acutely when Jason Griffey took the time to write a blog post disagreeing with two rules for submitting questions to ALA presidential candidates on YouTube. I’m close enough to the traditional, Boomer norms of communication that when I first read Jason’s post, my immediate reaction was to sigh and wonder why he couldn’t have just contacted someone at MPOW to request that the rules be changed. The “direct” approach seems like the logical one for affecting change and having your voice heard.

And then the Millennial side of the bridge kicked in and I chided myself, because Jason actually cared enough to take the time to write that post instead of just a 140-character rant. He explained his reasoning in what has (surprisingly) become a long-form medium online (blogging). In hindsight, his post helped change one of the rules he disagreed with, so it was better that he posted publicly where everyone could read it and comment, including us. And honestly, some of the comments on microblogging sites are complaints that someone did try to call or email a human being and didn’t get a good response, so it’s not that these generational preferences are exclusive. Writing a blog post these days is a pretty high level of engagement, and caring enough to post a tweet or FriendFeed comment is right behind that in terms of trying to get our attention (hey, at least MPOW isn’t mediocre).

My personal lesson from these recent experiences is that it’s important for associations (and libraries) to understand that every blog post, every tweet, every FF comment is like a letter to the editor or someone standing up in a membership meeting and voicing a complaint. They’re the 21st century equivalent of a phone call or a conversation in the hallway at a conference, and we have to take them just as seriously and respond to them the same way we would those 20th century methods of communication. It’s not that Boomers want to help any less, but I think they’re used to helping people one-on-one, even online. For many members who likely trend younger, the new channels are their preferred ones for these types of comments, and not just for complaints. There isn’t anything wrong with either approach, but they’re ships crossing in the night, and they don’t lead to conversations between the two sides that would improve communication.

Sometimes I think attacking MPOW is a national sport, so it can be depressing being the person constantly relaying what’s being said about us online. But it’s important for those of us in the middle to be that bridge and find compromises that work for everyone. So I especially appreciate those folks who take the time to comment online in a constructive way (regardless of the channel), because it helps me build that bridge.

This strain isn’t new, but I’m curious to know if other Gen Xers are feeling an increase in this area due to microblogging sites? Have you found successful strategies for improving communication around these new channels? I have some ideas that I’m going to try to implement at work, and I’ll report back here over time, but I’d love to hear how others are handling being at this intersection.


January 7, 2009

Choosing Your Social Media Drug

Last week I noted that of all of the social media sites, I’m probably most engaged with Facebook right now. Twitter tends to fragment my attention too much, so I started restricting my time on it to about an hour a day. The conversation there is too disjointed for me, and it’s impossible to find and refer back to all the pieces of a conversation even just a few days later. The best I’ve been able to manage is to use TweetDeck to create groups to check in on periodically, as opposed to trying to keep up with everyone all the time. I still don’t let myself sit on Twitter for too long because as Ed Vielmetti says, “If you keep refreshing it will never, ever stop..” In fact, my rule of thumb on any social site is that I never hit the “older” button.

Then FriendFeed came along, which helped unify conversations and brought pictures, audio, and video into the mix. The breadth of services it aggregates is pretty impressive, so when a critical mass of friends hit there, I switched my hour a day to check in there.

Let me preface this next statement by saying that I love the serendipity of FriendFeed, and it definitely restores fun to aggregation. That said, it moves way too fast for me. As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that FriendFeed is Twitter on speed, while Facebook is Twitter on Ritalin, and for where I’m at right now, Facebook is my primary drug of choice. I need something to help me control the firehose so that I can more easily focus on specific pieces, and the fact that I can separate the links and posts from the status updates on FB does exactly that. I have the status of about three dozen folks texted to my phone, which means I see what I consider to be the most important function of the site for me front and center.

I had been friending people there for a while, watched what libraries were doing, and gone through the “play with various applications” stage of Facebook love, but then I found myself using it less and less. I fell back in love with it, though, when they added the ability to comment on a friend’s status, because that’s the piece I was having trouble tracking and participating in amongst all of the conversations taking place on Twitter. Even better was a change in the way SMS responses are handled so that replies from my phone now appear as comments on statuses, not inbox messages attached to previous emails. That means there’s conversation around updates, and it’s at a manageable pace.

I still check FriendFeed a couple of times a day, but I’m swamped with enough stuff right now that I use my social networks first and foremost for friend updates, and Facebook turns out to be perfect for that, especially for my non-library friends. I can literally see others getting a lot out of Twitter and FriendFeed because they monitor those sites a lot more closely, and more power to them. There are a lot of conversations right now about the ROI of blogging versus Twitter versus FriendFeed, but it’s important to examine what you want to get from these tools in order to evaluate which one(s) are best for you at any given time, remembering that it’s all cyclical and is likely to change just when you get comfortable with your routine. Of course, that can be a good thing.


January 5, 2009

An Open Letter to [Libraries] on Twitter

Over on Museum 2.0, Nina Simon (not Nina Simone – and wouldn’t it be something if this post was sung by her) has a *great* blog post encouraging museums to get human on their Twitter accounts and provide more than just “spammy and dull” tweets. Pretty much everything she exhorts museums to do applies to libraries, as well. Actually, it’s great advice for all types of organizations, including, um, associations and the like.

She provides seven broad suggestions, but here are some specific ideas she proposes for “museum Twitter ‘radio stations’.” Just think “libraries” instead of “museums” to imagine what a great stream your library could offer.

An Open Letter to Museums on Twitter

  • “Funny things said by visitors.
  • Guard feed! (Thanks for the idea, Shelley.)
  • Institutional superstitions or weird things about the building.
  • The imagined experiences of a famous artifact, heavily loved interactive, or other institutional mascot (see this Twitter feed, which I doubt is written by AMNH staff).
  • Haiku about museum work.
  • A daily or weekly feature on a specific topic.
  • Jokes, recipes, quotes, and interesting facts. Do you know why there are naked ladies on the front of ships?
  • Weird and surprising behind-the-scenes victories and challenges. What’s it like to prep an exhibition on poop?
  • Topical, provocative questions.”

Do you know of any libraries already doing this type of tweeting? There are some good examples listed on the very helpful Twittering Libraries section of the LIS 5313 wiki, but I need to go through the whole list.

I’m also interested in finding associations doing this well (I’m planning to go through Lindy Dreyer’s list of associations on Twitter).


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