Greetings from a pleasant early August, at least in terms of weather. I’m back home in the Washington DC area and the heat wave has moved on. It’s still very warm (84 degrees F) and humid, but not so beastly as it was a couple of weeks ago.
I have a stack of analytical and even polemical posts in the pipeline, but today wanted to offer one of my irregular posts about my digital habits. The reason is that in one particular area things have become chaotic, and I thought I could:
- pin down my practice at this moment in time, at least for my own records, but also as a documentary sample of social media use in August 2023
- elicit feedback and suggestions
- stir some conversation on the topic
The topic is social media, broadly construed. 2023 has pushed the technology and its user behavior into all kinds of directions, between Elon Musk’s demolition of Twitter (I still can’t write or say “X”), the boom and bust of a supposed Mastodon succession, the emergence of new platforms (Threads, Bluesky), and whatever is happening to Facebook as Meta gives up on its Metaverse. Not to mention the impact of generative AI.
For my own practice, I make decisions based on several factors, mostly balancing research interests and professional productivity.
Here’s what I’m doing now. Links if you’re like to connect:
Traditional social media
Twitter/”X” Since the service first launched during the failure of a web-based podcast project (oh yes) I’ve used Twitter extensively, primarily for professional purposes. I share what my research turns up and try to get feedback on it, while learning from the people I follow. I’ve been a long-time event live tweeter and also studied how people use it for storytelling. I’ve also taught people how to use it in various ways over the years.
On the desktop, I rely on Tweetdeck, where I have a bunch of searches and lists running, all regularly tweaked and tuned.
When I can’t use my laptops or desktops I fall back on the mobile app. The mobile app is also how I do most of my photo posting, since I either take photos with my phone or send photos from my camera there.
Since Musk purchased Twitter the one change I’ve experienced (besides the name and having to buy verification for how extensively I use it) is some decline in users and activity, due to some number of people cutting down activity or leaving. The volume of Twitter-bashing has gone up, and is now much more political in content, but I’ve been used to that since the start.
I haven’t found a platform that replaces or succeeds Twitter yet.
LinkedIn This is purely professional for me. No fun posts, no cat pics. I never post anything there natively; instead, I share links and observations that I’ve found or made. Conversation isn’t very high in volume, but does tend to be nicely focused – i.e., little chaff.
People do use the heck out of LinkedIn for professional contacting. I’ve seen a lot of people offer their LinkedIn profile page as their main URL. I get a lot of connection requests… but little conversation follows.
What I don’t do, and should, is make a point of checking the LinkedIn news feed regularly.
Facebook This is both successful and frustrating. Successful in that I communicate with an awful lot of people here, and a wild range of folks to boot, from elementary school friends to scholars around the world. There’s a lot of conversation, especially when I avoid Facebook’s tricks to decrement posts, like sharing URLs. And yet Facebook’s algorithm apparently thinks my most interesting content is nothing to do with my work. Academic and futures posts reliably vanish from my network’s ken, while posts about just about anything else – cats, food, practical technology questions, politics, movies – receive far more attention.
So why use it at all? To begin with, a lot of my Facebook connections use that as their main social media site, and I’d lose them by exiting. For another, Facebook groups can actually be useful. I appreciate a bunch: one on the Reacting to the Past educational game, another on general higher ed, one on instructional design, etc. For a third reason: some academics contact me there with professional questions and opportunities.
For being a supposedly “dead” platform, I get serious use out of it. And speaking of Zuckerberg –
Instagram This is probably my most frustrating platform these days. For some time now I’ve been teaching myself (and learning from very generous friends) photography. I like to share my best results, especially so I can get feedback: validation of what works, suggestions for how to improve. I also like to document some things: my work, my travels, my vegan cooking.
So I post to Insta fairly regularly, yet this activity doesn’t get much traction. Each post usually nets a handful of notices and very little feedback.
I’m thinking of rebooting my Instapractice, but am not sure how, or if it’s worthwhile, as I may have been doing it wrong long enough to depress that account. I *could* do all vegan all the time, perhaps by expanding to include images of ingredients, cookbooks, etc. I know there’s an audience for it. I just haven’t connected.
I’d like to emphasize the future of higher education – my work – instead, but that’s harder to do. A lot of what I do doesn’t really work in square photos. Articles and books I write don’t get much of a response. The Insta desktop experience isn’t great, and I’m not sure about thumbing out the equivalent of blog posts there. Perhaps there is a higher ed community there and I just haven’t found it.
I’m open to suggestions.
Flickr is in some ways a better experience for my photos. It’s a far more satisfying desktop experience. The amount of stuff you can do with images is far richer. I love that it’s web native. In fact, one of my main Flickr uses is searching Creative Commons style for photos to use in presentations and videos. I love having multiple choices here, plus the ease of posting a URL as credit.
And yet Flickr’s user base seems to have fallen since they missed the mobile boat. I rarely get much in the way of on-platform action, although it’s gratifying when people in other venues use my visual work.
Emerging social media
Threads I’ve been using this for a few weeks, and don’t have a feel for it yet. I post and read, but it seems scattered. I really with it had a desktop/web client.
Bluesky Just got on (they’re very size limited) and am exploring. Haven’t had an extended conversation there yet.
Mastodon I’ve been trying this for years, going between different accounts and many servers, and I think I’ve settled into one combination at last. Conversations are high quality, albeit small in scale.
I don’t have time to issue my full critique of Mastodon here, but a few notes: it’s still awkward, especially the inter-server issues. Some users are very helpful, which is badly needed, since onboarding is a pain. So much depends on the identity and administration of a given server.
Remember Web 2.0?
Ah, back in the 21st century’s first decade some of us spoke of web 2.0, a successor to the 1990s’ web, once that was more social, cocreative, with lots of microcontent and more. It was the glory days of blogging, wikis, and RSS. (In fact, perhaps the most popular article I ever wrote was one I authored with the excellent Alan Levine, on web 2.0 storytelling.)
I persist with some of those historical platforms:
The blog I’ve run many blogs over the years, and keep writing at this one. I’ve praised it before, so here I’ll just mention that it’s a delight to write here. It’s also a key part of my professional work, a place to share ideas, host conversation, and develop concepts over time.
Medium I’ve been using this site for a few years. Usually I share blog posts there, which takes some significant formatting, because Medium’s import engine kept failing, and so I have to manually fix bad quotations and embeds.
On the one hand I enjoy the clean look and feel of articles on the site. On the other, there’s very little material about colleges and universities, and not much discussion.
I’ve thought of writing more stuff there, natively, to push discussion on higher ed.
I actually managed to monetize Medium, although the results are paltry, a few pennies an article.
RSS reader – this remains central to my workflow. I follow a bunch of feeds, organized by categories: libraries, futurists, progressive politics, clients, etc. Inoreader is what I use, as it’s reliable and clear.
When social media and email blur
We can define social media in narrow terms, to focus on recent social platforms. I like to include email on this, partly from my historical sense, and because email just won’t die. In fact, it’s central to a lot of digital practice.
What do I do with email, besides pursue the Sisyphean task of trying to get the number of emails in my inbox down below four digits? Mostly I maintain a series of email announcement lists about various projects, notably the Future Trends Forum. Thousands of people are on those lists.
Recently I launched a Substack about AI and the future of higher education. Substack is interesting here, in that it’s amphibious. On the one hand it’s a classic email newsletter, while on the other it has all kinds of web 2.0 and social media affordances: comments, sharing, liking, and so on.
I’m also thinking about setting up a discussion list on the topic of how the climate crisis and higher education intersect.
Rich media as social media
Another angle of the social media definition question is which media we include. Usually it’s simple text (posts, comments) and images, plus the ability to embed audio and video files. I’d got a bit further and include platforms focused on audio and video.
For video, YouTube looms largest to me. I post some stuff to Vimeo for my Patreon supporters, but YouTube remains the giant. There I share mostly Future Trends Forum videos, plus whatever else I can make. I hope to do more.
For audio, I’m a big podcasting fan. I’ve been a guest on many programs and have been planning on launching my own for a few years. (It’s always a question of time.) I’m a daily listener; my current podcatcher is the Google Podcasts app on my Android phone.
Social media I’m not using
Here I’ll take up the fairly expansive definition I’ve been developing in this post.
Slack – I’m not sure what lands me in the no-Slacking community. Partly it’s the “oh ye gods, another app to worry about” problem, as I mostly live in web browsers. Partly I need to be actively involved in a project or team with a lot of Slack going on, and I haven’t been for a while.
The Metaverse – I’ve been studying, researching, teaching about, and working on this subject since the 1980s, but I’m not currently part of any social virtual world. Mostly it’s time and a lack of audience.
Tiktok – I have been bouncing off of this one for a while, mostly because I really want to control my feeds. I don’t like giving up my incoming content to a black box. It reminds me of the broadcast tv I grew up with in the 1970s and offends my well practiced RSS habits. Plus I prefer content that has some time to breathe and make an argument.
I’m open to being able to make Tiktok work for me, at least until the United States prohibits me from doing so.
A note on practice
During the day I regularly check my social media feeds. Inoreader I read first, followed by a sequence: Twitter, Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, and Threads. That’s to check up on various topics while also getting a kind of pulse for the world.Facebook comes later, as it feels different: less news oriented, more checking on people.
When I want to share stuff… it depends on its source and nature. Often I’ll share a thought or a lightly amended link to a source in line with my research interests, and there I run it across each platform, lightly edited for context (@-ing someone who’s on one platform but not another, adding alt text for Mastodon, etc). So I’ll post it to Twitter, LinkedIn, and Mastodon if I’m at my desktop or laptop machines; Instagram, Bluesky, and Threads if on my phone. Remember my goals of sharing information, learning, and sparking conversations.
In contrast, when I’ve created something, I try to blog it first of all, because I’m a blogging diehard, because I own this blog, because it’s on the open web, and because people can index and comment on it. Then I spread the word across as many venues as possible, hopefully including an image, and always with a link. Sometimes I make something not on the blog – video (YouTube primarily) or Substack, or something hosted by another entity (interview, article) – and then follow my blog-based habit of sharing it across platforms.
Back to old social media: I also email people based on their interests, reaching out to them about something I did or found. Sometimes that’s just habit, as when I remember a certain person is interested in a certain copyright issue, say. Otherwise I check a spreadsheet of friendly folks, their interests noted, and ping them. Again, the idea here is to spark conversation.
…and that’s all for August 2023. Today I’m not going to forecast where these habits and platforms might be headed. Instead I just wanted to document a moment in time, a snapshot of technology practices.
Please feel free to share your own in comments. I’d also like to hear your recommendations.