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Social networking : Humans build communities

1 Jun

I’m a great fan of science-fiction series (and movies) : Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Star Trek, you name it. Recently, due to a bit of spare time, I’ve gone back to watching an old classic : Babylon 5. In one (of many) unforgettable episode(s), the character Delenn (Minbari Ambassador) says : “Humans share one unique quality; They build communities”*.  To this day, I believe it’s one of the most powerful quote I’ve heard in tv shows and it got me thinking about the communities we are starting to build in the digital world : social networks.

However, social networks are not for everyone and, specifically, not every social network is good for us and the usage we make of it. So the question is today  : Which social network is best for my use ? (or yours for that matter).

As ever, there is no definite answer to this question, so I will try in the next few lines to outline my analysis and perception of social networks and how I use them in the hope that it may become clearer for others.

Source: Crunchbase

The first of many is, of course if you read my last post it will be evident, the most popular : Facebook. I won’t go in stats,  numbers and figures about the “Monstre sacré” (aka the Big Kahuna) but mainly how I perceive it (and how I use it).

  • Facebook is my primary directory of phone numbers and a important means of contact for staying in touch with my close friends and family.
  • Facebook is my one stop for recent and fresh updates about events in my community of friends.
  • I’ve left Canada more than a decade ago and traveled abroad in many places, I can find and keep track of my important friends with a one-stop visit.

My personal rules when using Facebook

  • I add only people I know, friends, old classmates and past colleagues ; I never add employers, it’s my “private” space.
  • I take care of what I upload (photos, updates, links), I don’t want (nor like) to offend or shock but I do like to provoke online conversations, and reactions, about topics that interest me. Funny and random (read serenpidity) content is also the norm as often as possible.
  • I restrain most of the time of posting on other people’s public walls, there is an inbox for personal messages. Likewise, I don’t tag people in photos and videos without their previous approval.
  • I don’t like spam (apparently some do) so I am careful of any applications I use to make sure that I don’t send unwanted messages to my list of friends.

The bottom line:

I add people I know, respect other’s privacy and stay in touch with my close friends and family.

You don’t like it?

There are alternatives, specifically linked to the recent controversies about Facebook privacy settings : you could always try Diaspora* Alpha, Google Profiles or Alternion.

Source: Crunchbase

The second in my list is another big fish (just the mere name sends my dad into fits of laugther and incomprehension) : Twitter. Again, this is not about numbers, growth or statistics but how I see it and why I use it.

  • Twitter is a community of people sharing short links (or text) that may be of interest to like-minded followers
  • Twitter is getting bigger with the addition of businesses (legit or not) branding their names and products to likely followers. It serves as an important social media strategy tools for corporations and organizations.
  • Twitter is also a great communication tool for emergency situations : kidnapping alerts,  the nuclear disaster in Fukushima (amongst other natural disasters), resistance and civil movements in the Middle-East and North Africa.

My personal rules when using Twitter

  • I specifically post content relevant to my field of work (apart from a few exceptions) : I’m a information specialist so I try to build awareness on issues that are important to my professional community. I don’t post personal or funny updates.
  • As often as I can, I use the @Mention to refer to the original author of the post or to reply in a conversation.
  • I try to use hashtags (#) to classify my content and make it searchable (I’m also aware of the many tweets, legit or not, drowned in a sea of hashtags)

The bottom line:

Twitter is a tool for building awareness and response about specific content. As an individual, I keep it specific, relevant and impersonal.

You don’t like it?

There are other microblogging tools out there namely Jaiku, Yammer for work colleagues or Plurk.

You still don’t like it?

Try WordPress or Blogger when you need more than 140 characters.

Source: Crunchbase

The last of my list is starting to swim with the big fishes mentionned previously. When I started using Linkedin more than a year ago, I was startled by its almost anonymity in Europe but I decided to give it a try anyway.

  • Linkedin is a social networking tool for professional profiles. You advertise yourself by filling in your online resume, linking to past colleagues and groups of professional interest.
  • Linkedin is also used by big top-notch companies as a recruiting tool for experienced professionals.
  • The great strength of Linkedin is professional recommandations from your existing connections, as such it is a important self-promotion tool when job-hunting.

My personal rules when using Linkedin

  • I keep my professional profile updated as often as I can ; since I feature it here on my blog and in my job applications, it’s important that the information found there is accurate and fresh.
  • I link other feed from applications I use such as Slideshare for presentations, my Twitter updates and of course my blog. (it can of course be your personal website as well).
  • I ask recommandations from people I know and recommend their work as well.

The bottom line

Linkedin is the equivalent of my online resume. As such, I keep it clean, relevant and updated as often as I can.

You don’t like it?

It started as a north-american company so it could be irrelevant to join and keep track of your resume if your work environmment is not in America. Although I find that more and more of my past colleagues and university teachers in Switzerland are using it, you may want to  try other expanding regional networks like Viadeo or Xing.

The final answer

If you already joined most of the social networks above, think on how you can either muster up new followers or specific updates, consider the impact you may have in your online community and how you can make it better. As an individual, also keep track of what information you send across about yourself, self-management of your online reputation is a must-have quality in a ever more connected world.

If you haven’t joined the networks I mentionned in this post but are thinking about joining, do yourself a favour and do a little bit more research on their functionalities and key features, it may avoid you common mistakes. Also, ask around your circle of friends and colleagues about who’s using what, to what purpose and how they can help you manage it. It’s all about (again) the right information at the right moment.

*For all the geeks and nerds out there, the quote from Delenn is from the episode “And Now For a Word” – Season 2 of Babylon 5


The future of computer science classes

10 Sep

Well, it’s back to sitting in front of my laptop finally, after a well-deserved vacation away from it. In the last month or so, I thought a lot about what it means to graduate and apply for your “first” job. (Of course, in my case, it means applying for my first librarian position). As a matter of fact, I realized from various pieces of information and input from my colleagues that graduating from library school (or any other way you want to call it) does not mean you will necessarily end up in a public library. The classes that were given at the Haute Ecole de Gestion de Genève, University of Applied Sciences, do not stick in the traditional library school curriculum. In the last semester, a part of us delved deeper into the XML language, information security principles and UML modeling…. and it got me thinking…

Since I can remember, I’ve always had a knack for figuring things out easily, quickly grasp complex concepts and break them down to basics. This was very helpful in computer science classes in high school and in university. I’ve been giving a  lot of thought about going back to school (yes, indeed) and teaching computer science to kids…. but is it still relevant? So, if you’re still with me, I want to ask the question : Do traditional computer science classes have any future in a digital world where you don’t need to pull a machine apart to understand how it works (or how to make it work) ? I am not talking about advanced computer science and programming classes but your basic computer class in, let’s say, high school or college. I saw, in my first year of librarian school, that some of my colleagues knew how to use a computer for primary functions : send emails, surf the web, write a report, etc. But they didn’t know how it worked inside it ; so our teacher pulled it apart to show us the components. While that still went well with students aged from 21 to 50 in 2007, I wonder if it’s still useful for students aged 8 to 18 in 2010?

We have seen the rise of web-based applications that allow us to store data online, folders and files, work collaboratively on a project, share pictures and so on… but most students nowadays have absolutely no idea how computers work or how software is developed. They use computers, or smartphones, to go online and retrieve the information they need or accomplish a task that’s needed for their assignments but, as an example, they don’t know what an URL is, how HTML works (basically) or even the difference between “Web” and “Internet”. There are clear misconceptions about computer science amongst students : you need to excel in maths, you spend your day in front of a computer, etc. So, they do use them, it works and no more questions are asked. I find it slightly frightening to consider the possibility that basic computer science classes are doomed to exctinction by lack of…. relevancy or freshness. I’m quite sure that computer science teachers would not agree with me and my point is not to illustrate their lack of competences but in fact to highlight the fact that they are still very much needed in educational programs.

So what would be the solution(s) to enhance computer literacy for the future generations?

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