Archive: social networks

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about the rioting at looting that has been taking place in parts of the UK. But I fully support the sentiment behind Operation Cup Of Tea, the “Anti-Riot” that took place on Facebook and Twitter at 8.30pm today.

Stay positive and have a cup of tea.

Operation Cup of Tea

WTF

When adding social media icons to a website, take care over the order in which they appear.

Google has never quite worked with social media. After buying Blogger, it never seemed to know what to do with it. Then there were the high-profile flops Google Buzz and Google Wave. It was tempting to think that the mighty Google had lost touch completely while Facebook and Twitter gain more ground all the time.

Google+ is another attempt to take on Facebook. The twist is that this time it might work. It threatens to buck the trend of gaffe-prone Google product launches. People are actually excited about it. I’m excited about it. And I can’t remember when I last felt excited about a social media offering.

Google have obviously spent a lot of time and effort on making sure that Google+ works. A big emphasis has been placed on the user interface, with changes being rolled out across all of Google’s major products.

Circles

Google Circles interface

On that front, the biggest head-turner has been Google Circles. There is nothing particularly revolutionary at all about the concept. You separate people into different groups, meaning that you can share certain information with your close friends while keeping it hidden from occasional acquaintances.

Facebook has had this feature for as long as I can remember. But it’s never been sexy. Google has realised that people are attracted by flashy and playful interfaces as much as (or even more than) interfaces that are merely functional.

I was initially not impressed by the idea. But I have found that I have created many more circles than lists in Facebook. In Facebook I only have two — ‘Close friends’ (which I don’t particularly use) and ‘Limited profile’ which hides certain profile information from certain people.

But on Google+, I now have separate circles for six groups of people, with the intention of creating more. At the time being it is difficult to tell if the Circles feature will be useful in a way that Facebook’s lists feature isn’t.

A relatively clean slate

But what really strikes me about Google+ is the fact that its main selling point is that it’s not Facebook. Most are focusing on the privacy aspect of this. I am not sure if Google is less of a worry than Facebook on the privacy front.

But where Google has the upper hand is on its image. Over the years, Facebook has built up a lot of baggage. Facebook is now a massive deal with complicated systems of etiquette. Look at how people (only half jokingly) talk about relationships only becoming ‘official’ when your relationship status is set on Facebook.

For this sort of reason, Facebook has become a minefield. I often think twice about adding someone on Facebook just because of all the baggage that comes with it. Some people might take offence. Do they want to be Facebook friends with me? I am never sure. Which pretty much means that I add almost no-one these days.

Google Circles has a major advantage, in that it doesn’t come with all of this baggage. Moreover, it cleverly avoids calling everyone friends. When I signed up, by default I had circles called Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Following (for people I have never met but whose posts I find interesting).

The crucial inclusion of the Following circle means I can feel more comfortable about adding people. Already it is starting to feel more like Twitter or Tumblr in terms of the people that are on there, but with the functionality of Facebook.

Partly this is because, for the time being, Google+ is mainly full of the geeky types that I only know online anyway. Time will tell if Facebook users and more ‘real life’ friends will join Google+. But for me, it is a massively good sign that I have already happily added a number of people to my Google Circles, some of whom I would not consider adding on Facebook.

The other features

This is where it starts to unravel a bit for me. Beyond Circles, which is more about a change in culture rather than any revolutionary new features, I am not sure what else about Google+ is exciting.

I have tried, but I just do not understand Google Sparks. What is it for? It seems like a really bad version of Google News or Google Alerts.

Meanwhile, Hangouts looks like it could be fun, but probably not for me. Out of curiosity, I tried it out on my netbook, which has built-in the only webcam I own. But it seemed like Hangouts almost killed it! Admittedly, my netbook is a bit old and is creaking at the seams, but it wasn’t the best of experiences.

What’s to come

Overall, though, the most exciting thing about Google+ is that it heralds a change in direction for Google. It sounds like there is more in the pipeline and that they are intent on shaking up the social web. Circles is a great start.

If you happen to want to, you can add me on Google+.

It is commonly said that blogging is dead. The refrain has increased in frequency over the past year or so, as Twitter extends its influence further and further.

I have been blogging since 2002, when I was just 16. Over the years, it has been my favourite means of communicating online — more than Facebook or Twitter. More than IM and perhaps even email.

But increasingly I find myself becoming tired of it. Partly, this is due to that pesky “real life” nonsense taking over. As I make the transition from school pupil to student bum to full time worker, I have less and less spare time to dedicate to blogging.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that I am trying to run three blogs at once (the others being Scottish Roundup and vee8). In addition, I have started to write for other websites and have begun to dabble with podcasting.

Blogging is not what it once was

There have been many changes in the nature of blogging since 2002 as well. The emergence of other tools like social networks, microblogs and tumblelogs has encroached on territory that blogging used to inhabit.

In 2002, blogs were the best (or only) way to interact with friends online. It was pre-MySpace, never mind Facebook. Back then, blogs were a good way to publish snippets of transient, inconsequential thoughts — to get stuff off your chest. Now, Twitter is ideal for that. For those who feel too constrained by the 140 character limit, you can always set up a tumblelog.

But now that these new tools exist, blogging has been forced to become a medium where you publish more in-depth thoughts. Without a doubt, I update this blog much less often than I used to. In 2004, I published 880 posts. This year I might just about get above 100. But five years ago many of my posts were extremely short. Now, to justify even touching my blog, I feel like I have to produce an essay.

There is also the fact that I posted a lot of nonsense when I was younger, whereas now I have to be more responsible with the way I update my blog. I need to come across well, which means I have to quite carefully consider everything I publish.

In short, blogging is now hard work, whereas beforehand it was just good fun. None of this is news. But today, a couple of things have again focused my attention on blogging.

Where are the new readers?

Firstly, Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting wrote a post announcing “the death of blogging“. He senses a general malaise in the blogosphere. According to him, there are few new readers. Moreover, some big Scottish blogging names have hung up their keyboards in the past few months.

In response to Jeff, I would say that I don’t think a year has gone by when a big name hasn’t given up blogging. But blogging life goes on. While I am not happy to have seen the likes of Scottish Unionist and Malc in the Burgh close down their blogs, and others dramatically decrease the frequency of their updates, blogging is not about who the big names are. It is about the conversation between bloggers.

Jeff may well be right that there are fewer new readers though. In terms of statistics, the best days of this blog are certainly long gone. Visitor numbers peaked in 2006 and 2007, and have steadily declined since. This is in stark contrast to the early years, when readership grew seemingly exponentially, as though it were viral. In fairness, you should expect this if you publish much less, as I do. I doubt the same applies to Jeff though.

Twitter increases in authority

Perhaps more ominous in terms of the value of this blog is not the fact that readers appear to be losing interest, but the revelation that Google appears to view my Twitter account as more authoritative.

It hadn’t occurred to me before to check what the PageRank of my Twitter account might be. I assumed it would be low. But having read, via Andrew Hayes, an article about PageRank and Twitter, I decided to check.

I was astonished to find that my Twitter account apparently has a PageRank of 5. In comparison, this blog today has a PageRank of 3 (a shadow of what it used to be).

Of course, it is probably wise not to focus much on the importance of PageRank. Google itself increasingly plays down the role of PageRank. Of course, that hasn’t stopped them from using PageRank as a means of publicly “bitch-slapping” websites that it views as threatening its advertising revenues gaming its search engine.

PageRank is the one small window provided to webmasters who want to see what Google really thinks about their websites. For my Twitter account to be clearly rated higher in this way than my blog has come as a surprise. I am not even the most prolific of Twitter users.

So is the blogging era over? I couldn’t have articulated this in 140 characters or less. But if few people are going to read it anyway, and if even Google doesn’t care so much, it makes me wonder what the point is any more.

An hour or so of my evening has been poured into writing this post. Soon I will have even fewer spare hours to spend on blogging. I persevere with blogging because I think it is, in a way, important. But if Twitter is easier (which it undoubtedly is) and has more impact (which apparently now it does), is there much point in continuing?

It is notoriously hard to get to grips with the youth. Advertisers hate it. The age group of 15–24 — of which, incidentally, I am still part — is notoriously fickle. They define themselves almost in terms of what they are not rather than what they are.

That is the explanation being given to the counter-intuitive finding by Ofcom that the proportion of 15–24-year-olds using Facebook has decreased in the past year. Facebook as a whole is still growing. But the problem is that it’s now full of parents and teachers, and it would be deeply uncool to be using a website like that.

In the same week, a Nielsen study has shown that teenagers don’t use Twitter. It has been long suspected that they never did use Twitter in large numbers, but now there are figures to prove it.

That came just weeks after a 15-year-old doing work experience made a splash with Morgan Stanley who were trying to get a grip on what the future might look like. Matthew Robson said, among other things, that Twitter is for old people only.

It probably comes a surprise to some. Even Mashable implies it wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t seen the figures. I am sure there are lots of people out there who imagine sites like Facebook and Twitter being full of youths donning virtual hoodies and organising virtual knifings. But young people are not so easy to pin down. The Ofcom report declines to tell us what young people actually are spending their time online doing, although we know for sure that they are online in their droves.

Mine is the first generation to have grown up with the internet. And like every shift in in youth culture, from rock and roll to video games, it gets people thinking about the possible downsides of growing up in a new environment. So they say that the internet gives you a short attention span. Or it dehumanises community life and leads to suicide.

I was recently emailed by a reader and occasional commenter here, Fran Walker. She was curious to know, what with me being a youth and all, if I have a life outside the computer?

As the worry of tinies not being able to interact with other humans, and the problems this may later lead to, is current news, it makes me wonder how you get on, as I regard you as one of the first of the “totally familiar with computers generation”? My son, who is 39 and lives in Taiwan, uses them for specific tasks, dislikes emails, prefers phone calls, and was in the first lot at school when computers were introduced, but he had a computer free childhood before that (say before 12 or 13), whereas, I suspect you had access to your parents’ computer since you can remember?

Like, I suspect, most people my age, I do indeed have a life outside of the computer, although it’s true I spend a lot of time on it. Partly this is because most of my work requires me to use the computer. Then, much of my spare time is consumed by the search for work, which is easiest to do on the internet.

There is also the plain fact that I love being connected to the internet for a whole host of reasons. Most of all, it brings me into contact with so many people I otherwise would not have. And it enables me to contact existing friends easily and comfortably. As Shane Richmond pointed out in his response to Vincent Nichols, the internet “enriches communication, it doesn’t destroy it.”

It is definitely the case that people in my generation are more familiar with computers. When I was young my parents had a BBC Micro, although it was quite old-fashioned even then. As far as I was concerned it was only really good for playing quite rudimentary games, when I could have been playing more sophisticated console games.

We only really got a contemporary computer in the late 1990s, and access to the internet came after that. By that time I was into my teens, so I can definitely remember a pre-internet era. I think for my generation, there were still a lot of people who didn’t have experience with the internet until they were fairly old.

I certainly remember when we started using the internet at school during my standard grades, aged about 15 or 16, there was at least one person in my class who had never used the internet before. Mind you, it’s true that I remember it so vividly because it was so unusual.

People often pose the hypothetical question, “could you survive for a day without the internet?” I recently went away for a short break, and I probably spent longer away from the internet than I have done for years.

Mind you, I expected to still be connected. But thanks to O2′s shaky 3G service it wasn’t to be. That was quite annoying because I wanted to contact people through Twitter. But it wasn’t the end of the world. I had a lot to do anyway, and was focusing on doing the things I wanted to do on my break.

As for voluntarily foregoing access, I think it would be difficult but not impossible. Certainly, one of the first things I do when I get up in the morning is check the internet, and it’s one of the last things I do at night. Would there be any point in not checking? I don’t think so.

A thought experiment like this is not terribly useful. You could try to “survive” a day without the internet, but what would it prove? Could you go for a week without reading your post? Or a month without reading newspapers? I certainly couldn’t survive a day without listening to the radio — I would go round the bend very quickly if I was deprived of it. Is that healthy or unhealthy?

For my generation, having a life outside the computer is no problem. Certainly, I spend a while on the computer. But many people might spend that time watching bad television or getting steaming drunk down the pub, which is much less healthy than spending your time reading Wikipedia.

But — and this is where I start to show that I am at the older end of the “youth” bracket — there is a but. My generation is not the first to grow up having not known a pre-internet world. In fact, I haven’t even had access to the internet for half of my life. So the real people to ask about the worry of an internet-obsessed world would be those who are currently 10 or under, and have never known a pre-internet home or school.

However, I would predict that, like Elvis’s dangerously swinging pelvis, we will come to view as quaint the fact that there was ever any concern.

Recently, Twitter has very much gone mainstream (at least in the UK). Even for a while before that, Twitter has been becoming more than just a microblogging service. It is certainly about a lot more than the famous prompt, “What are you doing?”, suggests.

Twitter is used by different people for a wide variety of purposes now. But due to the space constraints, it requires a fair bit of creativity on the Twitter user’s part. Twitter has almost developed a language of its own.

Very quickly, a convention developed whereby @username signified that this tweet is a reply to one of that user’s recent tweets. Twitter recognised this and built the functionality into the system. Later on, #hashtag acted as a tag for your tweet, the idea being to make it easy to find tweets on certain subjects using a site like #hashtags or Twitter’s own search function. Even more recently, the retweet (now commonly signified by RT) has emerged as a popular way to share other people’s great tweets.

What does this have to do with social bookmarking? Well, a large amount of retweets are just interesting links. That means that a lot of original tweets are just interesting links. But hang on — isn’t a social bookmarking service like Delicious more suitable for sharing interesting links?

It should be, but it’s not. Now let us get one thing straight here. I am a huge fan of Delicious. I have been using it for over four years now, and in that time I have amassed a collection of 7,493 bookmarks across my three accounts. And I won’t stop using it any time soon.

But sometimes, I find it much more satisfying to just paste a URL into Twitter and share the link that way. It is pretty clear that a lot of people do too.

Take the two most recent posts on this blog: ‘Why are newspapers hiding their niche content?‘ and ‘The Edinburgh Twestival‘. Both of these posts were shared around a bit on Twitter.

Certainly, you would expect that for a post about the Edinburgh Twestival. People interested in that post are likely to be Twitter users. This post was shared by five different people (including, it has to be said, me) on Twitter. Four of them were retweets of my original tweet. Google Analytics suggests that 15 visitors landed on the page from the Twitter website (and that doesn’t include any visits that came from Twitter clients, Twitter streams embedded on webpages, etc.). No one shared it on Delicious.

As for the post about RSS feeds, it was shared by four people on Twitter (including me again), one of which was a retweet. It was also shared by four people on Delicious. But three of those people are also the three people who shared it on Twitter! Delicious doesn’t timestamp entries, but I am pretty sure all of them posted to Delicious after posting it to Twitter (let me know if I’m wrong about that). Very probably, two of them discovered it through Twitter rather than anywhere else. So far, the post has had 18 visitors from Twitter, and just five from Delicious.

So is Twitter doing the job of sharing interesting links better than Delicious, the daddy of social bookmarking sites? Almost certainly. And it struck me why while I watched the video currently sitting on the dead / dormant Ma.gnolia website. Ma.gnolia was another social bookmarking website, that was recently taken down for good by a massive database problem. The video is a post-mortem on Ma.gnolia, but it also feels a little bit like a post-mortem on social bookmarking as a whole.

During the interview, Larry Halff points out that the biggest link-sharing website is not Delicious as is commonly suggested — it’s Facebook. It reminds me of the often-forgotten fact that the biggest photo-sharing website is not Flickr, nor is it even Imageshack or Photobucket — it’s Facebook.

This is not because Facebook is better than Flickr for sharing your photos — far from it. Nor is it remotely as good as Delicious for link-sharing. But Facebook is certainly the best place for sharing your photos and link-sharing. That is for one simple reason: Facebook has more users, meaning that you can reach more people more quickly. It’s what Facebook like to call the social graph. It doesn’t matter if the functionality is a bit basic. What matters is that all your friends are on it.

Twitter is no Facebook. While most of my “real life” friends are on Facebook, Twitter has just a smattering of my real life friends. But I follow a great deal of people whose content I just find interesting — bloggers and other online associates with whom I have built a digital acquaintanceship over the years.

Most importantly when it comes to reaching a large amount of people, I know that Twitter is extremely addictive. I know that dozens of my Twitter followers will have a Twitter application of some kind open. I am watching the messages from them tumble down the screen all the time. It feels like I’m having a conversation. I know that I will reach a lot of people by posting a link in Twitter. Then I could have a conversation with people who are interested in that link.

That sense of vibrancy just isn’t there in Delicious. The reason? This social bookmarking service just isn’t social enough. Its social functionality basically extends to being able to add other users to your ‘network’, and being able to inform them of links you think they will find interesting by using a special tag. And that’s it. There are no comments. There is no conversation. There is near enough no social. Just lists of links.

Is there the scope for a TweetDeck-style Delicious application? You could leave it open all day and watch the links from your friends stream in, just as we watch our friends’ tweets. You could use the notes section to leave comments (have a conversation). There could be special tags that allow you to use the notes section to reply to your friends.

I have seen people tag their bookmarks as via:username to signify how they found the link — but Delicious doesn’t appear to recognise it in any special way. Twitter were really smart to capitalise on the @replies convention, because it has made Twitter much more of a social tool. Delicious feels stagnant in comparison. But it seems like it could be easy to fix. So why don’t they?

The Scottish Parliament’s newest MSP has found herself getting a bit of attention from the media because of her blog. Anne McLaughlin, known to bloggers as Indygal, has become the SNP’s newest Parliamentarian following the sudden and sad death of Bashir Ahmad.

The first story I saw about her blog in the media was actually not completely negative. The article noted that her blog has attracted a loyal following and seemed to appreciate the eclecticism of the blog.

I do like the Indygal blog. It is a friendly and humorous read. Anne McLaughlin’s new job also means that for the first time a Scottish Roundup editor has become an MSP. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few others become MSPs as well…

The way The Guardian‘s article was written did rather outline the potential for a less favourable spin to be put on the blog.

In other posts, she has branded the colourful Labour MSP Lord George Foulkes as an “ignoramous”, called Labour MSP Frank McAveety “the daftest man in the parliament” and described the historian and nationalist MSP Christopher Harvie as a “splendid nutter”. She branded an SNP councillor in Glasgow who defected to Labour in one uncompromising posting as The Ego.

Today there has been much huffing and puffing over a post from a couple of weeks ago containing “surreptitiously taken” photographs of goings-on inside the Parliament building. On the surface, claims that it damages the trust among MSPs and staff may seem reasonable. But looking at the post it’s clear that it was tongue-in-cheek and rather innocuous. The fuss stinks more of party political points scoring than anything else.

Still, it throws into focus once again the dangers of being a blogger. This is by no means the first time a blog post has thrown a spanner in the works of a political career.

By-election candidate Jody Dunn broke ground in 2004 when she blogged during her campaign in Hartlepool. The Guardian said she was blogging her way to by-election history. Unfortunately for Ms Dunn, it was her own political career that was history after the Labour campaign capitalised on a tongue-in-cheek post in which she described all the locals as “either drunk, flanked by an angry dog, or undressed.”

The Labour Party has felt the effects of ill-advised blogging as well. When Gavin Yates became the then-leader of the Scottish Labour Party Wendy Alexander’s head of communications, he probably wasn’t banking on being caught out by his own communications from the past. His blog had been less than complimentary about the Labour Party. But even though he never wrote anything truly damaging, the media still pounced on it, and it added to the long list of woes that beset Wendy Alexander’s brief period as Labour leader.

It all comes back to that old chestnut — how will an employer react to your blog? This is a sticky one that has long vexed me. Never before have the personal views and lives of people been on such public display. Not just through blogs either. The social networking phenomenon means that people are volunteering information about themselves to others in a way that was never possible.

It is near ubiquitous among people my age. My generation will run into these difficulties first. For instance, how might a potential employer react to all of this freely-available information? One point of view is that having this information out in the open will disadvantage you. But if everyone else is doing it, we are more or less back to square one.

Not quite though. Some people will have their illegal activities recorded on Facebook or Bebo. Others will have pristine profiles that arouse no suspicion, even of the consumption of a quiet pint. But might these people be seen as anti-social and one-dimensional by employers?

With my blog, I have basically constructed a database of my opinions going back to 2002, when I was 16 years old. I’m sure most people are quite thankful that their 16-year-old selves are long forgotten. Might I be disadvantaged by something I wrote three, four, five years ago? It might be something that now seems gauche, or an opinion that today I may not agree with — something I don’t even remember writing.

There have probably never been more laws preventing employers from discriminating against people with certain personal attributes. But ironically, today’s technology enables employers to access a wealth of candidates’ personal information like never before.

The thing is, we all volunteer that information. I think a few people from this generation will get their fingers burnt here. We like to think we are savvy enough to deal with it, but we are still fumbling around in the dark. We are all self-taught and we will make mistakes.

Future generations will be taught by their superiors, in the same way that parents today think nothing of teaching their children about etiquette and other rules of society. If I come to view my decision to blog openly from a young age as a mistake, I would warn any children I had not to. But I would have had no way of knowing.

Similarly, Anne McLaughlin was hardly to know two weeks ago that she would be an MSP and find her blogging activities land her in a spot of bother. I suspect in the long term this will blow over, but we’ll probably see a different style of Indygal — that is, indeed, if she returns to blogging at all.

One of the best Scottish political bloggers around, Kezia Dugdale, took her blog down for a few months, saying it was “far too risky a past-time”. Now she is back in the blogosphere, but “smarter with how, when and what I post.”

Ideally, it would be good if politicians could blog freely, without fearing that it will be used against them in the future. I very much agree with Bellgrove Belle. The faux-furore surrounding the Indygal blog is pretty much a non-story. But — in life in general, but particularly in the highly charged world of party politics — these things will happen.

That’s a real shame because I think people like Anne McLaughlin and Kezia Dugdale do a lot to help engage people in the political process.

One of the problems with social networking sites is that not everyone is on the same one. Thankfully I don’t find myself having to login to MySpace any more. But I would drop Bebo at a moment’s notice if I could get away with it. Unfortunately, a lot of my friends — particularly those from Fife, and perhaps those thatare younger in general than Facebookers — are on Bebo only. So I have to keep that account going.

I have a friend who refuses to join Facebook, partly because he is worried that it is just another website to sign up to, only to be replaced by the new flavour of the month as soon as he’s done it. I can sympathise with that. We’ve all been there with MySpace and now Bebo, and I probably have dozens of dormant web 2.0 accounts.

There is also the hassle involved with getting your head around a fancy new social network. So many people tell me they find Facebook too complicated. Meanwhile, Twitter is so disarmingly simple that it confuses and spooks many first-time users.

Another of my friend’s objections to Facebook involves the perception that it is too posh. It’s a bit of an elephant in the room, but when you think about it it’s difficult to avoid the fact that there is a class division in the way different types of people use different social networks. Danah Boyd wrote about the case of MySpace and Facebook in the USA two years ago. Today in the UK you could say a similar thing about Bebo and Facebook.

I guess that was inevitable given the exclusivity of Facebook in the early days. At first you had to be at Harvard to use it, then one of the Ivy League universities. Then you had to be at any University (this is when I joined). Then when it was a few years old it opened up to everyone — to howls of protest from many of the people who were already in the exclusive Facebook loop, as I recall. It’s probably fair to say that Facebookers think of themselves as being a cut above their chavvier Bebo-using counterparts — though functionally the sites are very similar.

When someone says to you, “you really should be on [social network x],” it is almost like being invited to a new (slightly posher) pub or restaurant. You’re used to eating out at Wetherspoons (well, that’s all they’ve got in Kirkcaldy — even Burger King upped sticks a few years ago). Now someone has invited you to Di Chez El Nom Nom, or something.

You wouldn’t have countenanced going in by yourself. But it would be rude to turn down the invitation. When you go in it’s a bit unfamiliar. What is the etiquette? What is the third spoon for? Why is my napkin folded into the vague shape of a cockerel? Am I allowed to poke you now, or is that just for special occasions? What is this exotic feature? What is that strange item on the menu and how do I pronounce it? It seems too complicated!

It feels awkward. You will make mistakes at first. But soon enough you will get a taste for it, and you won’t ever consider setting foot in Burger King again (I still like Wetherspoons though).

I got that experience when I signed up to LinkedIn, on the advice of Chris Applegate in the comments here. I’d passed LinkedIn on the street a number of times and peered in, but it didn’t look like the sort of place where I’d be welcome. It describes itself as being for “professionals”. Pah!

Well now Chris has given me the green light to enter, though I still don’t quite feel welcome. Anyone who thinks Facebook is complicated needs to check out LinkedIn. It took me quite a while to work out that really no-one there is interested in my favourite music or my drunken photos. It really is just a glorified (and inflexible) CV.

Even after I have filled in all my details and added a few connections, there is still a little power meter on my page telling me that my profile is only 70% complete! And moreover, I am less likely to appear in searches until I reach 100%. How rude!

But I can’t help thinking already that LinkedIn is the way to go. I mean, if I meet someone in a professional capacity, I might well want to connect with them online in some way. And with its complete candidness, with my personality presented warts and all, Facebook is probably not the way to do that.

So my friend is kind of right. If he signs up to Facebook, he will probably find it’s only a matter of time before he finds himself being asked by his peers to join LinkedIn. I myself wonder what even smarter social network I will end up having to sign up to next.

It seems like a pain at first. But I guess it’s just like dressing smartly for a job interview then lounging around in Pot Noodle-stained boxers in your house.

All of this is quite a long-winded way of saying that I have recently joined LinkedIn. If I know you, you are welcome to connect with me on it. I will probably go on my own adding spree soon. If you’re a veteran, please excuse my only 70% complete profile…

View Duncan Stephen's profile on LinkedIn

There’s been a lot of chat recently about whether blogging is dead, sparked by this article in Wired by Paul Boutin. It’s easy to scoff at the article, and the idea that blogging is dead is obviously nonsense. But I doubt the claim would have got so much attention if there wasn’t a bit of truth in it.

I’m not sure that much of what Paul Boutin says is new though. The first time I heard about the article was through Mike Power who added:

…most people under 20 wouldn’t touch blogging with a barge pole, seeing it as old-fashioned and nerdy.

That’s an interesting point. A lot of outsiders tend to think of blogging and the like as something that young people do. But I remember a few years ago a survey finding that the average age of readers of political blogs in the UK is around 40. That might be younger than, say, the average age of readers of The Telegraph, but we’re not talking about the cast of Skins here.

Before that, I always wondered why there weren’t more people my age blogging. I started blogging six years ago when I was 16, but I am an outlier. I can’t think of anyone else who has been blogging for that long from such a young age (though no doubt there are some). I struggle even to think of many bloggers who are my age or younger full stop. There are a few that I know of, but I could probably count them on one hand.

This links neatly in with one of Paul Boutin’s points though. Blogging is being overtaken by social networking sites like Facebook. It’s worth remembering why I started blogging. It is simple: I was bored. My first post was written on a cold, boring night in the middle of the Christmas school holiday.

Moreover, if I had an aim with my blog, it was as a really easy way to reach a wide variety of friends in a really efficient way. At first I was peeved when I realised that my friends couldn’t be bothered reading my blog. What I had forgotten was that, while updating a blog was efficient for me, it was wildly inefficient to get all of my friends to keep on visiting my blog all the time.

Social networking sites fix that problem by giving everyone a central space to share their thoughts and news. No doubt if sites like Bebo and Facebook were around back then, I wouldn’t have started a blog. Indeed, I originally wanted to set up a LiveJournal rather than a blog, but back then you had to pay for a LiveJournal account, so I set up with Blogger instead.

The only reason I stuck with blogging was through the quite accidental discovery that, while my friends were seemingly uninterested in what I had to say, complete strangers would regularly visit to see what I was thinking. That amazing fact is what keeps me going as a blogger, despite some pretty dry patches over the years.

And I’m lucky to have discovered that. Blogging has given me plenty of opportunities that I would never have had were I a simple Facebook user. Undoubtedly my life has been enriched by blogging as it has furnished me with an armful of skills. A 16-year-old Duncan Stephen today would almost certainly not start blogging — but he’d be worse off for it.

But it is important for blogging that the landscape has changed over the past few years. Before 2004, the buzzword was blogging, pretty much exclusively so. Today you can add podcasts, social networks, Flickr, YouTube, wikis, microblogging, social bookmarking, tumblelogging and an increasing list of tools that are all lumped together under the “web 2.0″ umbrella. And when the landscape changes, blogging will inevitably have to evolve. As Rory Cellan Jones says, “its nature is changing.”

The evolution of blogging is nothing new though. By most accounts, blogging is now over ten years old, easily out-dating the web 2.0 phenomenon. The man who is said to have coined the word weblog, Jorn Barger, intended it to mean “logging the web”. That makes tumblelogging or linklogging services such as Delicious a much closer relative to the earliest blogs than what are today known as blogs.

Similarly, during a middle period beginning at the start of this decade, blogging was taken broadly to mean an online journal or a diary, often with very personal posts. Today, that would be seen as quite odd, since social networking sites such as Facebook are a much more appropriate, private place to talk about your personal life. It might seem inappropriate that people blogged so much about personal issues, but prior to the likes of Facebook, people had no choice.

Meanwhile, the stereotypical blogger writing about what he had for breakfast has now moved wholesale over to Twitter, a more relaxed place where there is no stigma to writing banal, inconsequential nonsense. Mind you, the advent of Qwitter may change that!

Over the years, my blog has evolved from being somewhere where I would (quite inadvisedly, and sometimes shamefully) leave personal rants, or write about what I had for breakfast, to a place where I would take part in conversations about current issues. Instead of writing a few short and snappy posts per day, this blog now more-or-less exclusively contains posts around 1,000+ words long typically published several days apart. Whereas a few years ago I may have written a stream of consciousness, today I might spend a few days (or even a few months!) mulling over a subject before writing it down. Places like Flickr and Twitter certainly wouldn’t allow me to do that, as Paul Stamatiou points out.

Instead of being a one-stop-shop for all things me, my blog is now just one part of a huge range of online activities. How all of these activities relate to each other and what I should publicise where is a problem that I still grapple with, and I probably won’t stop grappling with it any time soon. (I’ve currently settled on gathering everything in a ‘sidebar’ on the home page.)

A lot of blogs have undergone a similar transformation over the years. It’s notable how many people are now relatively quiet on their blogs, but are still updating Twitter regularly. As if to illustrate that, an item on the Today programme this morning was meant to discuss the death of blogging but ended up dwelling more on the popularity of Twitter.

But saying today that this shift to other services like Twitter is a sign that blogging is dead is just as daft as saying in 2004 that blogging threatened the death of the mainstream media. It would be deeply ironic if the once vibrant and hip blogging scene were to itself become threatened by new technology. But it won’t. The world evolves and blogging simply has to evolve with it, just as the mainstream media evolved with the advent of blogging. Rather than dying, blogging is maturing, as Gary Andrews notes.

I think Paul Boutin makes some really good points, but he misses the point a few times. Trolls and flamers in comments are a well-known problem. But let’s face it, that is hardly confined to blogging. That is a problem with the internet in general.

Meanwhile, the point about most bloggers being unable to compete with the top 100 is nothing short of bizarre. How many people really start blogging with the intention of being in the top 100? Though being in the top 100 would be nice, it is far from my primary motivation. Has Paul Boutain never heard of the long tail? As John Connell notes, the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson, is the father of the long tail. All-in-all, it’s just a really odd argument to be put forward in such an arena.

And the idea that Google doesn’t notice blogs any more is absolutely bizarre. This certainly does not chime with my experiences. Over three quarters of my visitors come from search engines. That figure used to be closer to two thirds. My friends often tell me that they accidentally found my blog when they were searching for something (that’s the only way I can get them to read my blog to this day!). I myself have, to my annoyance, had my blog come up as a high result in a search.

Then there is the idea that blogs need to be personal to be valuable to people. I hardly think this is so. In fact, this is a complete contradiction to Paul Boutin’s assertion that bloggers all aspire to be the next Huffington Post or Treehugger, not exactly the most personal sites in the world. As Robin Hamman says, Twitter and Facebook may lead to the decline of the diarist blogger, but the topical blogger remains unaffected.

Nowadays, with the likes of Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, there might be easier — and more personal — ways to publish your content than to start a blog. And there is absolutely no doubt that maintaining a blog is a major commitment. But that doesn’t mean that blogging doesn’t have an important role to play. In fact, I would argue that it makes blogging all the more important.

One to file under “why on earth didn’t I think of that?”. Ewan Spence has analysed each of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest entries in Last.fm.

For those who don’t know, Last.fm is a smart website that tracks your music (or podcast) listening habits. It can generate recommendations for you, but I joined the site almost four years ago. Back in those days when it was called Audioscrobbler (before it merged with Last.fm which was a separate website with a slightly different purpose) so I’m just there for all the wonderful stats about my taste in music. (In case anyone’s interested, my profile is here.)

Ewan Spence took a look at the stats for each of the songs in this year’s ESC to see how they measured up. Regular readers may remember that I wrote a post a couple of months back debunking the theory that the ESC is dominated by political bloc voting. So I was pleased to see Ewan Spence’s analysis which suggests that broadly the most popular songs as measured by Last.fm are also the songs that tended to do well in this year’s ESC.

However, there is one mega outlier. And it’s a groovy French man who is way out in front on the Last.fm chart — Sébastien Tellier.

If you remember my post about bloc voting in the ESC, you might also remember that even though there is no political voting, I concluded that France woz robbed. I wasn’t the only one either — I saw that quite a few people liked Sébastien Tellier’s song in particular.

I still see people discussing him from time to time. In fact, I have one friend who likes to talk about Sébastien Tellier quite often. He refers to him as “the hairy Jarvis Cocker”. From what I can gather, Sébastien Tellier had built up quite a following prior to Eurovision. His latest is his third album and is produced by one of the guys from Daft Punk. And back in the day he toured with Air.

Ewan Spence suggests there might be some tricky goings-on with Tellier’s numbers such as a Last.fm player on his website or something. I think it might be down to the fact that Sébastien Tellier is quite popular, so actually merits the attention on Last.fm. In fact, I have contributed to Sébastien Tellier’s numbers on Last.fm as I bought the album Sexuality on the strength of his Eurovision song ‘Divine’.

So, was Sébastian Tellier robbed? Yes and no. Simple following alone can’t explain the discrepancy. While Tellier has some fans, the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest — Russia’s Dima Bilan — is a major pop star with several number ones across eastern Europe.

I think it might have a lot to do with the type of person who uses Last.fm though — i.e. people who really, really like music. A slightly odd French electronic artist is just the sort of thing that would probably appeal to your average Last.fm user more than the average person on the street for whom music is like wallpaper.

Take a look at the this week’s Last.fm chart. Like Ewan Spence’s chart, it bears a vague resemblance to actual popularity, but with a few oddities along the way.

Where, for instance, is the UK’s biggest selling artist of the year so far, Duffy? 166th — behind a lot of pretty obscure artists (by which I mean people I’ve never heard of). I bet if you did a televote Duffy would be near the top.

The point is that Sébastien Tellier is great. But it was a bit like the French equivalent of the UK entering Aphex Twin (213th in Last.fm, ahead of the likes of Christina Aguilera, Norah Jones and Lily Allen) — right down to having everyone on stage looking like him. It would be great, but most would be left scratching their heads.

So hurrah for Sébastien Tellier. Eurovision may have ignored him, but that is understandable. Those on Last.fm can handle its odd French electronic music. One more time!