Web 2.0 & Social Networking

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By now you have heard the thunder: Social networking is changing the world! You had better get on the bandwagon or be relegated to the sidelines in business and in life!

Technology has always been a double-edged sword; while it opens the door for advancement it also can be a siren song, luring the unsuspecting to a bitter end. The universal challenge most of us in business face is that we are experts in our field, and we need to make informed decisions about which technologies will help our business. This is a tough enough choice when you are talking simple technology, like printers, computers, or even cellular phones, but when it moves into the cutting edge of change, it can become overwhelming. And, every single company, department, and ministry seems to be struggling with the same issue: fitting the wild new world of social networking and Web 2.0 into our business and personal lives.

So here for your edification is Web 2.0 and Social Networking 101, for home, for work, and for school. And, for goodness sake, pay attention because this is important stuff.

You are to be forgiven if your eyes glaze over slightly. Most of us are still trying to get Web 1.0 under our belt and now they have gone and doubled it! It is important to understand Web 2.0 — it is a huge fundamental shift in how we use the Internet. Originally the Internet was all about recreating the physical world as we knew it in cyberspace. Web 2.0 is all about engagement. We measure success by use, not necessarily by traffic or monetary success. This engagement has turned the Internet from an information and commerce application into a social force, hence the term “social networking.” Social networking supports the blending of our personal and business lives, where the lines are now blurred to indistinction. Everything we look at in this wonderful new world reflects in both personal and business terms. The key term that can be applied to Web 2.0 is “collaboration” — the tools allow us to work together, share together, laugh or cry together, and we are all participants, publishing and consuming content at a very fast pace.

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THE FACE RINGS A BELL
There is no better place to begin your journey into social networking than in Facebook. It is the Web phenomenon that has changed lives, ruined careers, and reconnected millions, and it is growing at an unabated pace. If you are in business, heck, if you have a pulse and an Internet connection and you are not on Facebook, I have to encourage you to participate! Why? Because it will teach you all about social networking, and you can have fun while you are at it.

Make friends, but remember, not everyone is a friend. The most important area of Facebook to get comfortable with is the security settings. Understanding who has permission to see your profile and pictures is the single most important thing you can do. Many people have legitimate concerns about their privacy on Facebook. Everyone needs to take ownership of their personal image and information. So before you begin, a visit to the Digital Tattoo Project (www.digitaltattoo.ubc.ca) is the best insurance policy you can take out. The Digital Tattoo Project will arm you with the tools and information you need to protect yourself and your family.

Once armed, Facebook can become a wondrous journey. Very quickly you will begin to wonder where your personal life leaves off and business begins, and what appropriate levels of sharing are for each. Your best bet is to establish something called a “limited profile” where you share far less personal information. It lets you be friends with co-workers without being too familiar. There is nothing wrong with using Facebook for business, as long as you don’t “overshare.”

My best piece of advice: even if you have good security settings in place, it is best to not share any photos except totally tame ones.

LINKED IN
Most business people consider their personal network their most valuable asset. LinkedIn is a social networking site that leverages your network. Essentially, it is built on the “old boys networking” concept. The theory is that if I trust you, and you trust Bob, then I can probably trust Bob. When you sign up for LinkedIn, you add people you work with and trust. Each of you fills in a profile, then when you’re looking for a well-placed contact in a company or for expertise in some area, you can search the circles of friends.

It has become a very valuable tool in a lot of instances. Reconnecting with old co-workers in a more professional forum, as opposed to the personal feel of Facebook, is very appealing. It has also become the haunt of headhunters, so be prepared to hear from a lot of them as your network expands.

One of the best benefits of LinkedIn is the inclusion of a tool called Plaxo. By signing up for Plaxo, you gain access to a wealth of Web 2.0 tools, including syncing your contacts and calendar on the Web. If you aren’t concerned about the security implications of storing your data in the “Internet Cloud,” you have access to it at any time, whether you are on your main computer or not. The other great feature is you always have current contact information for every member in your network, something useful in this world of constant job migration.

Like Facebook, LinkedIn is permission based. If you want to meet a contact in a friend’s network, you have to ask your friend to broker an introduction. Undoubtedly, the most value is to the sales, marketing, and PR community, as well as human resources types.

TWITTER
The newest darling of the on-line world, Twitter is a micro-blogger — you make short little comments that are populated out to your network. Twitter posts arrive on your desktop, your phone, or wherever you choose, and they are short and to the point; in fact, they need to fit into a 140-character limit.

Everyone from businesses to governments to rock bands to private individuals are joining the Twitter bandwagon, and the ways it is being used are numerous and creative. Twitter is the next step on the social-networking evolutionary timeline; ultimately, it may change the way we build consensus. Although it will take time for Twitter to change the world, it is a way for many of us to extend our sphere of influence.  

Twitter seems to have found a home very quickly in political circles. It was used as a publicity mechanism in the 2008 presidential campaign. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has a feed, as does the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A prominent Victoria-based twitterer going by the moniker of “unclespeedo” (twitter.com/unclespeedo) tweets up a large list — by my count, over 60 and growing — of B.C. politicians and related figures currently using Twitter. All the bigwigs are there, from Gordon to Shirley to Carol (when you subscribe to someone’s feed, you sort of feel on a first-name basis with them).

Unclespeedo has well over 800 followers to whom he feeds a mix of whimsy, politics, and insight. The king of the Victoria Twitter scene is Mark Hegge, who has over 2,700 followers; he lists himself as Twitter Support.  

As expected, most pop icons — such as Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, and ColdPlay — use Twitter to communicate with their fans. Their numbers dwarf any local efforts, with Kutcher approaching 1.5 million followers. In fact, Twitter itself is becoming a vehicle for fame and fortune, so much so that Forbes has even published a list of their top 10 most influential Twitterers. Guy Kawasaki is number one (former Apple marketing wizard) on this list of mostly geeks and web celebs, and you don’t find any classic celebrities till the number nine post, with eccentric British comedian and author Stephen Fry, and number 10, with former child star Wil Wheaton (Star Trek – The Next Generation). The interesting thing about these “celebrities” is
they have interesting things to say, and they are finding a new following and a new level of fame as a result.

GOOGLE DOCS
What keeps Microsoft up at night? Take a peek at Google Docs to see the nightmare that just keeps getting worse for the folks in Redmond. Google Docs are web-based office applications: word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, as well as shared calenders and more. They work within your web browser — no large applications to install — they are free and they are collaborative applications. You can share them with co-workers easily. Google Docs are a great example of Web 2.0 and “Cloud” computing, where all your applications and documents are in the “Internet Cloud.” As long as you have an Internet connection, you have access to your applications and work.

Google Docs are a big step away from traditional computing standards, where we have very powerful computers that are self-contained with applications and files. The Internet can take over many of the tasks so we can have less powerful systems, and software updates and fixes are a snap because it all lives on the Web. And, you can use Google Docs with a Gmail account.

Add up the Google Docs scorecard: free, easy collaboration, minimum system requirements. And did I mention free? You see now why Microsoft breaks into a cold sweat at any mention of Google!