PASS Session Preview: Practical Social Networking for IT People

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If you groan when you read the words “social networking,” you’re in the right place.

I’m a practical guy.  If a tool doesn’t help me get my job done better/faster/cheaper, I’m not interested in screwing around with it.  Today, I’m going to explain how some social media tools help me, and why I don’t bother screwing around with others.  Jason Massie (BlogTwitter) and I are going to be talking about variations of this at the PASS Summit in Seattle in a couple of weeks.

Twitter: My Virtual Peer Group

IT people often work in isolation.  Database administrators don’t have other DBAs to use as a sounding board.  BI architects don’t travel in packs either.  The higher up you go on the IT ladder, the less peers you have at a company.

Right now, there are dozens – maybe hundreds – of people with your exact job on Twitter.  If you follow them, you’ll have a virtual peer group available around the clock.  I follow interesting database administrators, architects, and people at Microsoft, and as a result, my Twitter feed is intensely interesting to me.

As a blogger, I like Twitter because my readers can give me fast feedback.  Some people will catch your blog post when it hits Twitter, read it immediately, and ask questions over Twitter.  It’s a fast forum for questions and answers that feels more lively than leaving comments.

If I followed people that I thought were boring, then I’d find Twitter boring.  If you find yourself in that situation, start unfollowing everybody who doesn’t make you smile, and only follow people that really, really, REALLY interest you.  Just because someone follows you doesn’t mean you have to follow them back – at the moment, I’m following around 500 people, but over 2,500 are following me.  I’m sure the other 2,000 people are really interesting, but if I followed them all, Twitter would be a firehose that I could no longer consume.

Ping.fm Broadcasts Stuff Everywhere Else

I have a lot of friends on a lot of different social networks.  Some people prefer Facebook, some like Myspace, some love Twitter.  When I post a status update on Ping.fm, it posts that same update across all of the sites I’m going to describe next.  Ping makes it easy for me to be everywhere at once.

When I start work in the morning, or when I have a significant event that I wanna tell everybody, I’ll post it on Ping.  It’s not a tool to carry on conversations – it’s just for broadcasts.  I highly recommend using the plugin PingPressFM on your WordPress blog: it automatically sends a ping whenever you publish a new blog entry.

Additionally, when I want to post a photo of somewhere I’m visiting (or more often, something I’m eating), I’ll email it from my iPhone to my Ping.fm address.  Ping takes the photo attachment and uploads it to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Brightkite, and all the other sites I’m on.  It doesn’t handle video (yet), unfortunately, so for video, I use 12Seconds.  12Seconds does the same thing as Ping, but only for videos.  I can email videos from my iPhone to 12Seconds, which then posts it to Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc. (As soon as Ping handles videos, I’ll abandon 12Seconds.)

If it wasn’t for Ping.fm, I wouldn’t bother using most of the rest of these sites, frankly, especially starting with Facebook.

Facebook Helps Me Avoid Friends and Family

Yep, I said it.

Before Facebook, I used my blog to stay in touch with friends and family.  I posted what I was up to, and they read my blog to stay informed.  Now, they’re all on Facebook, so I can just post my status to Facebook (via Ping.fm) and they can keep tabs on me.  Even better, because it’s so easy to just dump notes in there via Ping, I’m able to stay in sync with even more people – high school classmates, college buddies, former coworkers, you name it.

I gotta be honest – I dump content into Facebook, but I almost never go to the site.  I don’t play web games, I don’t tag my friends in personal-top-10-lists, and I don’t care who’s dating who.  I do like Facebook because it’s real-name-based (as opposed to Twitter, MySpace, etc) but I don’t spend much time reading it.  For a while, I tried consuming Facebook news updates via an RSS feed, but even that got too time-consuming.

Yammer Connects Me To New Coworkers

Yammer is just like Twitter except that only people at your company will see your updates.  Account signups are done via email – when you sign up for a Yammer account, you’ll see updates from people at the same domain name as you.  Since I’ve got a Quest.com account, I see other Quest employees.

I use Ping to post my updates to Yammer, and Yammer emails me whenever anybody else posts.  That way, I don’t have to run yet another desktop client or go to yet another web page.  Yay!

Yammer is a chicken-and-egg problem: if you’re the first person at your company on Yammer, you might be posting there for quite a while before you’ve got company.  I think I posted on Yammer for maybe six months before anybody joined me, and now it’s gathering momentum.  The cool part is that I get a window into other parts of the company that I might not ordinarily get the chance to see.  Product managers for other divisions post notes about what they’re up to, and we get to share opinions and ideas on cool technologies.

Flickr Stores My Photos and Videos

Facebook does a decent job of photos, and I like Facebook’s ability to “tag” people in photos.  I can mark several peoples’ faces in a Facebook photo, and they instantly get notified that new pictures of them are online.  However, I don’t like anything else about how Facebook handles photos, so I use Flickr instead.

Flickr makes it easier to organize photos with:

  • Tags – a photo can be tagged with any words or phrases, making it easier to search for photos.  Plus, strangers can tag your photo.
  • Notes – you (or anyone else) can draw boxes on your photo and add notes talking about what’s in that area of the photo.
  • Sets & Collections – I’ve got collections for Travel, Places I’ve Lived, Family, and so on, and then each collection has sets for the city, the family member, and so on.
  • Comments – the fun of photos is the sharing and the discussion.

I email my iPhone photos to Ping.fm, which posts ’em into Flickr.  When I take photos with my camera, I upload them to Flickr when I get back home, but I’m ordering an EyeFi Geo card.  It’s an SD card with built-in geotagging and WiFi; when you take pictures, the GPS location is added to the photo’s metadata, and then the photo is uploaded via WiFi whenever you’re in range.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about spicing blog posts up with images, I also rely on Flickr’s Creative Commons image search.  I try to return the favor by licensing all of my photos with Creative Commons as well.  If somebody wants to use one of my images to illustrate a point, more power to ’em!

Delicious Stores My Bookmarks

Whenever I add a bookmark in my web browser, the Delicious plugin automatically sends that bookmark to Delicious.com.  It asks me if I want to add a description or any tags for easier discovery later.

I can also see who else added that same bookmark before I did.  People who found that page interesting probably found other things I’d like to read, too, so I can dive into their bookmarks and even sift through them by tag.  It’s an interesting way to meet interesting people who read interesting things.

Other people can subscribe to my bookmark feeds and get instant notifications whenever I add a new bookmark.  It also crossposts to Facebook, so even people who don’t use Delicious can watch what I find helpful.

Social Media Services I’m Not Wild About

A few services out there seem vaguely promising, but not enough for me to devote time to ’em.  I have profiles on some of these, but I’m not an active user:

  • Blip.fm and Last.fm – music sites that track every single song you listen to.  In real time.  Let’s say I’ve got 500 friends, and maybe 50 of them are listening to music at any given time.  If each of them listens to one song per five minutes, that means I’d be getting notifications like “Joe is listening to Guns & Roses” every six seconds.  This is why I almost always unfollow anybody on Twitter who posts their music tracks – it’s just too much information, and frankly, I don’t care what you’re listening to.
  • BrightKite – BrightKite is location-based social networking.  When you check in at a physical location (a restaurant, a tourist site, an airport) you can see everyone else who’s been there recently.  This can be a neat way to meet people who like the same things you like, but there isn’t a big user base yet.  Even in cities like New York City and Chicago, I often find that I’m the first person to check in at a location or that no one’s checked in there for months.
  • FriendFeed – FriendFeed sucks in all of your activity from all of your sites and puts it in one place.  Then, when people subscribe to you, they don’t have to know what sites you’re active on – they just see all of your activity from everywhere in a ginormous firehose.  When one of my FriendFeed friends adds a bookmark, takes a picture, posts a status update, or picks their nose, I know about it in nearly real time.  TMI.  I keep trying to get into FriendFeed, but it’s an absolute avalanche of information.  Some people go so far as to hook up their Blip.fm feed in FriendFeed, for example.
  • LinkedIn – I think this is a great tool when you need a job, but the rest of the site (user groups, forums, questions, etc) aren’t intuitive for me.  If I want to ask questions, I’ll usually post them at places like ServerFault or StackOverflow.

That’s the state of the union for social media/networking tools as of right now.  The scene changes fast, though, so I’ll revisit this topic every year or so to talk about what’s changed.

Are there any social networking tools you rely on that I didn’t cover here?

More of My Articles & Posts About Social Networking

Here’s a few more posts you might like:

Previous Post
Meet PASS Board Candidate Tom LaRock
Next Post
Meet PASS Board Candidate Matt Morollo

4 Comments. Leave new

  • How do you suggest following someone who is active in multiple social media sites, not to mention blogging (much like yourself), for professional purposes? What is the easiest way to keep on top of it all – especially if there are many people to be followed?

    Reply
    • Hi, Steve. I think you have to only get involved with the number of social sites that you’ve got the bandwidth to handle. It’s just like financial budgeting – if you can’t pay for a Porsche collection, then you can’t buy ’em, even if you want ’em. You can’t sign up for a million social networking sites if you can’t keep up with ’em. That’s why I wrote this post – I’ve had to cut back on the social networking sites I get involved with, like Facebook, since I can’t keep up with the vast number of updates.

      Reply
  • I like your take on Facebook, a good way to avoid family. I think each of these tools has its place and may not be for everyone. I use Facebook for friends and to follow Brent, and LinkedIn for networking with job related professionals.

    Reply
  • Jordan Bullock
    October 15, 2009 12:57 pm

    I really like Posterous — you can make a simple blog out of it, or you can use it as sort of a Ping.fm replacement.

    Basically you can plug Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and few others into it, and if you e-mail post@posterous.com from the e-mail address you setup Posterous with, it hits all your hooked-in sites, including your stream on Posterous (which you can make private if you like, and it has commenting built in). It also has themes and the ability to hit only select sites by changing the e-mail address you send the post to (eg, flickr+twitter@posterous.com only hits Flickr and Twitter accounts) and you can even, with some cleverness, set it up with multiple accounts for each service and have it (just by changing the to address in the e-mail you send) hit just certain accounts within each service. It has a few other nice features like Google Analytics trackability.

    Check it out if you’re interested: Posterous

    Reply

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