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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Mon, 11 Jun 2012

Social networking -- the giving and the taking

I know it's easy. You pick up your smartphone. You click the Twitter icon (or Facebook, if that's your poison).

Then you lay it out in 140- (or 500-odd) character bursts. Or you talk about the sandwich you're eating.

There's nothing wrong with that. Except that your words now live on some social network. Not on your own hard drive or server. Not even on a WordPress.com blog from which you can extract every post to archive and reuse as you please.

"But that's too hard," you say. Putting things on the Internet yourself isn't as easy as Twitter.

Yes it should be easier. If you do your writing in a blog, it can be. (Among the options: A social-networking instance -- like Status.net -- you control that is federated with a larger, true social network; another topic for another time.)

And while Twitter, Facebook and even Google Plus do not provide RSS feeds of their content (though that is somewhat mitigated by the availability of APIs), all blogging platforms -- those hosted by others as well as those you host yourself do allow you to offer RSS.

And that RSS -- Really Simple Syndication -- is the gateway to automatically putting your blog posts on Twitter, Facebook, Identi.ca, Diaspora and potentially other social networks. (Not Google Plus. Not Pinterest.)

Many of these services offer native posting via RSS. I use dlvr.it to automatically post to identi.ca, Twitter and Facebook, and I've done this in the recent past with Ping.fm and HootSuite.

But you can always go to those less-than-cooperative services and enter a manual entry with a link back to your own site.

Not everyone agrees: @zoowar on Identi.ca calls the automatic posting via dlvr.it antisocial "shoutcasting."

I do acknowledge the social aspects of social networking. I see value there. My social-networking ban is already creaking under the pressure of my desire to engage in what passes for conversation on these services.

But how do we deal with the many social networks out there? Stick to one, post manually to all? Or let some service spread your mess around? "Shoutcasting" seems almost inevitable. Or at least selective shoutcasting.

I've heard this many times -- people don't like canned social-networking posts -- exactly the thing I'm advocating.

The rise of the major social networks, along with the fall of personal blogging (which disturbs me even as I admit and acknowledge it) means not that we are wholly being taken advantage of, but that the value we see in things like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus allows us to look the other way.

The social has value. And for many if not most of us, that value is high.

That's what makes this less than clear cut. I'm looking for the right mix. Both for myself and to recommend to anybody who might be thinking about this issue.

Facebook wants you to believe that personal blogs are obsolete. But the blog, in its many variations, remains the most powerful, empowering publishing tool on the planet.

And social networks can and should help you promote what you're creating on sites you own and control.

I'm not against true discussion on a social network, or on a web forum. Still, many times I've written a long forum post and realized it would -- and should -- be an entry on my blog. So I copy/paste and do that.

I'm not against conversation, electronically or otherwise. Even blogs are conversational when they include comments.

It's just the trading of free work (and the difficulty involved in extracting that work) along with subjugation to marketing for use of a networking platform that bothers me.

We give away a lot for "free." The real freedom and utility I get from paying a month (and it can cost less) for a shared-web-hosting account on which to run my own web sites and services goes far beyond the monetary cost.

I pay a few bucks but maintain total control. If you've got one geeky bone in your body, you can do this. A WordPress.com-hosted blog is another good option. But you can do this yourself.

I'm still working out my approach to social networking. There's much about it I don't like, a little bit that I do.

My tools for mobile blogging (on Android) are in flux. I need a better text editor with sftp capability. Or an sftp client with text-editing capability. We're drawn to social web sites. As a community, or potential community, the next batch of would-be Facebooks covets our participation. They want us to build their business. Let's not be ridden so easily.