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Happy Birthday, Stranger


I’m not a birthday guy. For my 30th, my wife and family arranged a surprise birthday party for me and it was literally the most surprised I’ve been about anything. Not because I didn’t deserve it (of course I deserved it) but because I’ve never been big on my birthday. It comes and goes.

The party was pretty great, though.

This last year though, I took my birth date off Facebook completely. It wasn’t secret. My birthday can be found (a good sourcer or identity thief could probably locate it). And a few people wished me happy birthday (thankfully, both my parents remembered without the aid of Facebook). For the most part, it went under the radar, including by a few people whose birthdays I know.

Luckily, I didn’t cut them like some would.

My main intention wasn’t to mess with people or try to play the gotcha game with them. In fact, my only hope is to relieve people of the chore of writing a meaningless happy birthday on my Facebook wall without any semblance of feeling. Happy birthday, stranger. As casually and thoughtlessly as a nod to another person as you walk by on the street.

This seems to be one of those courtesy things that made sense when Facebook was truly about a place with just your friends. When I had 25 people as friends, wishing a happy birthday was a natural thing because I’d probably find a way to do it anyway for these people. It just doesn’t scale, though.

As I have seen birthdays hit my Facebook feed, I’ve tried to calendar the ones that are more important to me. For someone with some serious memory issues at times, calendaring is the only way to go. Since I am constantly looking weeks ahead, it helps to remind me better than just seeing the date pop up on Facebook the day of the big event.

For everyone else, though? I’m not wishing you a happy birthday. Not if I’d never be invited to a birthday party or have a reason to know one way or another. Not if we’ve known each other for a long time and we’ve never connected on birthdays.

That might be bad news for Facebook, too. They are trying to make money by allowing users to gift tangible objects through Facebook. I wouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly flipped my privacy settings for hidden birth dates.

If your birthday is a big deal to you, I’ll pick up on that. I’m not dense and I’m not uncaring. But when 200 people are wishing you happy birthday on Facebook, we should also be honest with ourselves about the depth of those sentiments. If you’re a regular birthday wisher, can you remember the people you wished happy birthday to in the last week?

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Undoing The Social Media Revolution

It was cold. We had just left a lovely seafood dinner overlooking Elliot Bay in Seattle and the wind picked up. I put my wife’s jacket on her and I stepped out from underneath the building overhang.

“Hey, it stopped raining!”

It was good news for a December night. I grabbed her hand and we walked briskly down the damp Seattle sidewalks toward the symphony hall. In a few minutes, we’d be listening to Handel’s choral masterpiece Messiah.

As the symphony opened, I slowly started to realize that we were having one of our best weekends ever at home and I was feeling guilty for it.

You see, this happened the day before. It’s unbelievably tragic and the twisted nature of the whole event still makes me sick and leaves me with a lot of unresolved questions.

Right after it happened, Twitter, Facebook, and the media went into overdrive. After about an hour, I checked out of Facebook and Twitter. I followed some of the news on cable but they were doing an awful job.

My wife works four days a week so we were discussing it since she was home. We probably discussed it for over an hour. We don’t have kids but we are close to a few little ones. And we have a multitude of friends and family who are teachers, almost all at the elementary level.

I peeked my head in to Twitter once or twice over the weekend. Same thing with Facebook. And I’m glad that’s all I did. It was distressing and the response made me question the social revolution altogether.

My friend Laurie wrote a great post about it that mirrored my thoughts nearly completely. In it, she says:

After the shootings in Newtown, I wonder if social media plays any positive role. All the early news reports were wrong. My friends and colleagues responded swiftly to the tragedy by posting commentary and pictures of their children on Facebook. Some offered poems. Others offered prayers. Many are now descending into stupid political battles.

At an important time like this, what the universe demands is action. I looked at my own aggregated newsfeed and felt like a shared article or a picture on my timeline would not do any good. And for those in my life who might actually know someone who was injured, I worried that my own personal expression of sadness — mixed in with shoddy news reporting — might do some harm.

And there it is. Read the whole thing, though.

Of course, social media takes its toll on more than just tragedies. I think about how everyone seemed ground down by the election, the debates and nine months of bullshit advertising and news reporting. Social media made it worse. I’m not afraid to have a frank discussion on politics but doing it in 140 character sound bites is more aggravating than anything.

People wonder what the relevance of blogging is in an age of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram? Thought. Real, actual thought before you share them with the world. Not sound bites, not sharing a funny picture, not a short update for friends and family or some rumor or innuendo that takes two seconds to send out.

The same thoughtlessness that the media displayed in trying to be first rather than being right in such a critical story is the same sort of thoughtlessness that goes into sharing articles that you don’t know are vetted or retweeting information that is uncorroborated.

The media should know better and it was a shameful display.

But if we are going to talk about a social media revolution though, we should talk about what kinds of responsibilities that holds with it. That means you can’t share a Morgan Freeman quote without verifying it first. That means you can’t share an untruthful image with a description of what issues the murderer had without understanding and knowing that for a fact. It also means you think about empathy, respect, timing and appropriateness of your message before you post it.

Right now, the media is in a confused and awful state. They don’t know how to handle day-to-day news, much less tragedies like this. And when I opened Twitter and Facebook, what I saw wasn’t a replacement for the media and it wasn’t a revolution in any way. It was an angry, frightened, sad, confused and, ultimately, noisy and overwhelming place.

I really like having Twitter and Facebook. Really. And when it works the way it should, it’s a great place to be.

This weekend wasn’t one of those times though. It makes me think social media still has a long way to go in its supposed revolution. At the very least, we either have a long way before we refine these platforms to encourage meaningful and responsible sharing or that we reconsider the realistic limits and boundaries of what any multi-million user social networking platform can do.

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Comments On Blogs Are Awful But You Should Keep Them Anyway

I’ve gone on the record and said that the internet is a terrible place to discuss political issues. Here’s the meat of what I had to say about a year ago:

“[M]ost political posts are over-simplified pieces of garbage. And that’s why the comments associated with them get crazy too. And why smarmy or condescending Twitter and Facebook status updates are even worse than an over-simplified blog post.”

Then my buddy Chris Ferdinandi asks me every week if he should just turn off comments on his blog because comments on the internet about anything interesting or substantial are dumb the same way political comments are. I usually tell him to do whatever he feels like because I’m an enabler of bad decisions.

But really, what I tell him is no, you shouldn’t turn off comments. If you have a blog, you should have comments, too.

Why? Because I told you so. Also…

1. Comments ground you as a writer

Writing terrible ideas and allowing people to call you on those ideas are the best way to grow as a writer. The best way to be called out is in public. It doesn’t take cajones to write every post but it does take it to write some. You have to be willing to take heat in exchange for your post. I think it is part of an informal social contract that writers and readers should have. What used to be taken care of by community editors and ombudsmen now happen in real-time. It’s lovely.

2. Comments aren’t that awful

Yes, there is spam but it can be controlled quite easily. Yes, there are abusive comments but again, it can be controlled fairly easily. The comments I get, both on posts here and posts on SourceCon, ERE and TLNT, are typically very good and, at their best, helpful. Even ERE, which doesn’t have threaded comments or any way to vote up helpful comments, is generally very good and hosts robust discussions. People can be awful or ignorant very easily in comments but they can also be smart and savvy.

3. The actual post is the best place for comments about the post

There is a whole movement out there that believes comment sections are an imperfect mechanism for capturing discussion. In fact, they believe it is so imperfect, they ban them altogether in lieu of truly awful replacements (private e-mail conversations, Twitter conversations and dueling blog posts are really that much better?). The natural place to comment about a post is on the same page, right under the content. This isn’t even a new concept–Usenet and newsgroups that have been around for longer than I have been alive used this way of discussion online. There have been improvements but the root of the concept hasn’t changed.

4. It makes blogs much better

I know Ferdinandi drinks the Kool-Aid of these guys who think comments are so 2005 but I think they are full of shit, they ride on high horses and their blogs are boring. Having an interesting comment section saves many of the worst Deadspin posts. Some Techcrunch posts make me skip straight to the comments. I don’t read too much content where I can’t explore the comment section. And look, I’m mostly a lurker on sites with comments but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t improve my experience When I can and do comment, you can bet that it makes my experience much better.

5. You can focus just fine with comments

I don’t remember where I saw it but some guy was complaining that a comment section made him lose focus on his writing. He felt like the maintenance cost associated with having comments on the site and perhaps even the cognitive burden was too much. So he turned it off and felt better.


Don’t reward people who can’t write because they can’t accept feedback or can’t manage the dumb simple technical details of running a blog. There are plenty of people who deal with comments in stride and if you don’t like running the technical details of the blog, just go to and pony up a couple Andrew Jackson’s for a domain name and professional level hosting for a year.

You don’t want to include comments? Fine

That’s the beauty of blogging: it is yours. Nobody is forcing you to do anything. That’s what I say to everyone. But, if you have a blog, you should have comments. The last thing we need is more smug assholes in this world who made it big due to the support of their often commenting readers only to turn off the one authentic voice that kept their crap in check: comments.

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Oh, Please! Not Another “Social Media Lesson” Post…

You’ll be reading all about it today. Someone who (now formerly) worked for a brand (in this case, KitchenAid) @#$%&! up and sent a pretty distasteful tweet on the company account:

“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president.”

Captain Hindsight to the rescue!

Pretty bad, right? No, just straight bad. If someone joked about my deceased grandma, I would probably cut them. Or at least hire someone to do it since I’m a little skittish about blood.

Of course, Mashable had a story up in 3 seconds microanalyzing it and even though a clear apology was made very quickly and it seems as though swift action was taken, everyone will use this as an opportunity to grandstand, talk about the proper way to handle social media and how they obviously need to hire a new marketing agency. They’ll talk about the damage to the brand, how they can win customers back, how the rules have changed and best practices going forward. They will say they didn’t apologize soon enough, or the right way, or something (anything!) to boost their crappy blog post.

It will all be really, really annoying.

How do I know this?

It happens every. single. time.

You know what you can do with your social media lesson post? Shove it. Stop writing them. They’re condescending and only add to the stupidity of the situation. Oh really? They shouldn’t have made the mistake in the first place? Great insight there, champ.

People’s memories are like goldfish when it comes to gaffes like this. If you are a non-marketer, how many of these online gaffes could you rattle off without checking out the above links? I even forgot about Qwikster by Netflix and that was one of the dumbest ideas ever.

We need to be realistic about the damage that we are talking about here. Is it a mess? Sure. But it can be cleaned up pretty quickly by nearly anyone with some sensible (and even old school) PR training. Fix the issue immediately, apologize, monitor, respond and move on. What’s the BFD?

Oh yeah! The rules have changed! And our web 2.0, crowdsourced, social media interwebz will collapse if you don’t read the “5 lessons from the @KitchenAidUSA DISASTER” post from a social media expert with a Blogspot account.

The self-importance? The supposed best practices grasped out of thin air? Statements about brand impact that you can’t possibly know?

Let’s make this social media gaffe our last to drop a hundred posts about. That is, until the next one.

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It’s Time To Unsubscribe From Aunt Edna’s Crazy Political Facebook Posts

We’re a little more than two months away from electing a president. Are you ready for the @#$%-storm of crazy politics coming from your uncle with socialist/pig-capitalist leanings? What used to be relegated to family picnics and an uncomfortable conversation has now turned digital. Thanks to Laurie, you can relieve yourself of the crazy pretty easily:

…Human Resources professionals are weird. It’s an undisputed fact that they absolutely hate talking about politics.

So if you work in HR and hate hearing about the upcoming presidential election in America, I want to remind you that you can unsubscribe from a Facebook feed without disrupting a friendship.

Here’s how you do it

Want to keep them from posting comments to your political posts? Stop talking about politics online. Seriously, you aren’t changing anyone’s mind. Unless you don’t have better things to do. And don’t take that the wrong way, either. I used to do that all of the time. I’m reformed now. Now I just talk about HR, recruiting, technology and digital media.

Totally. Reformed.

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Doin’ Work: Looking Beyond Social Influence

There are something along the lines of one trillion articles about the social influence measuring tool known as Klout. There are also a bunch of pieces about trying to understand influence in our own little niche in the HR and recruiting space. There are lists and criteria and posts dissecting how influence is measured. Or maybe some tips on increasing influence (which, why would an influencer want to tell you how to unseat them?) or how to use influencers and Klout to sell bullshit and B2B software.

This isn’t one of those posts.

Oh sure, I’ve been on those lists (well, the good ones, heh). And I know that whenever I go to a conference and tweet a lot, I become a LOT more influential than I was the day before according to services like Klout. It seems like a system that can be pretty easily gamed, right? Right.

I want to look beyond that, though.

There was a documentary by Spike Lee a few years back called Kobe Doin’ Work. I don’t think it was Lee’s best work but it did an admirable job capturing a game day for NBA star Kobe Bryant.

There was something fascinating to me that, as a full-out Kobe hater™, I couldn’t shake. He’s a basketball geek and he loves playing and competing. I don’t think he has a social life outside of basketball. You get the impression that he spends his off time watching game tape, working out, and thinking about basketball. The literal eat, sleep, breathe character.

Bryant’s rewards have been incredible, of course. Five championships, an Olympic gold medal and various individual honors as well as the league’s most recognizable and best paid star (by more than $4 million per year, before endorsements).

He’s had some missteps, obviously. He isn’t the most likable guy in the world. He doesn’t ooze charisma like another Lakers legend (Magic Johnson).

Bryant is influential because he is good at the game. And if you’re thinking that should be a no-brainer, it should be.

In real life, we don’t reward people because of activity on social media. To be sure, Bryant has a fairly significant presence on Facebook but I doubt he actually does much with it himself. But do I believe for a second that Ricky Rubio is more influential, even though he has 8 times as many followers on Twitter than Bryant?

Not influential in anything that matters. Winning games, selling sports products, whatever…

Of course, what you do in social media matters somewhat. How much? I don’t know. My grandma knows who Kobe Bryant is and it’s not because of his sparkling personality or his social media presence though.

Do the work. I won’t pretend that social media is a meritocracy but doing real work of value is better than being named influential every day of the week. If you are great at what you do and you have a decent social media presence, more power to you. But don’t ever forget which is the most important.

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Your Opinions Are Your Own? A Few Reasons Why That Disclaimer Is Ridiculous

“Opinions are my own.”

It’s a standard disclaimer on many of the Twitter accounts I see out there. You’re an HR or recruiting pro in the great wide world and you hear that you should get on the Twitters from some person at a conference or in a publication somewhere. Only, one of two things happen:

1. You create the account without checking and think that by putting that disclaimer there, you are somehow protecting yourself and company


2. You check and your boss or PR person requires you put the disclaimer on there, somehow protecting the company

I’ll tell you what that disclaimer means in the real world: jack squat. Only, at least on Twitter, I never can tell people how ridiculous the whole disclaimer actually is in 140 characters without sounding like a jerk. And also because this statement is ridiculous for a wide variety of reasons, all of which need to be further explained. So let me lay out the various scenarios and why each one doesn’t warrant the use of any sort of disclaimer:

1. You couldn’t conceivably represent the company

Look, all the rage these days in the HR/social media world is about using employees as mini-external brand advocates. The number of employees this encompasses is a small population of the overall employee population, though. There are millions of blue-collar workers, both union and non-union, who have no intention of being your brand advocate, ever. There are also millions of white-collar workers in the same boat.

Some of these people are on Facebook, setting up a page for their all-female Journey tribute band “Just Some Small Town Girls” (and if that’s an actual tribute band name, I apologize). Others are on news sites, forums or blogs, commenting under monikers about Obama’s birth certificate, why a Mormon shouldn’t be elected president or debating whether or not Kobe is better than Jordan. In other words, personal reasons. Probably more personal than most HR people care about.

You probably don’t have a disclaimer and if you said anything bad enough to warrant a disclaimer, you’d probably be quietly canned anyway with little fanfare. Try to keep your nose clean and at least a little hard to trace and it probably doesn’t matter.

2. You could possibly represent the company

If you’re in a higher level client/candidate facing position, or you’re a part of company leadership, there’s a good chance that at least some people will recognize you and possibly snoop beyond your professional profile. If all you have out there is a professional profile and an innocuous, private Facebook account, you don’t have to do anything.

But if you want to tweet or blog or do other fun things like that on the internet, there are two steps beyond that: disclosure and self-moderation.

Disclosure is pretty simple: what do you have out there that someone else can find that might be less than innocuous? If there’s something out there beyond a Michael Bolton fan page, you probably want that information coming from you, not from an angry client or a snoopy shareholder.

This is where the manager or PR person is going to tell you to get that disclaimer up, stat. This is where you resist with the promise of self-moderation. If you have established accounts, show them how you’ve handled it responsibly. Tell them that most people don’t assume you are speaking for the company unless you say so. Tell them the people who will be most outraged about what you say won’t care about your stupid disclaimer anyway. Because nobody reads it and says, “Oh, never mind.”

But if you have something more personal or risqué, then it is time to assess where you, your personal life and the company stand. Somebody will eventually notice if you’re in one of those positions. Some of those people will care, others won’t.

But again, none of those people will care that you have a disclaimer stuck somewhere on your personal pages or social media accounts saying that your views are your own or that it isn’t associated with your employer. Some of them will associate anything you do with your employer, others won’t. If you say something really bad (or you run a site that is really taboo), some people will ask your employer why you’re working there. And if it gets publicized, then there is a whole other world of pain with that too.

It’s a question each company has to be comfortable answering on their own. And if there is a good chance you’ll represent the company in some less-than-minor capacity, you should push that to them so you have an opportunity to make a decision for yourself with time to do a cool-headed evaluation. Nobody said it’s fair but at least to some segment of the population, you’ll represent the company.

3. You most definitely represent the company

No amount of disclaiming or get-out-of-jail-free cards will get you out of anything. If you are a C-level exec, founder, partner, PR firm or PR lead, or any official social channel of the company, you are speaking for the company 24/7. You say stupid things and they become associated with your company.

What if the company says I must have that stupid disclaimer?

So you reasoned with the unreasonable but they are still saying that you should definitely have the disclaimer that nobody reads or cares about, no matter what level you are in the organization? Lay out a hypothetical: let’s say you have the disclaimer and you openly mock the fact that your company makes you put a disclaimer in your bio. What is their reaction? Do they:

  1. Not care. You aren’t an official voice for the company so everyone will read that disclaimer and go about their day.
  2. Freak out and make you take it down, just like they would have done if you bad-mouthed anything else they had done publicly.

If the answer is 2, then there is no sense in the disclaimer if their constant reaction will be to act like you are representing the company. They have to either get comfortable with you being out there, train you to be better or not allow it. And yes, that last option is a real one.

If the answer is 1 though, have fun. It might be the only time that disclaimer actually does any good.

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Want Social Network Privacy? Pull The Plug

Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I was raised in an age where this stuff became equally apparent very early on. But here’s my modus operandi when it comes to online behavior:

If you enter anything on the internet, even in “secret” and you haven’t gone through significant measures to mask your identity, you should assume that the information can be publicly identified and traced back to you.

Does that sound paranoid? Sure it does. But that doesn’t mean it is incorrect, either.

It is easy to feel secure behind passwords, filters and closed systems. When I used this blog to post without my name, it was still easy to find out who I was. Guess what? I operated as if I was being monitored by everyone who knew me.

When we setup Facebook filters, when we have sensitive e-mail conversations, or when we use a pseudonym in an online forum, that feels like a secure place where we can cut loose. But here’s what else happens: copy and paste, BCC’s, Google cache, screenshots and IP address captures.

Every sensitive conversation I’ve ever held has been in person or over the phone. And sure, phones can be tapped and someone can wear a wire but that has to be premeditated and even I’m not paranoid enough to assume everyone is wired up like a snitch. (Okay, maybe now that I think about it, I should… no, never mind).

With online communication though, there doesn’t need to be premeditation. In fact, I recently was contacted by an out-of-work recruiter about some recommendations for some jobs in my area. The name sounded familiar and I searched my e-mails and it was a recruiter I talked to in, wait for it, 2005. And, the e-mail record shows that I received a phone interview but wasn’t ever contacted back afterward.

Now, my intention isn’t to be evil, hold a grudge and out this person but I wanted to make a point. We had a conversation that I had passively saved (one of thousands) and now, I could go back and say “Ha! Six years ago, you weren’t so willing to help me out!”

(And yes, I was nice. Could you imagine anything else?)

When the recommendation among people concerned about privacy is changing social networks, messing with privacy settings, changing to more secure passwords and not following unknown links, we’re not actually fixing anything.

Some things do not need to be posted online. Some conversations need to happen some place other than Twitter DM’s, Facebook messages or e-mails. And if the answer to every embarrassing privacy gaffe on social networks is “more security” and not “better venue choice for communicating sensitive issues,” it’s time to wake up. Once that digital record is created, it is very hard to destroy.

True privacy doesn’t exist online. Expecting privacy on any social network is going to burn you at some point. And if you’re that concerned about social network privacy that you can’t even put up basic information and interact in the most vanilla way, well, good luck.

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Politics and the Internet

Do you remember the website LiveJournal? It was one of the first social networking sites (pre-MySpace and Friendster) and it was built around blogging. You could friend, unfriend, and there were larger communities of people with similar interests. If that sounds familiar, that’s because most of the conventions of social networking have been around for a long time.

I got into LiveJournal in 2002 via an invite (sound familiar, Google+?). In addition to personal blog posts, I also posted (a lot) about politics. And in doing that, I eventually became the moderator of the largest conservative political community on LiveJournal for a couple years (basically 2004–2005). That’s a bit entertaining for a couple of reasons. For one, while I was definitely heavily conservative leaning back then, I was probably in the bottom 25 percentile in comparison to most of the members. Another point was that I let anyone of any political persuasion post assuming they followed some basic guidelines (including that it was about conservative politics or thought).

This led to some rancorous posts. Hundreds of comments were typical. Name calling, trolling, baiting… it all happened there. And in the context of the relatively new Iraq war and a Bush re-election, it led a lot of people to lose their minds in this public forum. I (mostly) watched detached from the discussions going on and eventually moved on when I found a job and a more productive outlet for my energy (mainly this blog).

I only give you this history because the current debt crisis is the latest political issue to infect my social networks and I’ve generally made a pretty easy to follow rule: if you want to talk politics or religion, I generally won’t do it over the internet (or any written form). Why?

  • I observed people with unlimited character lengths not be able to fully explain the nuance of their political position. Twitter is the equivalent of pulling bumper stickers out of a drawer to have a political debate. It may be clever or make you laugh but the depth there is zilch.
  • People lose track of the fact that you’re a real person on the internet. When we’re in person, we often assume the best of people but looking at the black and white of text on a computer illicits the opposite effect. The internet robs us of some of that humanity and compassion.
  • There are no winners and losers in internet debates. Everyone usually loses because they spent time and emotional energy on something that could have been better used elsewhere. Nobody changes their mind on a major issue due to an internet debate. It takes time and humility to accept you may be wrong about an important issue. Notice neither one of those is someone typing in all caps in response to a posting they made.
  • Social media has become the e-mail forwards of yesterday. The amount of incomplete, out of context or simply untrue statements circulating is simply astounding. “I saw something on Facebook that said…” is the new “I got a forward from my crazy uncle that said…”

The fact is, writing about politics in a compelling, smart way takes a lot of practice just like anything else. So when I see the amateur stuff I see from social media acquaintances, I cringe a bit. And you can bet that a bunch of other people feel the same way too. It isn’t like this is new either. It has been going on since the dial-in BBS days too and certainly in all of my experience as being on the front lines of this phenomenon. The conversations haven’t improved or changed.

While I do think HR people should be more politically involved, it doesn’t mean you have to do it like an amateur on the internet. Here are three better ways to be involved:

  1. Be educated. Take in information from different sources and consider alternatives.
  2. Have discussions in person with people you know. Be patient and empathetic.
  3. Have a relationship with your political representatives. Give them feedback and get to know their aides.

I can tell you almost universally that arguing on the internet is a big fat waste of time. And when you add in the character restrictions of Twitter and Facebook, you just add fuel to the fire.

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A Playground For The Narcissistic: Surviving Social Media With Dignity

I know a thing or two about narcissism. I’ve been blogging for over ten years in one form or another. I obviously think I have important things to say. Enough where I’ve spent a lot of time crafting messages that get read by a relatively small number of people.

There’s no punchline there either. I don’t think you write as long as I do without a healthy dose of ego. It’s not something to be proud of, just reality. Something has to fuel you through commentless posts and bad ideas. You have to be good or delusional (or both in my case, depending on the day).

So when I read a quote by Laurie Ruettimann in a post about Twitter, it resonated with the little part of me who writes:

I’m only on Twitter as an extension of my narcissist self… and I’m nearly bored with it, which is saying a lot.

And then I think about the reaction one friend gave me when she found my Twitter account: “Why do you have 3000 followers on Twitter? I read some of your tweets. I don’t get it.” She was serious too. And right.

I later read a post by Chris Ferdinandi about how he thinks Twitter sucks now. He wrote:

Two years ago, it was really easy to find meaningful conversations on Twitter. Lots of signal. Little noise. Sometime over the last couple of years, though, things changed.

Now there’s lots of noise. Mindless retweeting. Daily quotes. Follow Friday has devolved into a laundry list of everyone you follow.

It’s really easy to become cynical about social media. You see the way people automate, degenerate and exploit a system that was really built to democratize content distribution and it is easy enough to say forget it. Unlike Chris though, I don’t think this is a recent change. Blogrolls, lists, SEO blackhat and spam to even common social tricks like trolling and sock-puppetry have all been a part of the explosion of social media.

If you’re a decent person, you’ll probably tire of it. And there are a couple different options.

  1. Flip the switch off. You’re done and you get more vitamin D.
  2. Be annoyed and cynical all of the time. You’ll participate but not enjoy it.
  3. Power through with positivity. See how that goes for you!
  4. Turn to the dark side. Embrace the bullshit and become what is wrong with the internet.
  5. Make social media a utility. You use it for its purpose but it isn’t the end all be all.

And in case it isn’t completely obvious, I choose number five. I use social media like I use the telephone or e-mail. Sure, there are people who still abuse the telephone and e-mail. Most e-mail messages are still spam after all but it doesn’t make it any less useful for me.

This isn’t some sort of battle of principle either. How you decide to use social media doesn’t have a major impact my usage. I use it to connect with the people I want to connect to in the way we both decide to connect with one another. How you choose to use it only impacts whether I choose to connect with you or not.

And if you’re being a jackass or even just really annoying on social media, that doesn’t make blogging or Facebook or Twitter suck. It makes you suck. And if you’re a decent person who just wants to connect with great people, cull your friends list or blogging buddies list down as low as you need to go and use it that way. I met a lot of great people when I only had a few people reading this blog and I meet many people everyday using social media as my utility.

I guarantee you, the narcissism will find whatever new piece of social technology that comes out next. Finding the next Twitter or Facebook is only a temporary refuge. Create your own sane space on the playground and live in it.