A Guide to Social Networks for the Tragically Uncool, Part 1

Dearest and Most Exalted Professor and Advisor,

You are, in many ways, the coolest sort of professor. Who else would be willing to have thesis meetings with me in places both random and obscure? Who else would be willing to advise me on my fool’s errand of a thesis?

And yet dear professor, you do have some holes in your otherwise perfect veneer of coolness. While we were able to get you moved up from a dumbphone to a smartphone (though not the right one), you aren’t using it to its fullest potential– and sometimes, I fear that your understanding of the social Interwebs hasn’t advanced much from a series of tubes. Hence, this guide: “A Guide to Social Networks for the Tragically Uncool (AKA, over 26).”

Fear not, dear professor, for even though you might be of the uncool age, you too can learn both how to use these newfangled technologies and, what I think is more importantly, why one might want to use them (for reasons other than being a relentless narcissist). One thing I’m going to emphasize here is that the number you use is unimportant– it’s using them for their proper places in a connected and social lifestyle that I want to encourage, as that’s what makes them fun, and motivates their further use. Yes, on http://ussjoin.com I have a startling 25 networks of which I list myself as a member, but that’s a bit much for most people; let’s cover just a few of the most valuable.

##Flickr: The Vowel-Deficient Photo Site

Flickr is one of the oldest websites I’ll talk about today, but it’s one of the most solid, having served photos to the masses since (according to its wikipedia page) February 2004. Its purpose is simple: you upload photos, and other people look at them.

“But Brendan,” one might ask, “why would I do that? After all, I have a website; I can just put the photos there.” Well, that’s true, you can. Flickr, however, gives you some advantages that you don’t really get on your own site. For instance, every photo is automatically available in a range of sizes, from small thumbnails up to your original size, without your having to futz with it every time you just want to make others jealous with pictures of the beaches at Maui. Also, people can comment on them, subscribe to a feed of your photos (more on this later), or mark them as their “favorites” so that other people who know them can look at them too. These aren’t things you’d usually do for just your photos. All this functionality, of course, doesn’t hurt your ability to put your pictures on your own site; indeed, Flickr even gives you the code to do it (if you’re too lazy to code it yourself, which is also an option), and many blog and content systems have major plugins to make taking photos from Flickr even easier than uploading them yourself. This is a very nice thing.

“But I don’t take photos often” / “but I suck as a photographer” / “etc!” No matter. I both don’t take photos often and suck, and yet I post a couple things a month, on average. One of the preconceptions we’re going to break today is that you need to post every eight seconds to every network; since each only does one thing well, why would you do that? Just post when you think “I’d like to share this photo,” and that’ll be fine. And if you don’t do photos, perhaps there’s other photo-like content you might share? Chris Messina (nee Factory Joe) mostly posts screenshots (with commentary) from interesting sites he’s creating or using; check it out here. I even posted something similar recently, about (the horror!) an NRA member with a spelling problem. Everyone has something to share.

##More to Come

So as not to overwhelm anyone, we’re going to take this slowly; check back tomorrow for the next site in our social odyssey.

Note: this is part one in my series, “A Guide to Social Networks for the Tragically Uncool.” For Part 2, click here.