Creating social media versus social networking

An interesting comparison and contrast with two recently added time-sink temptations while online.

As of a few weeks ago, you can submit news stories to the new WriterRiver.com, a digg clone site with the clever Sink or Float capability on news stories, built by Tom Johnson who writes the IdRatherBeWriting blog. A few months ago, Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler blogger, started TheContentWrangler.Ning.com, where you can build a profile for yourself and interact with other members via discussions and postings.

So, all technical writers, technical communicators, information designers and architects and other such content wranglers: which online activities do we prefer? Are we networking online or creating online media?

In the last six months or so, have seen shift in thinking towards social networking as a preferential term rather than the phrase social media. I think that this change in the terminology is a result of the constant comparisons of old media versus new media, such as comparing printed newspapers to online blogs. But, for a set of future thinkers, blogs and blogging feel like old news, especially to the leading web design people. So perhaps this crowd is the one preferring the term social networking. I know I heard social networking much more often than social media at SXSW Interactive 2008.

It’s interesting, though, in contrast, Danah Boyd points out in a November 2007 O’Reilly Network interview, “I don’t call them social networking sites because most users aren’t “networking” per say [sic]. They are modeling and maintaining their pre-existing social networks.”

So this rambling brings me to our two new social sites. In the case of TheContentWrangler.Ning.com, people who are perhaps not natural networkers won’t “get” the site right away.

For WriterRiver.com, I’m not sure if non-natural networkers will “get” the site right away either, but there’s also a little bit of journalist enthusiasm and “scooping” a story that will help you “get” the usefulness and entertainment out of the site.

For anyone who has read The Tipping Point, I ask this (and I’ve mentioned this to Gordon McLean so I hope he gives his take as well): are people who tend to be technical writers naturally Connectors or naturally Mavens?

Connectors are the people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.”
Mavens are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.”

With all this in mind, I offer my personal take on how I can use each site.

How I use WriterRiver.com: If I like a story, and think it’s relevant to writers, I copy the URL, then go to WriterRiver.com and enter the URL along with a brief description of the story. Others can come read the story and my summary and “float” it further up the river. I check in on it every few days to gain new insights or see the freshest stories. I also see how far up river my submissions have gone, and check on any comments, especially from writers I know through online communications and in real life.

How I use TheContentWrangler.Ning site: I built a Profile page with my blog feed as content, then I started or joined groups that I think would give me connections to mind power that I wouldn’t already have through some of my other connections. I set notifications only to email me on specific discussions that I started or want to watch, and I pop by every week or so to see what’s going on with discussions, the blog entries on the front page, and other media.

Please, let me know if you find this helpful, or if you have suggestions for your own uses that are different from mine.

8 Comments

  • June 25, 2008 - 10:07 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting to draw comparisons between WriterRiver.com and TheContentWrangler.ning.com. The Ning site has 1300+ members already, and it really took off. WriterRiver has about 100 members, but only a handful (about 10) people who submit stories.

    I’ve been wondering if WriterRiver will ever take off to the point where I check it each morning and see dozens of new stories on the Upcoming Stories tab.

    However, despite the small numbers, I have to tell you that the story you added last week about myths in technical writing really got me thinking. It was an awesome read, and I wouldn’t have discovered it myself. It’s times like that where I think that we don’t need 1300 people on WriterRiver. We just need a handful of people with a keen eye for finding and sharing stories.

    But like any social news site, it gets better as more people use it.

    Twitter is another tool that also gets better as more use it. At my work, approximately 50 people in a dept. of 650 are on Twitter. It’s amazing to read my manager’s tweets, and the CIO’s tweets, the interaction designer’s tweets, etc. It makes work a lot more fun and connected. But of course, if I were the only one on Twitter, it wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding.

  • June 25, 2008 - 10:20 pm | Permalink

    In my experience, technical writers to have INTx personality types, and they tend to be Mavens more than Connectors. I imagine that being a Connector and (Meyers-Briggs) Extraversion would go hand-in-hand. (I have to imagine, since I’m neither, myself.)

    I can see that being a Connector could be a useful strategy for a tech writer, and even more so for a user experience designer, to bring together stakeholders. But mostly what I see in tech writers are Mavens who pride themselves on their arcane knowledge, but struggle with building professional relationships.

  • June 26, 2008 - 9:24 am | Permalink

    Oops, it was actually someone else who submitted that link about myths on Writer River. Sorry about that.

  • June 26, 2008 - 12:04 pm | Permalink

    And of course, there’s KeyContent.org. That’s social in the sense that it is wiki-based and has encouraged writers of all types to submit articles that they can write and edit (or have edited) from a single site.

    All these sites looks like experiments. Wonder why these professionals haven’t gotten together in a more formal organized way. Hmm…

  • June 26, 2008 - 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I think most writers are neither connectors nor mavens. I am a connector, to be sure. Connectors have to have a network to be valuable. Mavens are really experts, and many writers are not really experts … They are often generalists who can translate many different types of SME-provided content into audience-appropriate content. To be sure, many technicals writers have niche experience, bit they often keep that knowledge to themselves (turf protection) and don’t share as often as some others do. Also, writers often are consumed with the “writing” part of their jobs-the least interesting aspect of what they do.

    Of course, I am generalizing. No stereotype fits everyone in our space. And, we all change as we learn new and different things. Your “ah-ha!” moment may vary.

  • June 26, 2008 - 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I think many technical writers are connectors, but not connectors of people necessarily. They are often good at Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy, and they have the ability or propensity to pull in apparently random facts and concepts from all over the place.

    Most technical writers are not Mavens for the topics on which they are specifically working, but quite likely they have Maven-like tendencies in at least a few areas.

  • June 28, 2008 - 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, all for your comments! I am enjoying puzzling this one over… not that I want to make sweeping generalizations about a profession. But it is interesting – where does success as a technical writer lie? In connecting to people (users, internal and external customers, and the like) or in becoming a specialized expert.

    I’ve been thinking about this question not only after reading The Tipping Point, but also after reading Sarah O’Keefe’s notes from this year’s WritersUA Pundit panel (WritersUA Pundit Panel March 2008). Bogo Vatovec started a controversial discussion by saying, “Introverted technical writers will not be writing help any more and will be replaced with experts moderating support forums. Companies should focus on enabling search of user forums rather than on help development. Technical writers can no longer afford to hide in their cubes, they must go out and become experts and talk to the users. At this point, they are support engineers rather than technical writers.”

    From what I’ve observed, I think there are multiple models, and introverts still have an excellent role to play as enablers of conversation. Plus, if you are an excellent writer, you can remain in your cube and have killer written conversations because, for the most part, text is still a preferred, searchable, findable, mode of communicating, especially on the Internet.

    Gordon, please do jump in with your thoughts on why Web 2.0 is hard and whether it has anything to do with someone’s natural skills that just might be based on personality. :) And thanks, all, for joining in our (written) conversation.

  • July 22, 2008 - 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Sorry I’m so late to this, NO IDEA how I missed it!!

    Mavens or Connectors eh? I also saw mention of Belbin so let me tackle that view first.

    One thing that constantly irks me about the Belbin team roles is that they are taken as absolutes. You can ONLY be INTJ!! You will not alter your personality to your current interaction!!

    Nonsense. I am definitely an ‘E’ not an ‘I’ but I know when to shut up. Similarly I’ve seen typical ‘I’s revel in having centre stage during a small team standup meeting at a whiteboard when they are talking people through an idea.

    Guidelines is all that Belbin can offer.

    Onto Gladwell then and I agree with Scott. Most (generalising) Technical Writers are neither Connector nor Maven. Some of us (hmmm how about the 100 or so on Writer River?) are more Connector biased, and many (hello Ning!) are Mavens in certain areas… just look at the number of specialist groups in Ning, must be some correlation there.

    To round out Gladwell’s model, I can’t think of many Salesmen amongst us! lol.

    It’s right to look to the Tipping Point but I’d suggest that our profession is not one which, yet, has enough of these types of people. Hence why our profession has never ‘tipped’ and become well known and lauded, perhaps.

    And that is why Web 2.0 is hard. We (the profession) lack the numbers of people with the requisite skills to push our ideas over the edge.

    However, I do believe we are pretty good at hitting the Stickiness Factor through application of focussed, efficient language (see Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath).

    Sorry it took so long to follow up on this!

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