Two Key Concepts for Staying Sane in Social Media

One of my readers made a request for a sequel to Ten Steps to Being Everywhere in Social Media, which is now (thanks to all of you) my most popular post and responsible for about a third of my total traffic.

XIII writes:

I’m looking forward to the sequel; How to keep up with reading everything.

While I can’t help anyone read faster or be able to concentrate on more content than they are capable of, there are a few tips and techniques that I use for staying caught up. As before, this is a tentative guide, as the technologies are always changing and no large scale solution exists as of yet. One of the things I am working on is a project to do exactly that, putting all of the data in one place for people who interested in this sort of thing. If any of my wonderful readers and friends are interested in a new project with serious potential, please let me know…thanks to my social density I am very easy to contact!

Now, on to how to stay sane in the world of social media!

1. Attitude

Having the right attitude about social media is the first step in managing it. This is because many people have weird expectations and thus get overwhelmed or turned off. Even worse, some people end up feeling that social media is “invasive”, as I saw mentioned in a tweet the other night. Social media does not have to be overwhelming or invasive, you just have to remember a few things:

  1. The internet is not a physical space. It is not necessary for you to simply accept every interaction that comes your way in order to avoid being rude. If you don’t like what someone has to say or has on their profile, then don’t interact with them. Out of all the people online, one less won’t hurt you or them.
  2. The internet is not a bunch of little places (websites and services) any more than the universe is simply a bunch of things that are in it. Both of these realms are actually made up of the interactions that happen between the “things” that are in them. Remember that no one technology or website is the “world”…always the whole internet. Move through the internet like it is your world, and move through specific sites and services as if they were neighborhoods.
  3. It is important to see your movements through the internet as being continuous with your normal life. In normal life your interests, needs, likes, and dislikes guide you and lead to you interacting with others in certain ways. Similarly, on the internet you can trust a large part of social media to do the work of connecting you with other people. Trust the tags and the searches to connect you with others and don’t stress about finding an “in” crowd. Crowds form around interested and passionate people doing what they love, not people trying to form crowds.
  4. You are not alone. If you are having a problem, it is likely other people have had the same problem, and it is also likely that some of those people found solutions. When you get frustrated, do a search or ask around. Social media is new, and everyone is “just learning”.
  5. In physical space, your identity is unified because you can only be in one place at one time. Online, your identity is distributed among all the different places and times you interact. You are everywhere you make a change, and because of the archiving nature of the net, you are everywhen you have made change, as well. Thus you can be lazy when you need to be, because the posts, feeds, forums, and so on will still be there for you to get to. While it is important to strike while the iron is hot when you are trying to create something new, reading and staying in the loop can happen at your leisure.

2. Managing the Flow of Data

As with the entire internet, staying caught up and keeping the information useful depends on certain technologies. Optimizing this process isn’t about interacting with the information faster, but managing how you interact with it.

  1. Friendfeed’s Imaginary Friend Feature– Yeah, everyone loves FriendFeed, but few people use one of it’s most interesting and scalable of features: Imaginary Friends. This feature allows you to create a “fake” stream. Just go to “Friend Settings”–>”Imaginary”–>”Create Imaginary Friend”. Name it something useful, like a category such as “Social Media People”, “Photographers”, or “News”. Then simply add services or feeds. The best thing about this is it allows you to categorize your feeds and then follow those in your own RSS reader or FriendFeed subscriptions. And yes, you can make an imaginary friend from FriendFeed Atom streams, rooms for your imaginary friends, imaginary friends of room feeds, and so on. The FriendFeed structure is so scalable you can implement ever higher levels of categories and get as fine-tuned as you want.
  2. Technorati’s Connected Pings From Favorites – A lot of people bag on Technorati, but look at it this way: they ping so you don’t have to. Set up an account just for this purpose, and favorite the blogs you want to follow. When they ping, you will get an update. The reason this is better than just subscribing to their feed is that you will be able to see the pingbacks and favoriting from connecting blogs, which allows you to expand your interaction with the blogosphere in incremental steps rather than huge numbers of new posts to read. Part of managing your flow of data is making new information come in bite-size chunks, and this technique allows for that.
  3. Focus Your Attention – Pick your favorite services based on your needs and temperament, then live there and automate the rest. For example, you can aggregate your friends and follows from less used services like Jaiku and have them stream to an Imaginary Friend in FriendFeed, then just live in FriendFeed and use to post to all your less used accounts. I personally lived primarily in Twitter and FriendFeed before I got into Plurk, and now I live in Plurk, Twitter, and FriendFeed. I use Twhirl to get my updates in nice little bursts and reply to @s and direct messages, and use SocialAddict to scan through everything it carries and to post to Between that and my feeds, I have no problem staying on top of everything.

Final Word

I hope this helps get the information flow under control for some people. I find that these techniques really help and that I have no problem staying on top of my different connections. As all of friends on my various services can attest, I respond to just about every shout, @, and direct message, am active in conversations on Plurk, Twitter, and FriendFeed, and read and comment on many blogs and sites. I am also working on several other projects and I guest-blog on various sites. My fiance, cats, and clients can also attest that I manage to get my work done and attend to my personal life. I even manage to have some leisure time every once in a while. This level of combination of attitudeaggregationcategorization, and automation is how I do it, and with similar techniques I am sure others can get similar results.

Coming up!

I have gotten some really good feedback on the idea, so I am going to be launching a new blog in the next day or so on social media philosophy. It will cover all of the philosophical angles of social media and the changes it is causing in the way identity, meaning, and knowledge is perceived. My degree is in philosophy and (like most geeks) I was a very good student, so I hope to be able to bring some new ideas to the table. Stay tuned for the launch announcement!

Also, tomorrow (July 28) is my birthday. In lieu of presents, please send traffic!