Blogging began as a form of online diary or record keeping called a “web log,” subsequently shortened to “blog”. The basic form of blogs has evolved over time, but the heart of blogging is to provide a pulpit from which an individual is free to share their own thoughts in the form of blog posts (relatively short articles posted by the blogger). Other individuals can visit your blog to read your posts, or can subscribe to receive notifications (for example, via email) whenever you post something new.
Most social networks provide some sort of blogging capability, enabling members to post writings, thoughts, rants, or other random musings that can be read on the web. The same privacy and reputation concerns that exist for social networking profiles apply to blogging. Put another way, what happens in Vegas stays on the Internet. Anything you blog can and will be held against you in a future job interview or dating relationship.
For reasons that are not entirely clear to my grown-up brain, youngsters don’t seem to understand that their posts on social networks like Facebook and Google+ can actually be read by lots of people, not just those they had in their minds at the time they wrote whatever they wrote. This may lead them into trouble from time to time. Proper use of technologies such as blogging needs to be taught to the youth.
Another emerging concept, courtesy of Twitter, is microblogging. Twitter allows users to post to their followers but only via messages limited to 140 characters of text (based on the SMS standard for cell phone text messaging). Needless to say, that’s not a lot of space to write. As a consequence, Twitter acquires its own rhythm for message sharing and propagation. As with any other form of personal sharing online, posts to Twitter can be problematic when you share what you’d rather not have the whole world know about, or when doing so compromises privacy in some way.
Tools exist to integrate blog feeds across multiple social networking sites. For example, I use Twitter for posting short status updates or links to interesting online articles. Those tweets are reposted automatically as my Facebook status update, and also as a LinkedIn status update. On my blog is a small window showing my latest Twitter posts and I post announcements on Twitter of my latest blog posts. The result is a cascade of communication with followers and friends across three different social network sites and my three blogs every time I interact online. Since I have a public face in addition to a circle of personal friends, my use of social networking spans multiple purposes, and hence involves multiple sites.
As a public figure who writes and speaks and consults professionally in a variety of settings, I tolerate a certain level of personal sharing. But even then I draw the line in certain situations. For example, do you really want to announce to the world that your family is going out of town for a week, leaving your home empty and unprotected? Probably not. The point is not to be paranoid to the point of not sharing, but being sufficiently paranoid to realize that the world is watching (or at least has the potential to be watching) the things that you post on your social networking outlets.
So far we’ve talked about being cautious about what you post. But it is equally important to be cautious about what you consume. Clutter becomes a serious issue when your Facebook page is littered with dozens of updates from your friends every day, and when the folks you follow on Twitter generate hundreds of tweets for you to consume. It can be difficult just to keep up with the flood of information generated by following people online, even when the information is meaningful or valuable personally or professionally. This leads me to Dr. K’s first law of social media: If a social media tool doesn’t make your life better, don’t do it, and don’t worry about it. If you enjoy reading the tweets of a hundred people every day, then by all means subscribe away. You may find that reading articles on your phone from people whose opinions you value is a great way to wind down at the end of the day. Or you may find it ultimately just detracts from the life you’re trying to live. Either way, you’re right.
The other concern with respect to content involves the obvious: sexual content and other inappropriate material. Of the hundreds of millions of blogs on the web, plenty are serving up inappropriate material in a variety of forms. To a lesser extent the same can be said of Facebook, although Facebook utilizes automated software systems that it uses to deactivate as many as 20,000 accounts a day for any number of policy violations (including inappropriate content, creation of spam accounts, users under the age of 13, etc.). Similarly, Twitter has plenty of user accounts posting sexually explicit content, and some of these attempt to draw attention to themselves by following people, hoping the people they follow will notice them and begin to consume their content. However, on Twitter such followers can be blocked, mitigating some of that concern.