Like many, I’ve been playing (albeit lightly) with G+. So far, I’ve been impressed with Google’s latest foray into social networking. It is familiar enough to Facebook to feel comfortable, yet has enough interesting new features to make it more than just another Facebook. Like most Google products, I think this is but a starting point and, taken in that light, it’s a pretty good one.
Yes, it is YASN (Yet Another Social Network) to nurture and maintain a presence in, and while it may seem like overkill to blog, tweet, use Facebook, LinkedIn, yada, yada, I am increasingly thinking it important to maintain a presence on each of these spaces, and, more importantly, keep an open and willing attitude to connect with people in my learning network on their terms and in ways that they want. As more and more SN services come on stream, I am starting to develop an attitude of “distributed presence” as a networked learning way of thinking and being.
While many have spoken of G+ being an <insert social network> killer, I disagree (and really when people start talking about something be a something “killer”my hype meter always begins to rise). I am not giving up Facebook because I know a lot of people who are using Facebook will never move to G+. Same with those who use Twitter, or LinkedIn. The people in my network have their favourite SN applications, and rather than force people to come to me, my approach is to try to distribute myself in as many spaces as I can and connect with people on their turf and on their terms. Why would I want to limit myself to a single platform when I know that there are so many people out there that I can learn from that may not use that platform, for whatever reason?
The same can be said for our students. Very rarely are we going to find a homogenous group of students in our class using a single tool. Some may want to connect with you on Twitter, some of Facebook, some on G+, some via IM, some on Skype, some on the institutional LMS or email. If we are going to be student-centric, then we need to be able to be flexible and connect with students where they want.
It’s a lot to keep up with, I admit. And we can’t keep up with every network that pops up (and I think we know which ones are important). But this underscores one of the reasons why I think it is important for educators to have a high level of digital literacy so that when a new tool comes along, it is not an onerous task to pick up and understand what this thing does. Going from nothing to G+ is much tougher than going from Facebook to G+.
I also think it’s important to understand how the web works, and how to be able to cross-post information to multiple networks at the same time. Devote some time to work on a digital workflow that uses tools to streamline the process. For example, a tool like Tweetdeck allows you to post status updates to multiple services at the same time. Bit.ly does the same, allowing me to share content to Twitter, FB, LinkedIn and (I imagine soon) G+. The ability to set up a blog and have it autopost to numerous SN’s is also an example of how to streamline a digital workflow. If past is any indication, this blog post will garner more conversation on my Facebook profile than it will on my blog (and I am mindful of the fact that every time a valuable conversation happens behind a walled garden like Facebook, opportunities are lost, as Audry Waters recently wrote about in her post on circles in G+. Still, I would rather have the conversation with people who are more comfortable talking in a space they feel safe in than try to dictate that the only place we can converse is a place of my choosing).
The other side of this is being able to monitor what is happening on all these networks in a way that gives you an overview quickly of what is happening on each network without having to log into each. Which is where technologies like RSS and aggregators come into play. I use Netvibes, and pull all the streams of my networks into a single portal page that let’s me at a glance, see all the activity happening in my various networks.
I take part in a lot of social networks. Some are personally more useful than others to me. But I think it is important that I at least have a presence in as many as I can as there is no way that I can know what people network will form around the technical network, and when that people network will become relevent to me. A distributed presence approach gives me, as a learner, maximum flexibility to follow my learning network wherever it may spring up, be it a discussion this week on LinkedIn, or an interaction next in the comments section of a YouTube video. It’s a loose ties approach to social networks. By maintaining some kind of ambient presence in many social networks, I am ready and able to follow the really important piece of learning networks – the people – wherever they decide to go.