Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Technology Boot Camp Week 3: Social Networking

Welcome to Week 3 of LFPL’s Technology Boot Camp! We know this is the week that many of you have been waiting for, so let’s get right into it.

So what’s a social network?

There are many definitions to be found for the term “social network.” For our purposes, think of a social network as an online community. It’s a place where people can connect with others with whom they have relationships (family, friends, colleagues, classmates) or with whom they share common interests.

Individuals are usually represented on the network by a profile page where they share some amount of information about themselves. This can range from basic biographical information all the way to up-to-the-minute updates on what that individual is doing. The idea is for people to share and, in return, be shared with, bringing people closer together and keeping them connected, regardless of where they are scattered across the globe. Try out this video to get a better understanding of social networking.

There are a number of popular and useful social networking sites, each with a different emphasis. This week, we’ll look at four: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.


Facebook is the dominant player in the social networking space right now, claiming to have more than 800 million active users. Odds are that some of you already have an account of your own. Even the library has its own Facebook page.

If you don’t have an account, but would like one, visit the Facebook sign-up page. You will need to provide an email address to complete the sign up process. If you are interested in step-by-step instructions for getting your account created, take a look at this handout (.pdf) from LFPL’s Facebook for Grown-Ups class.

OK, I have an account. Now what?

Once you’ve created your account, Facebook encourages you to find friends. They do this by using your email contact list. Let’s say that you’ve registered for Facebook using a Yahoo! Mail account. If you give Facebook permission to do so, they can look at your Yahoo! email address list and find which of those addresses are associated with a Facebook account. This can be a very efficient means of finding people you know to connect with on Facebook. However, if you are not ready to connect with others, you can skip this step and go back to find friends at any time.

Next, Facebook will encourage you to fill out your profile information. This is where you tell Facebook a little more about yourself. And it’s also a good opportunity to talk about privacy.

Understanding Facebook and privacy

While Facebook is driven by people’s desire to share information about themselves, privacy can be a real source of concern for users. To make matters worse, Facebook’s approach to privacy can be difficult to understand. And it changes. Frequently. Facebook provides a good, basic explanation of its privacy settings. To supplement that, we’ve created a quick overview of several features of Facebook’s privacy settings to help you understand and control what you’re sharing and with whom.

If you’re interested in learning more about this issue, we recommend taking a look at Facebook Privacy: 10 Settings Every User Needs to Know. Just remember that Facebook routinely changes how users control their privacy settings. You want to be sure you always have the latest information on Facebook privacy settings.

Now I have a profile. So what?

OK, so you’ve familiarized yourself with Facebook’s privacy settings and filled out the profile information as you see fit. You might even have uploaded a profile photo. (For those of you who are interested in uploading and sharing photos on Facebook, we recommend watching this video tutorial.) Now you have something that looks similar to the screenshot shown here.

Click on the Home link, which is found in the top blue bar all the way to the right. If you are a new user, you will be taken to a welcome screen that will, once again, encourage you to find friends. Toward the left side of the screen, you’ll see a list of options, including something called the News Feed. Once you’ve been on Facebook for a while, the News Feed is what you’ll see when you click on the Home button. The News Feed is something like a constantly updated newsletter that’s filled with content determined by your friends and interests on Facebook. Your News Feed is unique to you and can only be viewed by you.

But in order to have items show up in your News Feed, you have two basic options:

  1. Connect with friends. This will add your friends’ status updates and other shared activities to your news feed.
  2. Find the Facebook pages of things (activities, organizations, celebrities) that you are interested in and tell Facebook by clicking on that page’s Like button.

For example, you can go to the Library’s Facebook page and, right next to where it says Louisville Free Public Library, you’ll find this button: . Clicking on the Like button will indicate that you are interested in this page and Facebook will start adding updates from this page to your News Feed.

Remember that Facebook is about sharing and being shared with. Just as you are interested in people, they are interested in you, so don’t forget to provide status updates of your own. You can do that from the Home page or your own profile page. In this screenshot, you can see Lou Biblio is about to post a status update on his News Feed page. Because he has clicked the Like button on LFPL’s Facebook page, the Library’s updates now appear on the News Feed page.

From this point, Facebook is yours to explore. One thing to know about Facebook is that the company makes frequent changes to the look, feel and functionality of the site, so be prepared for things to look different from one month to the next.

What is Google+?

Google+ is Google’s response to Facebook. Google+ is similar to Facebook in that you create a profile, post messages, photos and links, and connect with other users. According to this article, Google+ is now estimated to have over 43 million users, which is tiny compared to Facebook’s aforementioned claim of 800 million users. However, many have moved from Facebook to Google+ for some of the features it offers. Here are a few.

  • A number of users say that Google+ makes it easier to control what you share and with whom. Google+’s circles feature lets you easily put those you share with into separate groups - say, one for family, one for coworkers and one for friends.
  • Google+ is increasingly integrated with other Google services. Whenever you are logged into your Google account, Google+ is accessible from the top of any Google page. This makes it much easier to share content from other Google sites like Picasa (photos) and YouTube (videos) on your Google+ profile. And, with the +1 feature, you can click +1 on a particular website you come across through a Google search and then link it with a comment to your Google+ profile.
  • Finally, if you ever decide that you’re through with social networking once and for all, Google+ makes it easy to close out your account and delete the personal data you’ve stored. Certain other social networking sites make it very difficult, if not impossible, to close your account for good (and take everything you’ve shared with you!).

To watch a short demo on how Google+ works, click here, and then in the top left-hand corner click on Take the tour. To compare Google+ and Facebook, check out this presentation by PCWorld by clicking here.

What is LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is similar to other social networking sites, but with an emphasis on professional networking. It allows users to share information about professions, careers and job opportunities. You can set up a profile with the intent to draw the attention of an employer, compare your credentials with others in your field or search job postings. Whereas a Facebook profile will list a person’s friends, likes and dislikes, and personal photos, a LinkedIn profile resembles a CV or résumé, including education, work history and professional associations. According to this LinkedIn blog post, it currently has over 1 million profiles spread across 200 countries. Simply put, LinkedIn is the foremost online networking service for professional and career interests. For a more in-depth review of LinkedIn and how to set up and get the most out of your profile, read this article.


What is Twitter?

Twitter is many things to many people. At its most basic, Twitter is a communication tool. It allows its users to provide updates in response to a simple question: “What’s happening?” These status updates, or tweets, are restricted to 140 characters or less, much like a text message. This forced brevity ensures that the tweeter gets to the point in a hurry. Users can choose to follow other users and see their updates as they are posted. You can also respond to tweets and/or “retweet” them. Retweeting is a way to pass on someone else’s message to the people who follow you. It’s this ability to connect with other users by interacting with their updates that makes Twitter a social experience.

Confused yet?

This video provides a quick introduction.

If you’d like another perspective on the many ways of looking at Twitter, here’s a recommended read: What Is Twitter?

Updating your status and finding someone to follow

1. To sign up, proceed to Twitter’s home page.

2. The first thing to do when you log into Twitter is update your status. Click in the box under the question “What’s happening?” Answer the question. Remember you only have 140 characters to work with. An example might be “I’m moving right along with Technology Boot Camp @ LFPL”.

3. Click on the Tweet button to publish your update. Notice how it instantly appears in the stream of tweets directly below where you were typing. This is your Twitterstream.

4. Now it’s your turn to find someone to follow. At the top of the page, in the black bar, there is a link for “Who To Follow.” Click on that.

5. This brings you to a different page, where you have some options.

  • Right away, you see that Twitter will suggest users for you based on whom you currently follow.

  • You can also search for specific people (celebrities, athletes, authors, etc.) using the search box that reads “find users by name.”
  • There’s also a Browse Interests tab which lets you find interesting accounts to follow based on their general topic.
  • Or you can select Find Friends, which will let you identify people you know on Twitter based on email addresses in your Hotmail, Yahoo! or Gmail contact lists.

6. Once you have found someone of interest, click the white Follow button. That person’s updates will now appear in your Twitterstream, which you return to by clicking on Home up in the black bar at the top of the screen.

Twitter As Search Engine

According to this Forbes article, Twitter claims there are 110 million messages (also called “tweets”) posted to Twitter every day. One of the most powerful things about Twitter is that you can search these messages and get a good sense of what people are saying about emerging events in real time.

1. So we need an emerging event. If you are aware of something newsworthy that just happened, go ahead and pick a keyword to represent that (e.g., a person’s name, “earthquake,” “stock market”). If you need ideas, go to CNN’s NewsPulse, Google News or some other online source for breaking news and find a headline with a person’s name or a place that can be your keyword.

2. Return to the Twitter page and enter your keyword into the search box at the top of the page in the black bar.

3. If you’ve picked well, there will be a page full of results. If your topic is particularly active, new tweets will appear while you’re looking at the original results. The pace can be breathtaking at times. Searching Twitter can provide immediate information on topics that haven’t even reached a proper news desk yet.

Give it a try!

We encourage you to consider starting an account on any or all of these sites and to spend some time playing and exploring.

If you’ve opened a Twitter account, choose a keyword that describes a popular current topic and try searching it. Find a tweet you agree with or find amusing and retweet it.

Also, if you have a Facebook account, explore your privacy settings. Try creating a customized list of friends and post just to that list.

On your blog, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of social networking. If you are following the blogs of others in the Tech Boot Camp program, read over what they have to say about social networking. Do you agree or disagree?

Wow, you made it! Halfway to the finish line. If you have questions or other feedback, please use the contact form. Come back next week for a discussion of online video, audio and photosharing.