Hang Ten
Beverly Rosenbaum
How to get the most out of your web surfing

The rising popularity of digital social networking may surprise you.

A few years ago, sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter seemed to attract predominantly teenagers, and only a small number of adults had profiles there. But, according to recent surveys, participation has greatly increased among adults in all age groups from 18 to over 65. The actual reasons for this change may be unclear. Perhaps people of all ages simply enjoy keeping in touch with friends and family to share photos and news, or the economic downturn has stimulated more interest in sites like LinkedIn, which can provide professional interaction and potential job opportunities.

Since 1995, early networks like Classmates.com have sought to help people reconnect with high school friends. A March 2009 Nielson report, “Global Faces and Networked Places,” says that Social Networking and Blogs are now the fourth most popular activity of the worldwide on-line population, slightly more popular than E-mail, which ranks fifth. The report also says that time spent on-line in those communities is growing at 3 times the overall Internet rate. The most popular activity on the list, of course, is Search, followed by General Interest Portals and Communities (second), and Software Manufacturers (third). While it’s unclear exactly how this data was collected, it does reveal how social networking is impacting the way we work and communicate. Each of the top communities boasts millions of members and daily visitors on their sites. But it’s hard to interpret exactly how many of those are actually regular users, or just people who have tried it out a few times. On Facebook and MySpace, users collect “friends,” while Twitter members “follow” one another.
You can call this on-line posting anything from “micro-blogging” to “citizen journalism.” Wikipedia explains the growing phenomenon this way: “People who have no professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and global distribution of the Internet to create, augment, or fact-check media on their own or in collaboration with others.” Technorati.com believes that as many as 14 million Internet users have a blog that they update at least monthly, and reports that “blogs are now mainstream media,” and “mainstream media is adding blog content.” Popular blog sites include WordPress.org or Blogger.com. People also videotape newsworthy events and post them on sites like YouTube.com for anyone and everyone to see.
When Twitter was launched in 2006, most of us thought of those “tweets” as just inane messages. But, as Claire Cain Miller so aptly wrote recently in the New York Times, “Twitter has unleashed the diarist among its 14 million users, who visited its site 99 million times last month to read posts tapped out with cell phones and computers.” She goes on to say that “taken collectively, the stream of messages can turn Twitter into a surprisingly useful tool for solving problems and providing insights into the digital mood. By tapping into the world’s collective brain, researchers of all kinds have found that if they make the effort to dig through the mundane comments, the live conversations offer an early glimpse into public sentiment — and even help them shape it.” I found several people who were even writing poetry in Twitter-limited 140-character entries. Since 53% of the people follow Twitter from their computers, there are many personal browsers and tools for them to use. One of them, Tweetdeck (www.tweedeck.com/beta), can follow both Twitter and Facebook friends at the same time, and supports Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux operating systems. Try www.trackthisnow.com/twitter/ or twittermap.com/maps to see where tweets on any subject come from, displayed on a world map. Too many other applications to count are listed at twitter.pbworks.com/Apps.
But Twitter is not just a collection of individuals around the world. More sports teams, restaurants and businesses, television and print media are joining Twitter every day. Just to name a few, you can follow Transtar, Houston Police and Fire departments, traffic and weather sources, network news, as well as NASA, museums and the Houston Zoo on your computer or smart phone. They’re all sending out information about specials, events, products, free offers, and web links. There are cruise lines, airlines, hotels, resorts, computer makers, and more.
Shorten URLS
All this interest in social networking has also brought about another change -- a renewed interest in URL shorteners. With limited space for messaging, some way of abbreviating those long URLs that serve to link your thoughts to specific web pages is necessary, in order to fit everything in. I’ve used tinyurl (tinyurl.com) since 2002 to share extremely long links in e-mails. Now I find that there are so many more choices that it’s difficult to even list them all.
While it doesn’t produce the shortest URL, Tinyurl is still the most popular and used by 31% of Twitter users. If you’d like stats that show number of clicks over time, what sites are referring traffic to your twitted URL, locations the clicks are coming from, and Twitter conversations using the URL, you may agree with 25% of Twitter users who prefer bit.ly. Others are tr.im, cli.gs, and budURL.com.
With snipurl.com, you can even modify the URL once it has been shortened, and shorten more than one web address at once. SnipURL also provides statistics. You can shorten the URL and add a keyword to the shortened web site address using readthisurl.com or doiop.com/. Others include www.dwarfurl.com, memurl.com/, shorl.com/, is.gd, or Bitty Link URL shrinker (bitty.li).
is.gd logo
You can simply fit more content into less space with URL shorteners, so your “tweet” can describe and then link to a webpage in less than 140 characters, while a full URL might not leave enough space for an explanation. It’s just much easier to text in a short URL than a long one. The need to make sharing web content easier will continue to increase along with the popularity of mobile smart phones, texting, and social media like Twitter.
So it seems, in social networking as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Beverly Rosenbaum, a HAL-PC member, is a 1999 and 2000 Houston Press Club “Excellence in Journalism” award winner. Please send your thoughts or comments about this subject to columns@hal-pc.org.