Coevolving Innovations

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How I stay informed: Reading social media with Facebook, Friendfeed, FeedDemon, Twitter 2

Posted on March 05, 2009 by daviding

How is reading blogs different from reading e-mail and using search engines?

Most peers at my age — I’m a later era baby boomer, now called Generation Jones — are comfortable receiving e-mail and using search engines. This population hasn’t yet fully embraced social technologies such as blogs. This is changing slowly. Jeremiah Ohyang, in “How Baby Boomers Use Social Media“, describes that:

  • 71% of younger boomers (age 43 to 52) in 2008 were active with social technologies, as compared to 52% in 2007, and
  • 65% of older boomers (age 53 to 63) in 2008 were active with social technologies, as compared to 45% in 2007.

A further breakdown of the social technographic of boomers shows a bimodal (i.e. two-bump) distribution.

  • The largest bump of boomers (67% and 62%) is readers as “spectators” of blogs and forums — probably arriving at the web site via a bookmark or a search engine.
  • Of boomers reading blogs, fewer are “joiners” who maintain a profile on the web, or “collectors” who are receive updates as feeds.
  • Contributing content, boomers show a smaller bump as 35% and 34% as “critics” who leave comments on blogs and forums.
  • Less than half that number are “creators” who upload and publish primary content, which means bloggers under age 43 outnumber bloggers over age 43 in a ratio of 6-to-1.

What are boomers missing? They may not want to become authors (i.e. “creators” or “critics”). As “collectors”, however, they can become more productive readers. Moving into this segment requires (1) embracing the ethos of a blog reader, (2) adopting tools that streamline reading blogs, and (3) establishing a personal style for tracking content.

Boomers are comfortable with e-mail. E-mail is a person-centric way of receiving information. It’s easy to sort out the importance of content by the sender of the information. The widespread alternative on the Internet is content-centric search. Put some search terms into a browser, and locate information sources. It’s worth remembering, though, that the credibility, reliability and usefulness of web sources is better if you know and/or trust the author(s).

[Side note: I first encountered the idea of person-centric from a tweet by Luis Suarez, leading to an interview of Euan Semple by Joshua-Michele Ross, and then a 2007 interview of Euan Semple by David Weinberger. The person-centric approach is also evident in the Cattail project at IBM Research.]

Moving up to the level of a “collector” takes advantage of web feed technologies such as RSS or Atom. Web feeds enable a person-centric way of receiving information from web syndication, i.e. content made available through publishing on the Internet. A reader can subscribe to individuals from whom he or she wants to read more, and bypass the noise from unwanted search results and junk e-mail. Following the ideas of a trusted colleague is more productive than relying on an anonymous source found with a search engine.

The three behaviours of becoming a “collector” are described below.

(1) Blog readers socially engage with blog writers

Blogs are communications direct from a writer. Marshall McLuhan would probably describe blogs as a “hot medium” as compared to other “cooler” web content. In an April 2008 ACM CHI presentation and paper on “Exploring the Role of the Reader in the Activity of Blogging”, Eric Baumer, Mark Sueyoshi and Bill Tomlinson (all at U.C. Irvine) find that blog readers have characteristic common practices:



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