What does your social networking profile say about you?

12 03 2009

Thinking of hiring? If you really want to see who someone is, check out their MySpace page. People can always say that they are one thing, but the wonderful world of social networking will eventually bring the truth to light.

Oh, you’re not a partier? Those 36 pictures of you during various stages of your beer pong tournament seem to suggest otherwise. Yeah… that’s what that “Tag Photo” button means.

According to a recent survey, approximately one in five employers admits to checking up on potential employees’ profiles on social networking sites. Some employers think that this practice can help them to better understand their employees and what they can contribute to the organization — beyond what is listed on their resume.

However, this can have its drawbacks. Just ask Kimberley Swann, a British teen who was fired after commenting that her job was boring on her Facebook account.

Not only can personal pages be an important factor in the firing of employees, it is also be key in their hiring. According to the CNN article, “Social networking sites dos and don’ts,” 34 percent of employers chose not to hire a candidate because of what they found on their profile. The article goes on to lay out some basic ground rules that will hopefully not only prevent you from getting fired, but will show you how social networking profiles can be used to help you in your job hunt. And right at the top of the list is a section entitled “Don’t badmouth your current or previous employer” — Apparently Ms. Swann missed the memo.

What is the lesson that we can take from all this? Remember that MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and the like, are all very public, and what you say (or show on them) can and will affect peoples’ opinion of you. So, as a general rule of thumb, don’t put anything up that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.


What is community and who is my neighbor?

6 03 2009

The dictionary — yes, I’m talking about the old two-volume, ton and a half monstrosity that has been sitting in the bookcase forever — defines the term “community” as “a number of people having common ties or interests, living in the same place and subject to the same laws,” or “likeness; similarity; identity.” But what does that really mean for us today?

According to Caroline Heine, as “people are constantly evolving in their needs and behaviors, so to is the meaning of community, both to those who are members, and those who seek to serve and enhance a community’s experience.”

I know from personal experience that people do not have the same kind of person to person interaction that they enjoyed in the past. Even in a town as small as mine, I have had neighbors move in across the street and have never actually spoken to them. Some might make the argument that it is because of this that people have begun trying to fill the void through virtual communities.

The Web has served to broaden the definition of “community” and extend its boundaries — in some cases making them seem non-existent; distance is no longer an issue. What was once confined to neighborhood watch programs, yard sales, bake sales and PTA meetings, is now a global phenomenon. From sports junkies and gaming fanatics, to parenting and more “exotic” behaviors, there is a place for one and all.

Because of this, online communities are constantly gaining popularity. According to a study done by the Center for the Digital Future, membership in online communities has more than doubled in the past three years.

It doesn’t matter if you live in Bangkok, Brooklyn or Great Britain, all you need is the Web and all of your social and personal communication needs will be fulfilled… or will they?

The anonymity of the Web creates its own unique set of problems. While members get to experience the feeling of belonging and acceptance, there is no real guarantee that a person you are having your heart-to-hearts with is who they say they are, no matter how much they know (or seem to know) — avatars can only be so helpful. I think Brad Paisley had an amusing take on this in his song, “Online.”

I think there are many different ideas of what truly makes a community. However, one overarching theme is the feeling of camaraderie, participation, belonging and safety — almost a family sense — that it gives to members. Online communities, while they have their purposes, are merely substitutes for the real thing. These “interactions” cannot compare to the person to person interaction that take place when you actually take the time to know and talk to someone. When the chips are down, a hug via emoticon just won’t cut it. Some think that an online community can meet their needs, and more power to them. But for the rest of you, go out and live your life. Don’t waste it sitting behind a computer screen.

Print or online — you decide

27 02 2009

Newspapers always remind me of my mom. Every morning growing up, I would drag myself out of bed and come out in the living room to find her sitting in her chair with a cup of coffee in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

We always joke that she reads the newspaper like it’s her job. She tears and clips articles out with such reckless abandon that when she is done, the Sacramento Bee and Appeal Democrat more closely resembled slices of Swiss cheese than actual newspapers.

I’ve said this before and I’m saying it once again: I’m an ink on the fingers girl. Always have been and hopefully always will be — and I probably have my mom to thank for it.

The newspaper gives you the actual physical element that you can hold onto (and tear to shreds if you so desire). This is something that you can’t get from the Web — and if you try to get it, you will most likely end up needing to buy a new computer monitor.

However, having said all this, online news certainly has its advantages. If you want breaking news on the fire that broke out earlier this afternoon, and don’t want to have to wait until the tomorrow morning, the Web is your best bet. Also, as a broke college student, nothing warms the cockles of my heart quite like the word “free” — which at this point online news happens to be.

Articles produced on the Web have a living, breathing quality to them. Unlike print, they can be adapted as more information becomes available. This also applies when — heaven forbid — an error should find its way into the news. In print, this requires writing a nice little spiel about it on the corrections page in a following issue, while online sources can simply correct the error with no one being the wiser (usually).

The Web also has a much greater reach — this can be both good and bad. It’s good in the sense that theoretically, news can permeate into the farthest reaches of the earth (minus issues of access) but bad in the sense that once you put something on the Web, it’s out there.

These are issues that Catherine Bray, commissioning editor of 4 Talent, brings up in a speech given at the Regional Press Networks meeting.

Still by an large, people love the newspaper, and often don’t consider something to be “real news” until they read it in print. It gives readers a sense of authenticity and accuracy that the Web is still fighting to achieve.

Stop running with scissors.

20 02 2009

You all know what I’m talking about. There you are, busily Googling away in search of answers to some vitally important topic, say “diversity in journalism,” and instead of your search leading you directly to all of the reliable sources your little heart could possibly desire, you are now faced with 3,000,000 random blogs written by Joe Shmoe and his cousin Betty.

This is the phenomenon that author Andrew Keen warns against in his book, “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.”

Keen is a traditionalist. In his book he writes that, “Rather than using it [the Web] to seek news, information, or culture, we used it to actually BE the news, the information, the culture.”

This is especially visible within the myriad of social networking venues that are now available to us, such as Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia or any of the millions of blogs that are floating around. This brings about the question of whether or not all contributions are worth while.

Keen takes a more traditional approach and asserts that the proliferation of non-experts only serve to muddy the waters. He is concerned with the replacement of traditional gatekeeping in media with user-driven content — a throw back to the concern expressed by Aldous Huxley who predicted that information would become so abundant that it would drowned out the truth.

This is in stark contrast to David Weinberger’s model of Web 2.0 users, who always compromise on their opinions and “play well with others.” By this he means that by a general process of give and take, people are able to increase in knowledge and come to a neutral understanding of the truth.

While Weinberger’s position makes for an interesting discussion, I think it could only succeed in a world where everyone had heart-shaped, rose-colored glasses. People don’t “play well with others” — that’s just human nature. Accept it and move on. Even in the wonderful world of Wikipedia, which to Weinberger represents the pinnacle of democracy, knowledge and a neutral discovery of the truth, who’s to say that some hack won’t just decided to re-write history just because they can? (“You say that Frank Sinatra discovered America in 1984?”)

Keen on the other hand sees the majority of bloggers and social networkers as their out of control counter parts who were always getting in trouble for eating paste and running with scissors.

While this may be true to some extent, Keen takes this view to the extreme and I can’t help but think that it is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Many of these “amateurs” to which Keen has such an obvious aversion, have made valuable contributions to society.

I think the solution to this balancing act is somewhere between the two. People need their voice, but without structure, chaos reigns.

Journalism, Technology & Society

12 02 2009

What can I say about technology and society?

We love our gadgets, we love to stay connected and most of all, we love to talk about ourselves.

I am new to the Twitter phenomenon that seems to be sweeping the globe — apparently I had my head crammed too far into a textbook to notice the new latest and greatest in social networking.

I was first introduced to Twitter in the form of this YouTube video that now has been viewed nearly 800,000 times. While it’s fun to laugh at the characterization of someone who is so desperate to stay connected, it made me stop and wonder, “Is it really that far off?”

While perusing some online articles, I came across one on Fox that talked about a man who was in a plane crash and started sending “Tweets” out before he had even left the burning wreckage.

While I can see the merits of a service like Twitter, the world really does not need to know if you’re putting ketchup or mustard on your hotdog, and personal safety should still trump technological addictions.

Still, ready or not, Twitter is creating a whole new outlet for those of you citizen-journalists out there. Batter up.

Note to self: next time you are in any kind of burning transportation vehicle, be it a plane, a train, or a Toyota Camry, make sure to exit it before you so kindly inform all of your nearest and dearest about your latest adventure.