Tag Archives: social networking

The Smartphone Paradox: Social Media vs. Actually Using the Damn Thing

This post I rescued from my Google+ archive in August 2011 really speaks to how quickly expectations for mobile computing were derailed by the social media feedback loop.

Years ago, I wanted a smartphone so I could write down all the blog posts I compose in my head when I’m away from a computer. Now that I have one, I end up reading Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus instead, and I compose blog posts in my head when I’m away from both my computer AND my phone. Maybe I just need a pencil and notepad.

That’s just me, and just one niche that I wanted to fill with a mobile computer. I also wanted SSH access, control panels, the ability to look up information easily, and photo uploads. But those things weren’t pushed out of the way like actual creative output was when I installed a bunch of dopamine generators on the device.

OK, blogging was fading anyway, and typing on a phone was tiresome. But neither of those made as much of a difference as the fact that it’s so, so easy to check Twitter for “just a minute” and find yourself still scrolling twenty minutes later.

It didn’t slow down photography. That was something that the social media cycle could latch onto. (Follow me on Flickr, Instagram, Photog.Social and Pixelfed!) And when I used a better camera, well, most cameras don’t have Facebook on them.

I think my use of social media is healthier now than it used to be. I still find myself staring at the train wreck of Twitter longer than intended, but I confine most of my activity to one session a day (or less) except for Mastodon, and that’s just different enough that it’s less likely to trigger a vortex to begin with. I do miss out on a lot with friends and family on Facebook by only checking once every couple of weeks, but I’m also happier the less time I spend there.

Still, I haven’t returned to the volume of long-form writing I used to do. And I know there’s so much more I could be doing with an always-connected computer in my pocket.

Hot Take: The Great Flickr Purge

Yahoo was never sure what to do with Flickr after they bought it. And when they realized they’d missed the smartphone revolution, they tried to make it into something it wasn’t suited for (an Instagram equivalent) and couldn’t sustain (cloud storage for ALL your photos!)

I remember when they panicked over Instagram and the best they could come up with was adding filters, as if that was the key feature that made it take off. (Filters were just a way of covering up the fact that phone cameras of the day were still pretty terrible.) And I remember when Facebook started asking you to auto-upload every single photo to their app in case you wanted to post it later, and suddenly everyone wanted you to auto-upload your photos. Facebook, Google+, and of course Flickr.

But Flickr has a different social structure than Instagram, and being cloud storage for every last picture takes a lot of resources. Maybe chasing Facebook and Instagram kept them alive for a while, but it put them in a bind down the road.

I don’t think Yahoo has ever understood what made Flickr resonate with the people who liked it back in the day, or those of us who stuck with it. They considered closing Flickr several times. And Verizon clearly didn’t want it, since they were happy to sell it to SmugMug.

It sucks that they’re deleting photos to push free accounts into the new limits, but SmugMug taking the site back to basics might make it viable long-term. Maybe now they can work on being a first-rate Flickr instead of a third-rate Instagram or fourth-rate Facebook Photos.

Why I have more confidence in Flickr/SmugMug than Tumblr/Verizon

Last month, Tumblr and Flickr both announced policy changes that will impact a lot of users, and upset even more. Flickr announced that they’d be shrinking the storage offered to free accounts while adding features to paid accounts. Tumblr announced that all adult content was going to be banned, and immediately set about flagging posts and accounts. In the clumsiest way possible. With a lot of errors.

I feel like Tumblr has been knocked out of orbit, and it’s only a matter of time before it goes the way of GeoCities (or at least LiveJournal). But I actually feel more confident about Flickr. Why?

  • Flickr was bought by SmugMug, a company that’s all about photos. Tumblr was part of the Yahoo! package bought by Verizon, a giant telecom conglomerate that’s searching for a way to monetize users’s content.
  • Flickr has had a freemium business model as long as I can remember.
  • The new free tier at Flickr may be limited, but it’s still big (1000 photos), and it’s still more than they offered before the move to “Let’s get people to host ALL their pictures here!” a few years back (200 photos, IIRC).
  • And that limit is both clear and non-judgmental, not a fuzzy, badly-implemented line that on other social media sites has frequently turned out to be the first step down a slippery slope (like the “Strikethrough” episode at LiveJournal that ultimately led to a lot of fanfic writers and fan artists leaving LJ in favor of, well, Tumblr.)
  • Flickr’s customers are the paying Flickr Pro users. Tumblr’s customers are the advertisers.

In short: Flickr is focusing on their core. Tumblr just jettisoned a huge segment of their users and gave the rest a big red warning flag.

I’ve been a paying Flickr customer for years now, and I’m happy to renew. I still post galleries there, and and my better one-off photos.

Tumblr…I don’t have anything that violates the new rules, but it seems like they’ve taken a step towards self-destruction. Between this, Google+ closing, and the ongoing train wrecks of Twitter & Facebook, I’ve decided to pull back. I’ve downloaded an archive of my entire blog, and I’m in the process of clearing out all my share-posts, reblogs, mirrored posts, basically anything that’s not either original to that blog or an actual conversation. And I’m starting to import the original content here, where it’s under my own control.

It’s clear that Verizon has even less idea what to do with Tumblr than Yahoo! did. When they finally give up trying to monetize what’s left of the user base, they’ll have no incentive to keep it going. Or to respect all the user data they’ve amassed.

The 2018 Social Network Experience

Twitter is like a train crashing into a burning dumpster, and the railroad owner won’t let firefighters in because they’re doing such a brisk business selling marshmallows.

Facebook is like a large family gathering where you can’t quite get away from your racist uncle/in-law’s soapboxing, and the TV keeps interrupting with commercials for things related to your conversations.

Tumblr is the weird coffee shop you used to hang out in but you’ve outgrown. You stop by occasionally for old times sake, but now it’s been bought out by a national chain and homogenized.

Mastodon is like a small party: not as many people as Facebook or Twitter, but you can actually hear each other talk.

Instagram is like checking out your friends’ vacation photos, but after a while you start noticing all the product placement.

Of course, all of them have people who will Judge You because You’re Doing It Wrong.

Who are phone notifications for?

Phone notifications aren’t just reminders. They’re interruptions, especially if you have sound or vibration turned on. That gives them a lot of power, and means they should be used responsibly.

In short, phone notifications should serve your interests as the person using the phone. Not the app’s. Not the service’s. Yours.

If someone you know sends you a message, you probably want to know that. If you put an appointment on your calendar, that reminder is going to help you. A shipping update, or delivery notice? Probably helpful as well. Completion of some long-running process that you requested or are waiting for? OK. App and system updates? You do want the phone to keep working properly, so there’s a case there.

If your friend tags you on a photo, or replies to your comment, or sends you a message, then yeah, Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Mastodon can justifiably notify you. It’s the start or continuation of a conversation between you and that other person. (Though you should still be able to mute it if you don’t want to talk to that person.)

But when Facebook starts pushing friend suggestions, or “did you see so-and-so’s comment on this conversation that you’re not part of,” or choosing to promote some subset of people’s broadcasts? That’s not in my interests, and that’s not in the other person’s interests. That’s Facebook advertising itself, because they’re desperately afraid they’ve lost my eyeballs.

It’s no different than the Black Friday through Cyber Monday ads that Amazon pushed into my notifications over Thanksgiving weekend.

We can pare down notifications, but it takes time, and not every app offers fine enough controls over which notifications it sends. And of course you have to re-do it every time you get a new phone, and every time you add a new app.

Advertising in an alert is, IMO, an abuse of the feature. We’re bombarded by so many demands for our attention as it is. Phone notifications should stick to those that help us do what we want, not those that distract us from it.