Engineering and the “Social Networking” tools

It seems like everyone else is talking about it, so I figured I might as well add my own thoughts to the noise – Yep, the “Social Networking” tools here to stay, and they’re actually useful for business, too!  At first glance, they may seem like a waste of time, which they can be if not used properly.  But if you don’t get to know them and at least spend some time with them, you will fall behind.  The trick is to set goals for their usage, and not get caught up in them.

Twitter – at first I didn’t get it; yeah, it was kinda cool, but I’m not all that interested in what Ashton is doing right now, and who really cares that I’m driving to work?  But then I started playing around with it watching the trending news, which led to searching for other topics, at which point I realized there really is a whole lot of information available through it, and what a great networking tool it is for looking for who’s doing what in whatever you want to know more about.  Try it yourself.  For instance, do a quick search for ‘Wind Turbines’, and you’ll find a bunch of tweets with links to information and articles about the latest technology and lots of other information.  And you’ll find people who are working in the field.  I heard another tip – follow top executives at firms you’re interested in, and this can lead to lots of great info for investment opportunities.   Just last week, Google Wave, the “latest in collaboration technology”, was trending in the top ten topics on Twitter for over a week.  And thanks to someone I met through Twitter, I got an invitation to check it out, and now all my friends have invites, too.  Thanks RMisko.  So now I’ve got two Twitter accounts, one to keep up with my friends, and another business one, so I can easily track my business interests without getting them mixed up with other info, and I use it also for my business face.  Don’t sell Twitter short, it is an AWESOME tool for following the latest technology, and for networking in whatever realm you want to delve into.

Google Wave – Yes, I’m a fanboy still, even after using it for a week.  So how do you describe this tool?  What I like to tell people is that it’s a tool for collaboration.  Kind of like an email that sits on a server and everybody who is connected to it has access to edit any part of it, add pictures, videos, documents, whatever, at any time.  And it’s being extended by gadgets everyday.  You know, those piles of emails that get sent around, each with different  replies, and you can’t delete any of them or you might lose important info, and they’re hard to follow or find the information that you need out of the conversation.  Google Wave takes this concept and puts the whole mess in one place.  Which is a good and bad thing.  Eventually, we’ll have to learn some Wave Etiquette, because these things can quickly get out of hand, just like email.  But the potential of the tool is awesome.  Comments can be added anywhere in the wave.  And everyone sees the same thing, unless a private wavelet is started within the wave, at which point only those people with access to the private wavelet even know it exists.  There are some great use cases out there, like:

  • A group of students combining their notes together into a single wave for each class.  Many times, you might miss something in class.  But it’s likely that another student captured it in their notes, but may have missed something you got.  If it all gets put in a wave, now the group will likely capture a more accurate picture of the what was taught in class
  • Capturing Meeting notes – similar to above
  • Capturing Design notes.  What a great tool for logging design notes.  All associated users can be given access to the wave(s) and can add their input in real time.  It’s accessible from any web connected device, including handhelds.  You can attach all sorts of different documents, there are even gadgets out there for creating napkin sketches within the wave, that users can all watch form in real time.

I am so psyched to see this tool and wish it had been available years ago.

Blogs – They’ve been around for a while.  I think it’s great that so many people have access to the opinions and help of so many that this format made possible.  But it’s not always easy to find the blogs you want.  The nice thing is there’s no limit on the size of the blog (as compared to a Twitter Tweet).  Of course, that could also be a problem.  But, hey, nobody’s got a gun to your head forcing you to read bad blog.

Facebook – eh, not so useful in my experience for business, though I haven’t investigated it for business use really.  To me, it’s too much of a personal place where I talk to my friends and find out what they’re up to.  I’ll be using www.linkedin.com for my business networking.  Speaking of which…

Linkedin – Now this I would call the facebook for business.  If you need to find somebody with a particular expertise, or in a particular company, you’ll very likely find who you need at www.linkedin.com  And what a great tool for connecting with colleagues you haven’t heard from in years.  Let’s face it, most development work is done through networking, a chance meeting here, a comment there, and soon an idea is born.  The more people you have access to, the more likely it is you’ll find somebody you trust who has the answer you’ve been looking for.

These are the major “social networking” tools I’ve been using and there are lots more coming down the pike.  Like Novell Pulse, which from what I understand, they are trying to position as Google Wave for the enterprise.  We’ll have to see if it will be worth it, or will it lose out to Google Wave’s extensibility as an open source application.  Another promising app is Threadsy.  Just the other day I was complaining that I don’t know who I am anymore, or know how to keep up with myself anymore.  Two twitter accounts, facebook, google wave, MySpace, … the list goes on.  Threadsy takes all your social networking tools and brings them together through a single interface, allowing you to keep up with all your selves in one place.  If they can get it working, I’ll be there.  And there are lots more, some good, some bad, and new ones coming out every day. 

What about email? Don’t worry, it’s gonna be around for a while.

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