26 October 2012

"So what's all this Social Networking stuff about, then", he asked

My older brother has managed to avoid getting involved with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc so far but now feels that he ought to make a bit of an effort and asked me for a quick summary. So these notes are written for someone who has heard the names but not really seen them in action, someone mostly looking for news on topics that interest him or to find old friends. I do hope he does use Twitter, though, as he has the driest wit ever and will have great reviews of pubs and restaurants too.

Experienced technologists won't want to read this simple stuff. It's for him and I just thought I'd share the advice for anyone else starting out.


Twitter is pretty cool and can be a very good way to get the latest news, very locally or internationally, help with a problem or can be an interesting 'news' summary that is constantly updating.

You 'follow' people on Twitter. Who you follow will make it good, bad or useless. Simple as that. You can also say things to the world at large as long as it's less than 140 characters. Sharing web site links is very common. and you can 'retweet' to your followers with one click something that you've received so you don't always have to come up with something original.

Go to twitter.com and set up an account. Use a nice short and simple twitter name. They all start with @. @Rupert has probably been taken but @RFHsays may not be, for instance. You can be anything - it doesn't matter, but may influence who later decides to follow you. @lunchexpert might be popular but @wuffler would attract an odd combination of old farmers and doggie fans.

You need to follow people to get started. You can always unfollow them if they get tedious. You can use the Search box to look for anyone who may have tweeted on something you're interested in and then try following them. It's a bit hit and miss. Most of my best ones have come from someone who is following someone else and 'retweets' what they've said - I then follow that someone else and slowly it starts to grow. Dead slow at the start.

People will start to follow you eventually too. Depends what you say and whether it appeals to them or they find it useful. My tweets are mostly about technology and TV and music programmes so I get followed by people who like that sort of thing.

Here are a few of the people I follow that you could start off with at least and get some interest / entertainment from the start (which most new users don't!)

News people: @theJeremyVine @MartinSLewis @PrivateEyeNews @FrontPagesToday @rabbiton @qikipedia
Radio2 people: @Radioleary @StuartMaconie @R2KenBruce @SimonMayo @TonyBlackburn @Wossy
and just for fun @swillingtonfarm
and me of course @kirrisdad

You can find these people's home pages by going to http://twitter.com/username (where username is the bit after @) and then click the Follow button on their Twitter home page. (That link actually goes to the QI Elves' page as an example).


Annoying and very 'social' network but regrettably the only way I can actually keep in touch with some people these days. Seems to be the default news and message system for many nowadays. So I guess you need to be visible there. Making sure you have at least some identifying things in your profile will help others find you.

People become your Facebook 'friends' and all are likely to see whatever you type in your status (not limited to 140 characters or anything) so it can be awkward if you have business 'friends' and personal 'friends' as they all see the same stuff from you. There are ways to adjust who sees what but it's complicated. I use it almost entirely for 'social' stuff only and, although other posts from Twitter and Google+ do get shared there, I have almost no 'business' friends there. For some it's the other way round and that's fine, I suppose. The two don't mix though.

The only real use is to keep in touch with the people who are only there. You can get Facebook to e-mail you if you a message or a comment on something you've posted. So I only go there if prompted to which works well for me and could for you too. No maintenance required really but you do at least keep in touch and get an idea of what old friends may be up to.

My Facebook profile is at http://facebook.com/andrewx


This is my favourite. You set up a profile and get a nice page on Google. It's a bit like Facebook but you put contacts into Circles. then when you post or share something it is easy to do so for just one group and not others. It is the best place to store your photos too, using something called Picasa which is absolutely brilliant and if you haven't got it on your computer it's highly recommended. Works a dream, finding all your photos, sorts them out and makes sharing on-line easy.

Like Twitter, it'll seem dead at the start as you'll get no-one's news or comments. There's a Search bar, though, and, being Google that's pretty smart. I just tried Combine harvester and got thousands of people who have written or seem associated with them somehow. So you'd quickly get people to 'follow' and add in to Circles.

You need a Google account but that's a good idea anyway. Just sign up on any Google search page, top right. You don't have to use GMail but will get a GMail address too, based on your chosen user name - so take your time choosing a good one that makes e-mail easy if you do ever use it (e.g. with a new Chromebook or smartphone).

Google+ would be the social network of choice for all your contacts because you can put them in different Circles and avoid the mass mailing of that dodgy video. It is new, though, so may be a while before your colleagues and friends use it. Most seem stuck in Facebook.

You can find my G+ pages at this link as an example.

Hope that's helpful and see you somewhere before long :)

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