Social Networking Fail

Come on, folks. If you mean it, get it right.

LinkedInI logged into my LinkedIn account today for the first time in a few months and found 16 invitations. Of those, I knew four of the people and accepted two of the invitations.

I don’t like LinkedIn. It seems like a feeding ground for “business people” trolling for new customers. Just too much bullshit, even for a hardcore Twitter user like me.

The odd thing about LinkedIn is that you’re supposed to know the person you’re inviting to connect. Somehow, people seem able to get around this requirement and still contact me. But do these people honestly expect me to link to them without any idea of who they are or what they do or how a link could benefit us? Most folks use the standard invitation message or simply no message at all, giving me no reason to want to connect.

But today I got a bonus invitation. One guy — a “Cloud Computing Professional” — got creative but still failed:

[redacted] has indicated you are a person they’ve done business with at [redacted,] Inc. · Hi Maria: I hope this email finds u well. I work with [redacted], a company proving business productivity software in the cloud and would like to get in touch with u to discuss possible collaboration on ur technical copywriting. Plz feel free to contact me at ###-###-####. Thanks, [redacted]

He wants me to collaborate with him on some technical writing?

What kind of writer uses “u” for you, “ur” for our (or your?), and “Plz” for please? Would I be expected to write that way, too? Not possible, I’m afraid. You see, I don’t think the word you has too many letters to type, so I tend to type all three of them when writing.

And how many other people who who may have included “writer” in their profile got the same exact message?

I’ve never heard of this person or his company and I certainly have not “done business with” either one of them. Although I was tempted to accept the invitation just to see what his angle was, I really don’t want to spend any more time on LinkedIn than I already do.

So I marked the invitation as the spam it probably was.

LinkedIn Phishing Scam

Another day, another scam.

Just a quick note about yet another phishing scam, this one purportedly coming from the social networking service, LinkedIn. In this example, you’ll get an email message telling you that “your LinkedIn account was blocked due to inactivity.” As you might imagine, they provide a handy link to fix the problem.

Linked In Scam Email

Trouble is, the link does not go to LinkedIn. Instead, it opens a page designed to gather information about your account and send it back to the scammers.

The best way to avoid phishing attempts — even ones that look like real communications from a social networking service, bank, or other organization you might have an account with — is to never click a link in an email message.

If I thought this message might be real, I’d check by using my Web browser — not the link in the email message — to go to LinkedIn, log in, and check the situation for myself.

Don’t get scammed.

Why I Suspended My Facebook Account

There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

It’s hard to believe, but I was extremely productive before social networking came into my life. Not only did I write or revise up to 10 computer how-to books in a year, but I wrote articles about using computers, learned to fly a helicopter and then built a helicopter charter business, and even held down a “real” seasonal job one summer. In my spare time — which I did have — I worked on several novels, went motorcycling and horseback riding, and had a vegetable garden.

People used to say to me, “How do you get so much work done?” I truthfully replied that I didn’t watch much television. I still believe that TV is the main time sucker of “civilized” nations.

What Sucks My Time

Maintaining a blog was the first thing to cut into my time. I took to blogging like a Portuguese water dog takes to water. I always wanted to keep a real journal and the original idea of blogging was a “Web log.” I started blogging in 2003 and have since written about 3,000 entries for this and two other blogs. Many of them chronicle days in my life and things I’m thinking and are a valuable memory aid for me. Others provide information on how to use software or avoid scams. Still others are history lessons or opinion pieces about politics and other controversial topics. I couldn’t give up my blogging any more than I could give up eating. It’s a part of my life.

The loss of my novel manuscript in a hard disk crash — I really thought it was backed up, so you can save the lectures; it was a difficult lesson to learn and I don’t need it rubbed in my face — was extremely painful. I haven’t been able to write any fiction at all since then. Maybe I’m using it as an excuse. Or maybe social networking has cut too deeply into my time, making it impossible to spend time on the things I used to care more about.

I managed to avoid the MySpace craze. That was the first experiment in social networking and a good friend of mine was hooked hard. I didn’t see the point. She was using it as a home page and I already had one of those. (I’ve had a personal Web site since 1994.)

View Maria Langer's profile on LinkedInThen LinkedIn came out and it seemed like a good idea for professional networking, so I joined up. I never spent much time there — and I still don’t. I have a decent sized “network” there, including other writers and editors and even a few pilots. When work got slow, I tried working LinkedIn to get new connections and jobs. I failed miserably. Everyone else on LinkedIn was looking for work; no one was looking for workers. I wrote a bit about it here and elsewhere in this blog.

Facbook LogoThen Facebook, which seemed like the grownup’s version of MySpace, caught my attention and I was sucked in. But I was never hooked. It seemed to me like a complete waste of time. I was apparently expected to build some sort of community based around my home page and “wall.” There were applications and advertisements and a never-ending stream of “friend invitations” from people I did and didn’t know. And e-mail. And I think I was expected to visit the home pages of my “friends” and write on their “walls.” And use applications to share frivolous information or give hugs or sign petitions. I never really participated and tended to ignore all that e-mail Facebook sent me.

Twitter logoBut when Twitter caught my eye in February or March of 2007, it seemed far more interesting to me. “Microblogging.” Meeting new people though short comments they post. At least that’s what it was supposed to be. Like most new Twitter users, I didn’t “get it” at first. But unlike many new Twitter users, I did finally decide that it was for me. I embraced it, and still do. It’s my water cooler, my way to socialize in my otherwise lonely, home-based office. Best of all, it’s easy enough to take on the road with my cell phone. I’ve met people on Twitter who have become real friends and enjoy the interaction with the 100 or so folks I follow and the others who follow me.

Why?

Meanwhile, Facebook continued to bug me with e-mail messages from “friends.” Check out this Web site, add this application, join this group. It never seemed to end. Even when I thought I’d shut down all the e-mail notifications, it continued to dribble in, like there was a leak in the dam, threatening to open up and overwhelm me. I’d visit my Facebook account and look at the home page and wonder why it had all that crap on it. I hadn’t put it there. I couldn’t get rid of most of it. I’d see comments posted by people I knew or didn’t know days or weeks before. Questions I hadn’t answered. Remarks related to Twitter updates.

How could I let something I had almost no control over represent me to the strangers who wanted to know me better?

And why should I bother? I already had a blog that can be found with the easiest address of all: my name.

The other day, a real friend used Facebook to suggest that I follow (or friend?) another Facebook user, FactCheck.org. I was already aware of that user’s Web site. I didn’t see any reason to follow their content in two places any more than I’d see a reason for someone to follow my content in two places. I didn’t see any reason why my friend couldn’t just send me a link to their Web site. Why use a third-party application to get me to follow a Web site in a third party application? Why add a layer of bullshit to ever-more-complex online experience?

I’d been considering suspending my Facebook account for some time and had almost done it twice. But this was the last straw. I had enough social networking bullshit wasting my time. I was obviously missing the point of Facebook and didn’t see any reason why I should devote time and energy to “getting it.” I was already wasting enough time with LinkedIn and Twitter. I had a life to live and I didn’t want to live it in some kind of virtual world. Facebook would be the first step in shedding the social networking crap weighing me down.

So I suspended my Facebook account.

Will I be back one day? Probably not. Will I miss it? Definitely not.

My Advice

Once again, I’m putting out a plea to the folks who spend more time in front of their computers than with their real friends and families: think about what you’re doing. Are you really getting any benefit from the time spent online? Can’t you see how it’s sucking your life away? Wouldn’t you rather spend most or all of that time with real people who matter to you doing real things and building real memories?

I know I would. And I’m trying to.

LinkedIn is likely the next to go.

On Avatars

Why can’t they look at least a little like the person they represent?

Like so many techno-geeks these days, I’m involved in a bunch of social networking sites: Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook, RedBubble, Flickr, MyBlogLog, etc. And all of these sites give each member the ability to include an avatar — an image to represent that user.

Maria Langer AvatarMaybe I’m not very creative, but my avatar is a photo of me. It was taken by photographer Jon Davison during one of our flights last September. It shows me in one of my favorite places: at the controls of my helicopter, flying over the Arizona desert. (I think I’m over the Little Colorado River Gorge in this shot.)

The way I see it, my avatar is supposed to represent me. What could represent me better than a photo of me doing something I like to do?

Evidently, not everyone has the same idea. While many of the avatars I see in Twitterrific are photos or drawings of the people they represent, quite a few are not. And in other social networking sites — MyBlogLog comes to mind — the majority of avatars don’t bear any resemblance to the people they’re supposed to represent.

I find this bothersome, especially among my Twitter friends. Why? Well, in most cases, an avatar is the only visual representation I have for a person. If the avatar features purple hair or a goofy cartoon face — you know who you are, folks! — that’s the image I have of that person. And it’s a lot tougher for me to take these unrealistic avatars seriously.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I find it easier to communicate with people I can take seriously.

A few more notes on avatars:

  • Some people seem to like using their Second Life avatars as their social networking avatar. While I could write a dissertation covering my thoughts about Second Life — starting with, is your first life so bad that you need a second one? — I’ll just say that Second Life avatars are generally a highly stylized version of how people want to look. While few of us are supermodels, surely there’s a decent photo of these people somewhere that they can use online.
  • Some people use glamour photos for avatars. I have a colleague who does this. When I met her in real life, I didn’t recognize her. Let’s face it, we only look like our glamour photos in our glamour photos — after they’ve done the photo shoot and brought our faces into Photoshop for some digital plastic surgery. Every time I see this avatar, I have to remind myself that she doesn’t really look like the photo. (Of course, it’s also made me want to get a glamour photo.)
  • Some people use photos of their pets as avatars. Talk about going to the dogs! Do the dogs really look better? Or do they just identify with their dogs? Ditto for cats, birds, and miscellaneous wild animals.

Of course, none of this has to do with special-purpose avatars used to promote an idea or cause. An example is the Frozen Pea avatars that many of us wore on Twitter for a few Fridays to raise awareness and funds for Breast Cancer Research through the Frozen Pea Fund. I was a single pea for the day. My favorite avatar was one Twitter friend who created an image of his head sticking out of a pea car.

But I’d like to start a movement among serious social networkers. Be proud of your face and show it off as your avatar! It doesn’t have to be a full-face shot; it can be creative. (Some of the best avatars I’ve seen show only part of a person’s face.) But it should show you, as you really are.

I’d just like to see who I’m tweeting to.

Thoughts on Freelancing

An answer to a question posted on LinkedIn.

View Maria Langer's profile on LinkedInI was sifting through my e-mail in box this morning and found an update from LinkedIn. It’s the usual update that tells me what my contacts are up to. I saw that one of them had answered a question in the LinkedIn Answers area. It was a question that interested me:

Are most of the freelancers doing what they are happy to do?

The question went on to ask why we chose to be freelancers and, oddly enough, whether we’re “keen” to be freelancers if we have a full-time job. (Must be a Brit; don’t know anyone who uses the word keen that way.)

The question reminded me that there are a lot of non-freelancers out there, peeking at us from over the tops of their cubicles. They like what they see — people working their own hours and being their own bosses — but they don’t quite understand it. They think they want to be freelancers, but if they’re smart — like this guy is — they’ll do their homework first. His questions told me that he was just starting that homework. I wanted to help him get it done.

I logged into LinkedIn and offered the following response:

I started my freelance career in 1990 and haven’t looked back.

I like the idea that I get paid for what I do, not whether I fill space in a cubicle every day. I work harder now and get more satisfaction than when I had the big corporate job with the corner office.

Sometimes I work my butt off to get a job done on time. Sometimes I have multiple jobs requiring my attention. During these times, I work far more than 40 hours a week. But I’m getting paid for doing REAL work. And I’ll get more work based on how well I get each job done. I earn my pay and my job security.

When there’s nothing lined up that requires immediate attention or I’m taking a break between projects, I have the freedom to take time off and do the things I want to do. In my very flexible spare time, I learned to fly, I take road trips, I goof off. If a friend calls with an idea to spend the day and there’s nothing important on the front burner, I go. That makes freelancing worth it.

But there’s no such thing as a weekend anymore. If a job needs doing and the only day to do it is on Sunday, I work on Sunday. Simple as that.

You ask if we’re keen to be freelancing if we have a full time job. Don’t fool yourself — freelancing can be a full-time job. And don’t think about a freelance job if you have another full-time job. Isn’t your life more important than working 60 to 80 hours a week? Instead, let a freelance career replace a full-time job. Use it to improve your life, not make more stress.

But be prepared. When you’re your own boss, you’ll quickly learn the importance of getting the job done and making the client happy. If you screw up, there’s no one to blame except you. And there’s no one to rescue you, either.

Freelancing is not for everyone. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, stay in your cube — you’ll starve if you can’t deliver. If you’re afraid to sell your services or products, you’ll never make it as a freelancer. (There’s always something to sell and someone to sell to, even if you need to sell to the person who will sell for you.) If you think freelancing means a lot of free time without a boss looking over your shoulder, you got that wrong. The client or customer is the boss and you’ll probably work harder as a freelancer than you have in any other job you’ve ever held.

Is it worth it? I think so. But then again, I never did have patience for the 9 to 5 grind and its pointless office appearances.

(If telecommuting is available at your workplace, try that first. You’ll have the same regular paycheck and benefits and the same work but you won’t waste hours a day traveling to and from a central workplace office. Your quality of life simply has to improve — especially if your daily commute is more than an hour each way.)

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