I unwittingly carried out a little social media experiment this summer when I took a sabbatical from most of my social media activity (Twitter, Facebook and Google+) and stopped posting to my blogs. At the time, I was overwhelmed with work that needed to be completed, travel that was taking up a lot of time, and starting a new business, so the sabbatical happened simply to create space in my life.
And it worked -- I completed most of the tasks I needed to do, completed the travel, launched the business -- but by taking "time off" from social media I found out a little bit more about the different social media platforms and their role in my life.
Looking back, I can now see that one of the triggers for my sudden sabbatical was the appearance of Google+ on the scene. I was very enthusiastic about the promise of this new social medium and wrote a post likening Google+ to an especially nourishing culture dish for people who want to talk to one another. But the time required to learn a new way to interact, find people to follow, post things and make comments, etc etc, was more than I had available, and my reaction was to shut down not only Google+ activity but everything else.
Or, ALMOST everything else, because I soon found that I was back on Facebook. It had been only a few weeks since I announced my sabbatical, but Hurricane Irene hit the east coast and I "needed" to let people know we were okay. I suppose I could have picked up the phone and called a bunch of folks, but how much easier it was to post one quick note that everybody could see...and so, I was back, but only on Facebook.
And, I completely understand why it is that FB is the place I went back to first. Here is where I will find people that I interact with in real life -- family members, friends and neighbors, co-workers, colleagues, and so forth. It is an online community that looks very much like my real-life community.
By and large, though, my FB friends do not share my intellectual interests. I have found many new "friends," although most are still only online acquaintances, who are interested in the same things I am through Twitter and, now, Google+. I enjoy reading their posts and tweets, but I had no problem turning off the flow of incoming information during that time I needed to get back to my own work and ignore everything else.
This continued to be the pattern for the next two months. I completely ignored Twitter and Google+, except for occasionally logging in to see if anything was happening (it wasn't). When I finally ended my sabbatical in October, I was astounded to see that my followers on Google+ had jumped from less than 100 to, as of today, over 700. And this, despite the fact that I hadn't posted anything for two months!
Since re-appearing, I've had a hard time getting started with Twitter again. I find my way into a few conversations, see a few tweets with interesting links, but something seems to have disappeared from my Twitter experience. There are still a few friends on Twitter I like to talk to, but much of the news I see there is repeated over on G+, so I continue to wonder if Twitter will soon be obsolete.
Google+ also seemed kind of dead until the last week or so when brand pages appeared. Not that I followed any of them, but suddenly I'm seeing new things on Google+ that I don't see on Twitter. And I'm wondering if this will continue and there will eventually be a big shake-out of all the different ways we organize ourselves into interacting on-line communities.
So, no words of wisdom from me about this today, just some raw anecdotal data. I would be interested to hear from others who have done similar experiments or are following the evolution of these media with an eye to their self-organizing capacities. It's an interesting era we are living in!