thinking about connections

I have some friends who talk to me exclusively through Facebook. My phone and my e-mail are displayed there for my friends. But most of the time, they talk to me through Facebook. Currently, the number of Facebook friends is somewhere in the 700s. They cover my family, my school, my university, my church, my work, my profession and my community.

I also have a number of friends and acquaintances who are connected to me via LinkedIn. But for whatever reason, the primary interaction I’ve had in LinkedIn is to accept a request to link. I think I’ve had less than 25 messages to do something other than link to people ever since I joined LinkedIn, and that was five years ago. Years. Currently, the number of LinkedIn connections is approaching 500. They’re mainly business contacts and relationships. A small number of the LinkedIn connections are also Facebook friends, primarily colleagues and ex-colleagues. But I would put the overlap at maybe 50. LinkedIn connections can send me emails; my blog is also made known to them, but not my mobile phone or e-mail address.

I’ve given away my business card to hundreds, possibly thousands, of people over the years; since I haven’t been much of a job-hopper (6 companies in three decades) it means that a large number of people can get hold of me if they really tried. I’ve had the same home number for over a decade, and only two mobile phone numbers during that time.

A slightly larger number of people appear to read my blog regularly. There are over three thousand subscribers to my feed, and I appear to get upwards of a thousand unique visitors daily. Some of the uniques are behind enterprise firewalls so the actual number may be a little higher. Some time ago, I had my blog hacked, and for some reason I forgot to put up any contact information when restoring the blog. And it’s been that way for the last three years. Most of the conversation on the blog happens via the comments, and I appear to have about three hundred regular commenters. Over the years I’ve met most of them in person, perhaps as many as two hundred and fifty. It’s a great feeling, when you meet a linker/commenter. Occasionally, someone wants to get in touch with me via the blog; what they do is leave a comment, and, most of the time, I use e-mail to respond to them if that is their preference.

A couple of thousand people now follow me on Twitter. I tend to follow back all real people, manually. (If I haven’t followed you back the most likely reason is human error. Mine. My apologies. Just ping me and I will correct it). As with the blog, maybe some 300 people converse with me regularly via Twitter, sending me @ messages and DMs.

My e-mail and telephone number are visible on Facebook and on my business card, and nowhere else. Nobody really uses LinkedIn to do anything of consequence with me, possibly because I’m rarely hiring or being hired. My Twitter account leads to my blog. And my blog leads nowhere.

None of this was intended or planned, it just happened. But after a while it seemed to make sense.

And so I come to the reason for this post. Whether what I am doing makes sense. [Sometime earlier today I tweeted about this, had a horde of replies, replied back to pretty much every one, and probably lost a few followers as a result.]

You see, I have this theory. That there are two types of people who connect with me, those who have a single preferred way of communicating with me, and those that choose according to the circumstances.

The ones that have a single preferred way are the “exclusives”, the ones who stay strictly within one particular network or communications modality. They seem to associate the choice of network or modality with an expected size and frequency of communication, and are uncomfortable when that changes. So, for example, when I used Twitter to update my facebook status, some of them howled. They weren’t prepared for it. They wanted to choose how to consume me, as it were. So I stopped doing that. Now they can still do so, via the FriendFeed integration into Facebook, but they’re in control when they do that. They choose, not me.

The ones who choose the path according to the circumstances tend to do so across all my so-called networks. And sometimes I get the feeling that it’s the same three hundred. Three hundred who are in my facebook contacts, my twitter followers and my blog commenters. Three hundred who mostly have my cellphone number and my e-mail address, or can get them easily. Three hundred who are my “Dunbar’s Number”. Largely because the cost of grooming such friendships has reduced sharply in this persistent, searchable, Tivo-ised world of communications, rather than because something strange has happened to my neurocranial capacity.

One way of looking at it is this. Those who stay locked in one form of communication with me, serene in their comfort zone, don’t need my e-mail or phone. They can look it up but rarely do.

As against this, those who choose how to communicate with me depending on the context, they also have all my contact methods and are relaxed about using multiples. Sometimes I get a DM and an e-mail and a text message at the same time from the same person!

So who am I really providing contact information for? Sometimes I’m not so sure. The only thing I’ve considered is making sure my Twitter profile is clearly visible on my blog. But then I have 2000 followers without doing very much, so do I really want to increase that number vastly? I don’t think so.

Which brings me to the naming issue. I’m JP Rangaswami, I get called JP, I can be found easily via Google using either. But JP is very hard for me to reserve when signing up to stuff. So I go for the next best thing, “jobsworth”. My private e-mail address, based on the codename for one of my favourite projects, when I sought to replace all the PCs at my place of work with Macs. (Jobs’ worth meets jobsworth, couldn’t resist the pun).

Chris Locke convinced me I should start blogging, way back in 2001. By 2003 I was playing seriously with the medium, and Doc Searls, along with Halley Suitt, encouraged me to start blogging externally. That took me a couple more years, during which time I practised by posting internally within the firm. But when I started, I didn’t feel good about calling it “JP’s Blog” or even “Jobsworth’s Blog”. So I chose Confused of Calcutta, and it’s stayed that way ever since.

JP, jobsworth and confused of calcutta can all be googled easily back to me. One’s me, one’s my twitter id, and one’s my blog. Simple as that. There was no grand plan to create this master brand or anything like that, and there still isn’t one. Nor will there be one.

So today I have three different-ish identities showing up in three different networks. Some friends know me in a narrow context, but not because I hide the rest of the context. I just don’t bother advertising the other contexts actively. Sometimes I include my twitter id in a post; sometimes I include my e-mail in a post, a tweet or even a comment. There’s no hard and fast rule.

I’ve received a large number of comments to my tweeted question. Many say I should make it easier for people to get in touch with me, many say I’m fragmenting and compartmentalising my identity for no good reason.

I don’t really intend to change my name or twitter id or the name of my blog. But if you guys thought that putting down my contact details everywhere and cross-connecting all this is the right thing to do, I will do it.

What’s your experience been? Is any of this making sense to you? How can I be better at this?

The key issue for me is if in some way I was disenfranchising someone. In which case please point it out to me.

37 thoughts on “thinking about connections”

  1. Personally, I’m happy panning the various riverbeds for your content.
    I’m using FriendFeed to do that automatically, but I’ve used various “manual” techniques for years.
    I sense I’m not missing out by not being your Facebook friend and feel confident you’re as likely to respond to a DM as you would an email to your Mac account.
    I believe your fragmented/compartmentalised appearance at this stage may suit us going forwards (“us” in the one to very many sense) as your tastes, focus and the content of the river(s) may change over time and we, the audience can – and will – adjust our subscriptions as necessary.
    Bravo. Don’t change a thing, but if you do, please let us all know at the same time (if you can).

  2. @Conor – ditto !
    And Jp – I guess I count amongst the many who prolly just communicate via fb / ff/ your blog ! Keep rocking.

  3. Speaking as one of the Spartans, I think the key word is context – you and I share a couple of passions (music and cricket amongst them) so there are a number of channels through which we interact, and which we choose depends on “where” we are. I wonder also if those (brave) 300 are relatively indifferent to your “accidental” decisions to include/exclude contact details, because they are crazy/smart/knowledgeable/lucky enough to be able to figure out some way of getting to you?

  4. If you make it too easy, then don’t you run the risk of getting too much noise?

    You have always seemed to me to be eminently contactable (even though I’m not sure I have your phone details). Just as the internet finds a way round censorship, I’m sure your readers can find a way round any temporary contact impasse.

  5. @cmogle Nice turn of phrase – “panning the various riverbeds for your content”. Riverbeds also impolies flow and finding the communications channel with the least friction for us …

  6. I find your blog excellent value, but your tweets less so. Some people are the reverse: @psd has mastered the tweet but seems to have abandoned the blog.

    But thats fine – the compartments work correctly. People are not even continuums across all formats – they treat each format differently. Think Iain Banks and Iain M Banks.

  7. JP, it took me about a year to decide to post a comment here. During that time, I felt I didn’t have anything very interesting to say or ask. And it wasn’t just here: I didn’t comment on most of blogs I read, except for those of my close personal friends. This may sound silly, but commenting on any popular blog felt like standing to ask pose a question in a crowded auditorium. One wants the question or comment to be good and relevant and gracious (or intelligently critical, if that’s the aim.)

    Becoming more active on Twitter actually encouraged me to speak up. That a person with ten followers can reply to a person with three thousand and still be heard was enheartening. It’s been years since Clue Train emphasized the importance of conversation, but until I I saw the Twitterati actually practicing that– notably, *listening*– I took for granted I was mostly a spectator in that exchange.

    I more readily comment on blogs these days, but it didn’t change the way I treated email or Facebook. I never thought to contact you on Facebook or via email, I feel it’s obvious, because these feel more like private personal channels. There’s an even greater expectation of relevance. Not so many people expect to get a puzzled “Do I know you from somewhere?” response from the author of a blog post or Tweet, unless the message is so unclear or confusing as to demand it.

    So there is this public/private distinction between communication channels. I’m speaking from my own perspective– I’m not a very visible person on the web or otherwise. If had 500+ friends on Facebook, 3000 followers on Twitter, an interesting blog, or even a successful business, I wonder how much that distinction would matter.

    Anyway, I hope the rest of the audience (or the host) isn’t secretly groaning at the obviousness and length of this comment. :)

  8. I don’t see any need to list every possible way to get in touch with me on every medium that I use. I would have way too many places to update if any of my information changed.

  9. This is a fascinating question. I am still seeking some definition here as well, but let me suggest a similar scenario: photo sharing. I have picasaweb, flickr, and facebook accounts for sharing photos. Seems ridiculous, except when you look at the strengths. While public, my picasaweb is primarily in an album format, and viewed mostly by family and close friends. Flickr connects me to acquaintances and strangers alike (mostly never met), and facebook connects me with many orders of friends.

    My picasaweb gets nearly everything. Flickr gets my “best” and facebook gets the most “fun/representative.”

    (I posted about this…the photos… here http://www.beerdrinker.org/2008/12/10/how-do-you-share-photos/ in case you’re interested)

    So do these connection tools parallel the photo tools? In many ways, yes, though more abstractly. Twitter carries with it an ease and anonymity, a brevity. It is far less personal, at least an order of separation away from your personal info. While your blog is impersonal as well, there’s a level of implied commitment from your readers, a parallel purpose around a post, a more highly developed personality. This is a murky water for giving personal information away, and it is common to obfuscate here. Facebook friending implies a trust relationship, so it makes sense to make your information available if you’re comfortable with that.

  10. Thanks for this post, it’s a topic I’ve been pondering for a while. Like you I have a a few avatars, but they all connect to my real name and identity. However, my “streams” don’t all overlap. My blog and twitter feed have different audiences, for example.

    As for Facebook, it is mostly broken for me.

  11. JP, I “discovered” you via a talk I attended with Dougald Hine from schoolofeverything.com lasy autumn. A quick check there threw up your blog, which after a quick read got added to my feed reader. I’m glad I did this – I find a lot of what you’ve got to say very interesting.

    When I started using twitter late last year, I discovered your identity on there via something you wrote here. I like your twitter posts too, and follow you.

    I think this is where the dividing line falls, however. Blogs and twitter are really both tools for self expression. I don’t need to know you personally to enjoy reading what you have to say in both these mediums. It’s fair game for me to follow both your tweets and your blog.

    Facebook and LinkedIn don’t work in that realm however – they are really about communication, not expression, which implies to me that to be linked on these sites requires that we actually know each other at least to some degree. I wouldn’t hunt you out and ‘befriend’ you on facebook as I don’t know you, and neither would I add you as a contact on LinkedIn, despite the fact that I currently work for the same employer as you.

    Am I still connected to you if the connection is one way only? (Ok, so this reply means it’s no longer exclusively a one way connection)

  12. Hi JP,

    I tend to agree with Oliver’s comments.

    It took me atleast 6 months for me to post a comment on your blog eventhough I had a few comments. But all that changed once I started using Twitter. I found people that I follow quite accessible via Twitter and after that I started commenting on their blogs as well.
    For me, I find facebooks far too personal and meant only for friends/buddies.

  13. I’m pretty confident that if I really wanted to get in direct contact with you, I could do it very easily via twitter, your blog, or send you a LinkedIN mail… I wouldn’t need any of your numbers, contact details or email address to do that. There would be no reason for me to become a FB or linkedIN friend/contact unless we made “real world” contact and became friends/colleagues.

  14. Once upon a time, people had different identities on Internet Service Providers such as AOL and Compuserve. Now we have standardised email (SMTP) and web content publishing (HTTP).

    Today, the web consists of socially enriched versions of the same – our email contacts have become friend networks, and our web sites have become blogs, wikis, and other personal emporia. All held within a compass that we currently know as ‘social networks’.

    But this is a new plurality. It may be no less fragmented then AOL vs Compuserve of old.

    What’s the answer? A system for federating content across multiple networks by pushing updates to subscribers.

    With this in place, it once again does not matter where you begin, because everything is connected. The web is the engine of execution. As someone said, this provides: discovery, syndication, fulfilment and collaboration.

  15. PPS

    The motivation to enable networks to talk to each other is not unique to the social network case.

    Here are a few more:

    * Business messaging – http://www.interopnews.com/analysis/can-amqp-break-ibms-mom-monopoly-part-1.html

    * Instant messaging –
    http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/02/09/as-im-finally-begins-to-open-up-yahoo-and-microsoft-cling-to-the-stone-age/

    * Content distribution – http://t0rxon.blogspot.com/2009/02/making-real-time-web-real-time.html

    But it doesn’t matter which technology is used, it’s how it is used and to what end that remains to be defined.

  16. I’ve been experimenting with using Freebase to collect together publicly available information about Vancouver. In particular, I thought that having a list of local bloggers would be very interesting, and a useful set of local ‘roots’ for building a semantic search engine.

    There’s no automation yet, but I have quickly discovered that although many bloggers reveal every fact about themselves on pages available via HTTP — many of them go to great lengths to obfuscate that information.

    The very act of automatically extracting the publicly available natural language semantic information in a webpage, and putting that same information into a publicly available directed graph undoes the “obfuscation” that some very public people have tried to build up.

    I find the behaviour a bit odd, as keeping public secrets is ultimately a losing battle – but I understand.

  17. Apropos of your post, managing multiple online identities is something a friend & I have been noodling on. Here’s what we’re thinking:

    http://www.whatsyourdeal.tv (Very grainy video of me explaining the concept. Haven’t gotten round to re-recording yet)

    -would include video (60 sec or less) of person explaining to everyone what their deal is
    -links to their various online profiles (twitter, linkedin, blog, etc). they would also link back to their whatsyourdeal.tv page from their various profile pages
    -think of it as an online calling card

    What do you think? We could create a page for you if you’re up for it… (btw, William Ward told me to check your stuff out – I was born in Cal but raised in US and now living in London)

  18. Believe it or not, all the same questions are being asked in the enterprise space with regards customer coms. The basic rule seems to be, “if they phone you, phone them back”, i.e. let the customer pick the channel. Might be interesting to see an analysis of those that like the feeling of Relationship (Twitter) , and those that like consuming your Content (thoughtful blog).

  19. @conor, the sense I get is that I don’t need to change what I write about, how I write it and where I write it. The conversations are different in each medium, and often with different people. But I can make it easier for people to know where and how to find me. So that is what I will do.

  20. @viki @ric @johndodds you are all “spartans” to use @ric’s term, since you form part of the 300. Thank you for your support and feedback

  21. DE, thanks for the feedback. What you observe works both ways; as you find me different in different locations, I too sense that you’re different as well. Which is interesting in itself, how the same people can have different styles of conversation within the digital realm

  22. @Oliver @ganesh it’s intriguing that both of you sense a lowering of barriers in twitter, that you find it easier to engage with me and to comment on the blog as a result of having a twitter relationship. That is a very good reason for me to make sure that my twitter id is clearly shown on my blog. Thank you

  23. beerick, fernando, chris, dave, thanks for your comments. We have so much to learn about the differences in how we engage and why those differences are valuable.

    alexis, paul, raghav, rob, thanks too for your observations and links. I am still playing catchup, will return with a follow up post at the weekend.

    you have all given me a lot of food for thought. thank you

  24. Isn’t it amazing how topsy-turvy some aspects of the world have become?

    In the past, layers of hierarchy, secretaries, and receptionists were used to prevent casual acquaintances from infiltrating one’s personal or professional space. In the old model, inaccessibility signified status and importance, while a seemingly-endless quest for I’m-better-than-you prestige trumped interaction and openness.

    Today, that model has been turned on its head. As more people join public social networks like Twitter, direct one-to-one interaction based on shared interests, irrespective of cultural, social, or geographical separation, becomes increasingly possible. In some circles, this has even created a culture of expected openness and respect toward complete strangers who might approach to say hello, ask a question, or seek advice.

    As the fabric of connections you described proliferates more broadly, I believe this attitude of openness will become more pervasive, eventually bringing deep, and deeply positive, psychological and emotional change to society.

    While this won’t happen overnight, it will happen eventually and inevitably. In the meantime, isn’t it nice to simply enjoy the pleasures of connectedness and the richness it brings to the present moment.

  25. I’ve found the same thing with LinkedIn: there doesn’t seem to be much value in the “relationships” there, although on the boards and the Q&A I’ve had some interesting conversations.

    Twitter seems to largely be people talking with their fingers in their ears. There’s a small number of people who I know will respond if I talk to them, but I use it mostly to find out what it going on.

    Facebook I try to reserve for people that I know well. I’m not really sure how to move beyond that or even whether to.

    What does that leave? A whole bunch of small sites that are highly spammy?

  26. @JP:

    I am LI-purist (link with people who can vouch for me and whom I can vouch for, professionally) FB-sceptic (not sure what the point is really – I used to keep it for family and very old friends but now adding new friends there too who may move to LI in future, who knows?), Twitter-explorer (I use my own criteria for following people which means I follow very few people which may upset some but I put my hands up it is my self-imposed limitation).

    I follow you on Twitter of course, and ‘star’ many of your posts. The rest, hopefully, will come by whenever we meet. :-)

  27. I’d like to see your thoughts repeated again, perhaps with a year or two’s further insight since the last series, on how communications with your colleagues, who have closed, intraweb means to converse with you have changed since you evolved your external identities. Do you find that (eg) internal email, or internal IM, are now barely necessary for non-managerial tasks? Does the “public work you” that leaks out of the firewall vary massively to the “private work you” that stays within the boundaries of enterprise auditing?

    As to twitter and blogs. I find on twitter folk generally have “fugue” type conversations, question and answers, questions and answers.

    Whereas with a blog there is a lot more space to expand and explore a single topic. it’s contained within it’s URI (http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2009/02/09/thinking-about-connections/) which is not the nature of twitter at all, it encourages conversations to leak and spread.

    Both of these are valid of course, and I find you, JP, seem to explore concepts with others via Twitter, collect your thoughts, and then use the blog to posit your considered opinion. It would be an interesting exercise to see you produce a “twitter glossary” that shows, through links, every tweet that you considered was contributory to a given post BEFORE it got published.

  28. One great thing about Facebook mail is there is no spam. And your friends latest are only a click away. I mean, Facebook is a fundamental application, like email, like search.

    I think your choices go on to prove 2.0 is about people and relationships. You have a great set of outlets.

    And looks like you got a great family, a great church, and a great circle of close friends, people you meet in person.

    JP, I’d say you got it made.

    You are an evangelical 2.0 guru. I mean, you did get me on Twitter.

  29. Your theories make sense. Though behavior is – as it often will – evolving with the specific tools and the whole ecosystem. The contact method is part about need and to some degree suggests the method. And partly about personal preference and nature of existing relationship. Some of what you’re describing falls along some of the same aspects of conversations regarding the asymmetric nature of Twitter followers.

    I became aware of you at an FL search conference. And a brief personal conversation and an email follow up about something we had discussed. I subscribe to your blog because I appreciate your thoughts, and I occasionally comment if I feel – rightly or wrongly – that I’ve got something to add. But… as much as I’m sure I’d enjoy chatting with you at an industry event or such, we’re not “friends” per se, so I’ve not invited you to Facebook. (Nor have or should I receive an invitation.) That just wouldn’t make sense. In terms of LinkedIn, I see it as a non-invasive contact manager for business reasons. (Unlike some annoying services.) In the end, I suppose I take more than I give in this relationship since I likely get more from your blog then I’ve offered back. Ideally I’m balancing that out in the world with other volunteer work I do and such. I don’t know. I’ll have to send you a LinkedIn request at least, so the least I could do would be share my network should you have occasion to use.

    So… as to your question, I don’t think you have to do anything in particular differently.

    Scott

  30. @mkrigsman – great point! I suspect that a few years ago, any attempt on my part to speak to JP would have been routed via his PA and strenuously denied! Which would certainly have been a shame for me … (less so for JP perhaps!)

  31. JP,
    You’ve already grasped the reason for the fragmentation though you fail to explicitly mention it.
    You connect with three different user-sets, which have a relatively low overlap, because your interests are diverse and you personally make the effort to straddle different platforms with different demographics in pursuance of those interests.
    Anybody who uses any of these three platforms has easy access to FB (Linkedin is the only marginally closed set), which is where you choose to place contact info. I don’t see how disenfranchisement can happen.

  32. JP, I deal with this issue extensively, as I launched the Executive’s Guide to LinkedIn about a year ago (I advise firms on using LI for process innovation). LinkedIn’s culture and membership is “executive” and business (read “Boomer”). Boomers (YOB 1960 here, so I’m a spanner, er, American, not UK English ,^) don’t yet get social media, so they have a hard time knowing how to communicate. Facebook’s demographic grew up with Web 2.0, so the comfort level is higher and communication more rich. Think about it; organizationally focused Boomers have structure in their DNA, so they need to unlearn that. LinkedIn is becoming more interactive. Another reason for Facebook’s interactivity: it’s personal, playful and there’s less fear.. many of my clients have initial trepidation in LinkedIn *because* it’s business.. they don’t want to look bad, so that imposes a barrier to entry. LinkedIn will become increasingly interactive and hugely valuable as more people understand the value (do you realize most users don’t even know about the Answers forums?!) of interacting. Keep an open mind and watch.

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