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Losing interest in social media: there is no there there

Google+ was a bit of a breaking point for me. After recreating my online social network ( largely based on blogs from early 2000) in Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Quora, G+ was a chore. I spent a few weeks of responding to G+ friend requests, trying to engage with a few people, posting a few random links, all the while trying to upkeep (occasionally) Twitter and (almost never) Facebook. I’ve concluded that most of the hype around social media is nonsense and that people, particularly the self-proclaimed social media elite are clothing-less. Sure, I’ll still continue to participate in those spaces periodically – as soon as this post is done, I’ll tweet it and share it on G+. Beyond that, however, social media is getting credit for things it’s merely flowing, not actually creating.

A few things over the last few weeks have helped to crystallize this view.

First, I saw this very silly post by Jeff Jarvis, pretending that a hashtag was the equivalent of a power movement. For me, this was a threshold moment where the noise of social media and the actual impact were starkly contrasted. The notion that a hashtag=power or the no one owns a hashtag appeal to power and fairness is absolute and utter nonsense. And reveals just how vacuous power social media users are in their orientation. Washington faces a debt crisis. How do the insular self-perceived new media elites respond? “oh, let’s create a hashtag”. It’s rubbish. And it has no influence. Sure, it’s a good avenue to vent personal feelings and blow off steam. However, that is not a “movement” and it doesn’t influence policy. The notion of the Arab Spring being about social media is similarly misguided.

We are left then, with a small group elitist new media users, trying to build consultancy around the tools, and telling others how wonderful they are. What has social media actually done? Very, very little. The reason? Social media is about flow, not substance.

I’ve been blogging since 2000 and can attribute a numerous positives to this activity: I was hired at University of Manitoba because of my blog and bi-weekly newsletter. I was hired at Athabasca University for similar reasons. I have traveled to over 30 countries and delivered over 200 presentations in the last decade due to my transparent online presence: blogging, writing, teaching. What has Twitter and Facebook done for me? Nothing, really. Other than perhaps attending to my emotive needs of being connected to people when I’m traveling and whining.

Social media=emotions.

Blogging/writing/transparent scholarship=intellect.

Put another way, Twitter/Facebook/G+ are secondary media. They are a means to connect in crisis situations and to quickly disseminate rapidly evolving information. They are also great for staying connected with others on similar interests (Stanley Cup, Olympics). Social media is good for event-based activities. But terrible when people try to make it do more – such as, for example, nonsensically proclaiming that a hashtag is a movement. The substance needs to exist somewhere else (an academic profile, journal articles, blogs, online courses).

Secondly, science and discovery require deep thought, time, and focus. The enormous and complex problems faced by different societies around the world will not be solved by twitter, G+, or social media. As Google’s “in house philosopher” states:

Maybe you, too, are disposed toward critical thinking. Maybe, despite the comfort and security that your job offers, you, too, have noticed cracks in the technotopian bubble.

Maybe you are worn out by endless marketing platitudes about the endless benefits of your products; and you’re not entirely at ease with your contribution to the broader culture industry.

Maybe you are unsatisfied by oversimplifications in the product itself. What exactly is the relationship created by “friending” someone online? How can your online profile capture the full glory of your performance of self?

Maybe you are cautious about the impact of technology. You are startled that our social-entertainment Web sites are playing crucial roles in global revolutions. You wonder whether those new tools, like any weapons, can be used for evil as well as good, and you are reluctant to engage in the cultural imperialism that distribution of a technology arguably entails.

If you have ever wondered about any of those topics, and sensed that there was more to the story, you are on to something. Any of the topics could be the subject of a humanities dissertation—your humanities dissertation.

The technology issues facing us today—issues of identity, communication, privacy, regulation—require a humanistic perspective if we are to deal with them adequately. If you actually care about one of those topics—if you want to do something more serious about it than swap idle opinions over dinner—you can. And, I would venture, you must. Who else is going to take responsibility for getting it right?

This view – deep, contextualized awareness of complex interrelated entities (the hallmark of a a progressive or advancing society) – is strikingly antagonistic to the shallow platitudes and self-serving “look at me!” activities of social media gurus whose obsession is self-advancement. At best, they have become the reality TV/Fox News version of social commentary: lots of hype, lots of attention, void of substance, and, at best, damaging to the cause they purport to advance.


  1. withdrowned wrote:

    Funny you write this within hours after I trimmed my Twitter follows from around 1,200 to less than 500 (and aiming at more), with each “unfollow” feeling my dismay grow at how I ever got sucked into such a Babel in the first place. Most of those people are surely wonderful in many ways. But tweeting to and fro with them is like being imprisoned in an endless and overcrowded cocktail party. I actually withdrew a good year ago because I wanted to learn about Chinese history and literature more deeply. Twitter wasn’t much help there. So I left the party to read all year.

    Maybe when I get my follows down to 50 or less, I’ll find that party more comfortable. But right now, Twitter and Facebook feel more crowded than Shanghai at rush hour, and less coherent than a million three-year-olds talking past each other in some densely packed sandbox.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  2. monika hardy wrote:

    the piece i joined google + for.. and that i’m loving – is the hangout. have you seen what Jeff Lebow is doing with it:

    curious what you think George..
    to me.. the potential of those types of convos could lead a movement. a rhizomatic movement.
    but you are much wiser than me. you’ve been living this story much longer than i. wondering what you think of just that piece – the video chat. that potential for a better conversation along with better access/transparency to those conversations.

    warm regards..

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink
  3. “Social media is about flow [...emotions...], not substance.”

    Very well said. Notch a point for blogs. Perhaps that’s a distinction to make between social networks and social media, although the vocabulary still is not accurate.

    We must not lose sight, however, that emotions are part of the substance.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  4. A Gardner wrote:

    I read in a blog that Twitter was like drinking from a fire hydrant and it was not a criticism, just a fact. You crystallized my issue with Twitter: “flow, not substance.” I get some interesting things from the flow, but I don’t really see the “PLN” development because there’s limited room for comment and substantive conversation and all present seem to share the same basic values (preaching to the choir comes to mind). Without conversation, without questions, without dissent, where’s the growth?

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  5. Taratj wrote:

    Thought provoking.
    Social media is a bridge to the depth though. For example I wouldn’t have found myself here if it wearnt for a mutual follower re-tweeting a link to your post. I wouldn’t burn, or refuse to cross, a bridge that led to a fountain of knowledge. Even if it did mean I had to walk through some cocktail parties, performing cats, and breakfast updates.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  6. I broadly agree with you, but I think you’ve made an artificial distinction between “social media” and “blogging / writing / transparent scholarship”.

    I really hate the term “social media”, because it implies that the content itself is necessarily inherently social. Instead, social is another layer to what I do. When I blog, I usually submit feedback for my thoughts (as you have here by having a comments section, and by sharing a link to this post on Google+ etc). Scholarship similarly invites feedback and discussion. Writing is the odd one out here because it can be involved in all of the above – but also because it’s certainly true that writing can be intensely personal and not social at all.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that a lot of the discussion about social media is just so much bullshit, but at the same time, I also truly believe that social software can be empowering. Perhaps the conversation needs to be reframed so that rather than the “social” being revolutionary in itself, it’s the ease of sharing ideas and content, and the new freedom we have to meet and talk with people with vastly different backgrounds, contexts and competencies to our own.

    For what it’s worth, while the value I got from Twitter was always in links to external resources, I’m getting a lot of value out of content that’s explicitly posted to Google+. The conversations I’m having there are making me think, and people are using it as a platform for long-form open thought.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  7. Jane Bozarth wrote:

    I do think there’s a there there, but not where some want to put it, or of the size they’re giving it. My own interest in social media? I am in a very isolating work role, with no peer group, no one in my physical space with whom I can interact to talk about what I’m working on and get help thinking through challenges. After a number of years on Twitter and Facebook, and now Google+, I’ve build up a trusted community of fellow practitioners. We share links, resources and other content, and that’s one huge source of support. Bigger for me, though: More than once, and quite frequently in the last few months, faced with a work concern, I’ve thrown a question out to my community and received robust, diverse,timely, and truly useful help when I’ve needed it. Some really challenge my thinking and introduce me to new ideas and other participants. And I try to reciprocate when I have something to contribute to similar conversations.

    So, I find social media very useful for my own small, specific needs. I don’t follow 10,000 people, nor do I expect everyone that I follow to follow me back. I am not trying to stage a coup or pretend that a hashtag replaces real effort (aka “slacktivism”). Figuring out a way to make the tools personally relevant, and deciding how much time and effort that’s worth, is the trick, I think.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  8. John Larkin wrote:

    Shall keep this brief.

    Writing, composing, debating, explaining via a blog such as your own is valuable. It is constructive.

    Twitter, Facebook, etc are ephemeral, random. The weather is more reliable.

    The other educators that read and comment on my blog are the fellow researchers and travellers. The educators that share and communicate with me via Twitter et al are the broader faculty. There is overlap.

    I agree with Ben, not a big fan of the term “social media” either. I use the term constantly and it galls me.

    Shall spend some additional time digesting your thoughts and those of the other commentators. Your thoughts possess clarity George. This is reflected in the quality of the comments above. This is a good process. May come back to this post when my own mind is less cluttered.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  9. Just a quick clarification: I meant to say, “when I blog, I usually *solicit* feedback for my thoughts.” One danger of easy social participation is that commenters may attempt to post before they’ve had enough coffee.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  10. José Neto wrote:

    “Twitter/Facebook/G+ are secondary media. They are a means to connect in crisis situations and to quickly disseminate rapidly evolving information”.

    This means that substantial information lives in another place: “I was hired at University of Manitoba because of my blog and bi-weekly newsletter (…)”. So social media is not only about emotions, but their messages have substance, as supposedly yours.

    You see a World of chaos of people trying to connect one to another because your paradigm of thinking is a network without end. Really, people didn’t need to have more and more connexions, and they can’t have if want to intensify the relationships. Perhaps you need something to put an order in your chaos (a network justification).

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  11. Tom Gram wrote:

    Wonderful. Someone has finally said it. Thank you.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  12. Eric Calvert wrote:

    I’m going to disagree a bit, although I’m with you that that the hashtag aint that big a deal. I do, however, often engage in serious communication over Facebook. (And, admittedly, exchanging some pure fluff as well.) Sometimes I use my network to try to spread or build support for an idea or initiative that is important but overlooked. Other times, I try to draw loosely connected people together who I think could benefit from exchange ideas. It also works well for “get out the vote” kinds of efforts, where you know you have a lot of poeple in your network who are of a point of view but may not have taken real action on an important issue. Posting that “I voted” or “I called my Senator” sometimes encourages others to do the same.

    Where I do agree with you is that I don’t think short Tweets and Facebook Posts give much much space to explore complex ideas or wrestle with problems for which there is no single obviously correct answer. The longer form of blogs lets them shine here. The original author can provide much more depth and context, and the conversations that pick up in comments or in whole new post responding to the original can both stimulate and capture a lot of good thinking.

    In defense of the more ephemeral media, however, Twitter messages, shared bookmarks, and things liked and shared on Facebook often bring these richer, longer works into my awareness. Like Jane, I work mostly from home, so the little bit of noise and churn I get from social media is an important part of my radar since I’m not running into colleagues in the hauls or picking up snippets of info at the vending machine or office copier like I would if I was an onsite faculty member. That being said, I’ve “exchanged” a fair number of Twitter messages, but can’t really say I’ve yet had a Twitter “conversation,” although I certainly think I’ve had conversations around blogs.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Permalink
  13. Social media=emotions.
    Social media is getting credit for things it’s merely flowing, not actually creating.
    Social media is about flow, not substance.
    Blogging/writing/transparent scholarship=intellect.

    I guess my problem with your argument is that I see social media and blogging as one concept. The analogy of the brain came to mind as soon as I read your post. I see the intellect, blogs, the substance you mentioned as he brain (could be a heart, a tree, you get the idea) , and the social media act as the nervous system and senses. ( arteries, veins, roots, leaves, etc..) Social media takes the substance and shares it with the world, connects it with stimuli, and at the same time it brings new stimuli back to the brain (blog).
    I see social media connected in a symbiotic system with blogs and deeper more substantial intellectual online spaces. Sure an RSS can connect a blog to the audience it needs, but the more connected and vibrant and social media network, the more diverse the responses to the blog. No?

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 12:23 am | Permalink
  14. Lynn wrote:

    Though I agree with your statements about flow over content on the surface, remember that contentis carried by flow. I have never read your blogs, do not search out blogs, yet the current of Twitter has brought your blog to me. Rather than being a flaming torch of knowledge, to switch metaphors, Twitter is the candle guiding me to that torch.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 2:05 am | Permalink
  15. AJ Cann wrote:

    I can’t agree with this post George, although I do understand your weariness. Social media is a tool. It’s how you use it that counts. FWIW, in my experience, trying to “recreate my online social network … in Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Quora, G+” was a tactical error.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 4:12 am | Permalink
  16. Piers Young wrote:

    I agree with the sentiment. And have been slightly disenchanted after some time off blogging to come back and find social media gurus saying the same equally evangelical, wide-eyed advice. Progress is slower than people say.

    That said, I do think the there is value in social computing, especially when one thinks what was there before. Posts like this are a case in point. Interesting thoughts, easily added (and interesting) comments are valuable to me. Equally, as Jane said above, i found when I was a researcher the RSS-comment-think ‘lonely minds’ club was incredibly positive.

    The problem, for me, is platform fatigue. Like you, I find the translation of social network from platform to platform, be it Facebook, Google+, or Twitter has diminishing returns. What I find odd is that the ethos behind social computing marries far more gracefully with a P2P set up than a platform solution. For example, the delicious shenangigans would have been far less of a hassle to me if I could store my bookmarks locally/online and then share them P2P. For me, moving away from a platform/corporately owned solution to a personal P2P device & cloud set up is a move forward whereas the G+/Twitter/Facebook switches are moves sideways.

    So yes, social computing has lost some of its lustre but that doesn’t mean it can’t ever shine.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 4:41 am | Permalink
  17. Beverly Macy wrote:

    Interesting post. Real-time social media is not a cure to anything – it is a new communication distribution platform that operates in real-time. The basics of communication, marketing, workflow, and business still apply.

    In my boom The Power of Real-Time Social Media Marketing I discuss this. Think of the telegram (Twitter is Telegram 3.0). Short bursts of communication (Arrived in Paris STOP Wish you were here STOP). This evolved into a form of business communication,and the rest is history.

    Social media is not an end but another beginning. The way we communicate has changed forever. We’re at the very beginning of a sea-change. Sit tight, it’s not over yet.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink
  18. Ellen wrote:

    Can’t say I agree completely with you.. The best example: I’d never have found your blog if it wasn’t for twitter.
    Yes, blogging is the only way to clearly and in more depth express your opinion, and start a discussion with others. But, you’ll need social networks to have your blogs noticed.

    Through Twitter, I’ve found the most interesting blogs (like yours) I’d never find otherwise. I’ve gotten into (professional) discussions with people I didn’t know before. I’ve gotten offered a job, based on the professional information I tweet about.
    And, I’ve made some great friendships. With every social medium (if not to say everything in life), you get whatever you put into it..

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink
  19. Chip Rodgers wrote:

    Have to agree with Ellen on this. I wouldn’t have found your blog if it weren’t for following someone who tweeted it in an interesting way.

    In addition, what’s wrong with flow? Reality is that both are needed. Most tweets include a link to the more in depth content on blogs and other websites if people choose to explore deeper into the issue mentioned in the Twitter flow.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink
  20. Alan Levine wrote:

    Let’s assert some human context over the tools rather than the other way around. Heck, life is by itself ephemeral, people, experiences flowing by, but often we do reflect and document it somehow.

    There is crap and gems in all the realms you mention. No one would question that social media, the flow, connects people.

    The thing I am getting out of your stand here is my nagging concern about where people are balancing their efforts. I met recently with two long standing colleagues, who have been blogging as long or longer than you and I. I am used to hearing people saying they *blog* less or not at all these days (which makes me despondent), but also that they are *reading* less or none from blogs.

    So what I worry about is a decline in the amount, quality, range of creative expression, as the “read/write” web becomes more like the “status/like/retweet” web? Social media will sputter without the “flow” of created content.

    I for one shall never give up my self publishing space, be it just for me and Mom to read.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  21. gsiemens wrote:

    @withdrowned ” But tweeting to and fro with them is like being imprisoned in an endless and overcrowded cocktail party” – that captures my sentiment nicely. I’m not arguing that social media (twitter, facebook, quora, G+) is useless. I’m arguing that it is not as far reaching or as broadly useful as many seem to be arguing it is. It is great for conversation, for connections, for small-scale interactions, and for distributing real-time information. But to make it do more than that is to overreach what social media can reasonably be expected to do. It’s not going to replace scholarship, books, gov’t policy processes, etc…which is precisely what SM gurus are advocating (or at least suggesting) that it will.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink
  22. gsiemens wrote:

    @Monika – yes, I’ve seen what Jeff is doing – innovative (as always from him). This is an example of a fairly ephemeral interaction being captured as an artifact, which does sort of go against my argument of SM being about flow. However, if you look at the content, most of it is context-specific, in this case, tied to week 4 of eduMOOC. Social media is generally useful for real time interactions or about events that are currently happening in real time. It’s like a news broadcast. News is good for a day or so. After that, it’s not a huge reference point.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  23. gsiemens wrote:

    @Francois – agreed, emotions are substance and they can’t be overlooked. After all, emotions flow into and influence policy, decision making, and other intellectual activities.

    Good point about vocabulary not being accurate yet. I’ve seen several comments from people who add blogs under the banner of social media. I use the term to refer to Twitter/FB/Quora/4Square/G+. Blogs fit into that far in the past notion of read/write web and web 2.0 :)

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  24. gsiemens wrote:

    @agardner – disagreement, debate, and argument are critical to understanding an idea and testing its value. The short-term memory of SM makes this difficult (never mind the space limitations of Twitter). And you’re right, without those critical views, growth is difficult.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink
  25. gsiemens wrote:

    @taratj – and that is exactly my point – Twitter is good for flow. it can point to things. But in itself, it is not a mechanism for substantive dialogue.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink
  26. Daniel Boya wrote:

    If I may be honest, I feel this blog post is the reason I often disagree with self-proclaimed “intellectuals”. There is nothing smart about over-thinking topics of technology. Social media (Twitter/FB) is there for a reason- people use it to communicate their interests, hobbies, passions and anything else. It’s not about substance. If you want substance, you likely will find great pleasure in academic journals. The truth of the matter is, the complex words used in this post (some of which don’t actually belong) are an outdated way of communicating with mainstream America. This is NOT saying that Americans are more stupid these days, but rather that “intellectuals” further distance themselves when they try to act smarter to prove a point.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  27. Simon ensor wrote:

    Great post, I enjoyed reading it, delivered as it was to me by a member of my interesting PLN via Twitter.

    Great works need distributing widely. Let us have a moment of silence and raise our cocktail glasses to the unsung envelopes and the mirky sorting offices without which our humble outpourings would never arrive at their destination.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  28. gsiemens wrote:

    “The truth of the matter is, the complex words used in this post (some of which don’t actually belong) are an outdated way of communicating with mainstream America.”

    Sigh. This is an arrogant statement. I am not dismissing social media, nor am I targeting mainstream America. I’m stating, rather clearly, I think, that SM claims are over reaching SM’s capacity. I have no idea how that is outdated. The singular “SM is so awesome and so in synch with the world today” is precisely what I’m pushing against.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink
  29. gsiemens wrote:

    @ajcann I don’t buy the “it’s just a tool” argument – when considering tech in an educational or communication processes. These tools instantiate ideologies. Like an LMS, they define the scope of what end users will be able to do with them…

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  30. Tai Goodwin wrote:

    That hashtag statement seems to have really struck a cord with you. Like any topic worth discussing, you have a spectrum of thought and uses when it comes to social media. One of the things I most enjoy about this still relatively new medium is that there are so many ideas being shared. Yes, there is plenty of dribble, but I think that depends on who you connect to, follow, and respond to. It also depends on who’s using it: marketers and academics I expect would have drastically different needs, approaches, and content.

    Like a few others who have commented – had it not been for Twitter, I wouldn’t have found your post. And while I do use social networking platforms to share my content, market my services – sites like twitter and other social bookmarking sites have been tremendously helpful in researching content and finding opinions and ideas, that I never would have been exposed to otherwise.

    I do think that there are some extremist out there who mistakenly glorify social media as the catalyst when it is just another tool. Change always starts with people and ideas – regardless of the method used to direct the flow.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink
  31. I’ve also got to slightly disagree, but for a different reason.

    The problem isn’t social media; it’s how people have been using it. The concept behind social media was to be social; it’s kind of why we write our blogs, because we hope people read what we have to say and then talks to us about it.

    Much of social media has digressed into sales pitches and sharing of information that doesn’t entertain or educate. Few people are taking the time out to try to talk to anyone; that’s what it’s all about. Last night I wrote something on Google+ to that effect, saying that for any new people I don’t see interacting with someone I might just drop them from my circles. You should have seen how many people came out of the woodworks to talk.

    That’s how one builds relationships and yes, even possibly makes money and gets clients. It’s not a perfect system but then no system is perfect. But if people aren’t even trying to be social, then it ain’t social media.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  32. John Putt wrote:

    Yes Twitter…absolute rubbish. Without it I wouldn’t have connected with a professor who is a colleague of my partner who tweeted the link to your blog. I’d have also missed connecting with other educational professionals, finding out about TeachMeets, discovering which are people’s favourite books on learning. I would not have read many interesting & inspiring blog posts, ideas on teaching/learning/leadership strategies.
    For me it is not social media it is ‘learning’ media. I don’t live in a big city, have easy access to an ‘academic’ library less so, apart from partner [& one should argue that I should] have much access & involvement with academics or other educational professionals…nah…twitter = a complete waste of time…oh hang on is that some incoming…

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  33. Gerry Wieder wrote:

    So-called “social media” were preceded by other forms and formats such as list feeds, forums and bulletin boards, which were every bit as interactive and “social” as Facebook or Twitter. So I share the concern too that we are generally a little too proscriptive with the term, social media. In my opinion, it also includes blogs, and social media can include any electronic format that encourages interaction and interactivity between participants.

    The 140 character limit on Twitter prescribes the amount of content, not whether that content is “emotional” or “intellectual”. Depending on the purpose and content of the tweet, a fairly intellectual exchange can result. So I don’t agree that blogs=intellect and FB/Twitter=emotion.

    I think different social media platforms will suit different users differently. I prefer Twitter as a mainstay, with a smattering of blog thrown in. As I “mature” I’m finding more and more that 140 character character of Twitter IS sometimes confining, and I’m looking more at blogs again. This goes for both my personal and professional interests.

    The “platform fatigue” only sets in when you have to hop on and get involved at every new thing that comes down the pike. That’s a matter of personal choice. As for G+, I came I saw I left. Not a major improvement, in my opinion, over Google’s last foray into social media. Anybody remember Buzz?

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  34. gsiemens wrote:

    @alanlevine “So what I worry about is a decline in the amount, quality, range of creative expression, as the “read/write” web becomes more like the “status/like/retweet” web? Social media will sputter without the “flow” of created content.” well said. Updates, pluses, likes, and link/resource sharing are all important. But, they can reduce dialogue, critique, and reflection.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  35. gsiemens wrote:

    @johnputt – I’m not sure if you’re responding to my post or some of the comments. I’m certainly not calling twitter rubbish. I am suggesting, however, that we recognize what social media actually does. It doesn’t solve conflict. It doesn’t resolve a debt crisis. It doesn’t do a lot of what people assume it does.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  36. The tools lend themselves to the abuse you complain about (look-at-me syndrome) and over-inflated exectations from the media plaing catch-up. I agree there are many who consequently seem to be ‘clothing-less’ but as filtering skills develop and (inevitably) some tool that catches on because it automatically depreciates the chaff generators, we will still have something more useful than what went before; networks can be more open, informative and rapid than the closed professional loops that were once mostly hidden from view. Finding the right tags to follow is an interesting pursuit but can be an expensive distraction.

    It’s a medium and therefore spawns communities of practice. At different times each fulfils a role in one’s professional and social life. Lets be comfortable with this diversity and not take it too seriously when its hyped. Let’s be understanding when users share their discomfort, but not too patient too often :-)

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  37. Pat Parslow wrote:

    I must confess, I am not entirely clear about what people are alleging social media does. It is a substrate for conversation, and “it” varies the parameters of traditional conversation somewhat by having varying degrees of persistence of information, as well as allowing a many-many discussion (not that the opportunity is always taken, of course).

    In those cases where a “social media” service provides enough space (i.e. not Twitter), I really don’t see a marked difference between SM and blogs etc, except that the many referrals made allow SM to act as a form of filtered & recommended RSS feed drawing from a greater range of resources than I would ever find on my own, coupled with repositories of some genuine nuggets of well reasoned thinking. And, of course, coupled with a lot of bunkum.

    I’m also not entirely convinced that the ‘flow’ may not be more useful in some regards than the static instances of, for instance, blog posts. The ‘flow’ seems more similar to the activity of the mind than the static resource – and that seems to me to be at least potentially useful.

    Having said that, I have found many things about Google+ awkward, and I don’t really plan to use it much. Facebook is somewhere I tend to keep more social, despite having many colleagues as ‘friends’ there, and Twitter is a space I now tend to dip in and drop out of more than I used to.

    None of the technologies ‘actually create’. Blogs don’t create. People create – and some people create more important and insightful content when they interact with others, and some people do so when they work as an individual.

    Movements have power when those in authority listen. If they are “listening” to sentiments expressed on, say, Twitter, then it could be said that people taking part in a ‘twitter storm’ using a hash tag as exerting influence/power. I don’t think it is accurate to write it off completely – apart from anything else, SM reduces the barriers to expressing opinion, which means that a larger proportion of the population can express their anger – and sometimes, perhaps not often enough, it can be heard and ‘felt’ by those in power.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  38. Pat Parslow wrote:

    Sorry to jump in again…

    Change tends to happen in heavily damped systems (which society tends to be, I think) when there are positive feedback loops. Rapid communication tends to support positive feedback – people are caught in the moment, and have their views confirmed/swayed by the things they read, in conjunction with the context (e.g. other events they can see happening).

    In this way, Social Media is actually much better placed to support things such as ‘revolutions’ or pressure groups or movements than more static modes of communication, especially those which include their own form of damping (e.g. putting obstacles in the way of contributing).

    I’ve long held that the speed of communication possible through the internet may cause us problems in the future, precisely because of this ability to quickly build a head of steam.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink
  39. Emeri Gent wrote:

    I think media is like all things, a few utilize it very well, a vast majority just use it en mass, and others utilize it very poorly. I have seen first hand those that use media with skill, and those who use media with shrill. Lets put it this way, there is so much great stuff if I use my media with intelligence, why would I dwell on the marginal or mediocre? Acknowledge it yes, but to digest it whole, no.

    When we focus our attention on brilliant mediocrity, we create a shining light that turns out has a short attention shelf-life. In a time of profound change focusing on the profundity means that automatically, I might skip some of the joy of frivolity, the inane or the mediocre. (and yet still get to enjoy and see life as meaningful and fun also).

    At the end of the day media is media, whatever coat of labels we would like to paint it with, the rest is the promulgation of some strange mythology – and our entire society seems to have been constructed on the back mythologizing various aspects of history and technology, as well who gets worshiped for their celebrity versus the few who deserve to be remembered for their legacy and history; so why would “social media” be exempt?

    And if I include media’s ugly sister “marketing” into the mix as a sort of type of Freudian assistant that works gleefully in the background, then we either get the results we deserve or we learn to switch things off and put away the childish things, which entertain us and realize how we vegetate on our own thoughts, never mind the media.

    In 1961 Newton Minnow wrote about television as the Vast Wasteland. I think 3% of people really know how to make the most of their televisions, and I would not be surprised if the same amount make the most of their information network. 1961? this problem has been around for more than a few years.

    I did enjoy reading above that the Descartian split between intellect and emotion is still alive and kicking, but I keep my focus on how my own prefrontal cortex is relating to my amygdala – otherwise I risk developing a serious split personality. The only answers I have are for the only life I know, which happens, unfortunately, to be my own.

    As for Damon Horowitz, the Google In House philosopher, his words don’t represent the floating ocean in the media-ocrity, I love Horowitz dedication of how he unraveled and released more of his capability… and that is how I personally want to use media – though, to be frank, in absolute comparison, I am far from being an in-house philosopher of anything but far more of a common chip and butty eating mortal being whose sea of thoughts are his own.


    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Permalink
  40. gsiemens wrote:

    @Ben – SM is an imprecise term and may not have much value when it’s treated as a broad sweeping concept. I haven’t grouped blogs in with social media. Social media, in my eyes, includes tools like Twitter/FB/G+…tools with low thresholds and barriers that create opportunities for people to connect easily. Yes, these tools can, as you say, be empowering. But empowering to what end? So that we feel we have a voice? so that we can be connected to others with whom we share similar experiences/views/fears/hopes? Or empowered to change policy? End the debt debate in the US? Raise democracy across the middle east? SM may give us the appearance of having power, but I’m not convinced that it is substantive.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink
  41. gsiemens wrote:

    @JaneBozarth: “So, I find social media very useful for my own small, specific need” – exactly my thoughts! SM is helpful for many reasons: communicating, connecting, flowing information, etc. …and I’m agreement with you on this too: “Figuring out a way to make the tools personally relevant, and deciding how much time and effort that’s worth, is the trick, I think.” But your points are balanced and contextualized…not hype-filled and consultancy driven. The latter is what I was whining about in pushing back against the notion of hashtags as power.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  42. gsiemens wrote:

    @EricCalvert – good points…though I’m not sure we are in disagreement. I’ve reread my post several times because it appears that people are interpreting it differently than what I thought I had written. I wasn’t knocking social media as completely irrelevant. My intent was to push back against the views that social media (a hashtag in this instance) has the actual power that people like Jarvis ascribe to it. Your illustrations and Jane’s are very much in line with my experiences – personal, contextual use of Twitter/FB to share resources, bookmarks, and connecting with colleagues and friends. But SM doesn’t have the power to be a medium separate from the internet or to replace TV/newspaper/academic journals. Unlike other media (TV/Radio) which creates its own content (or buys/syndicates it) which it then broadcasts (or flows), social media flows two things: emotions and content produced elsewhere.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  43. gsiemens wrote:

    @Jabiz – aside from the discussion of “are blogs an example of SM”, we’re both making the same claim: SM is good for flowing and for connecting. Other options exist – like you noted, RSS. Social media provides some benefit wrt socializing the information and flowing it in a clustered or trusted network. However, as I noted here:, managing information through social means has limits. The more complex the information landscape, the less valuable social networks for keeping up to date.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Permalink
  44. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Lynn – I’ve heard that from several people (i.e. I wouldn’t have read this post or found your blog without Twitter). I need to think more on the value of finding a blog via twitter. But what has finding this blog, and the associated time on Twitter, done for you in terms of knowledge growth or development that exceeds what reading, writing (blogging), and thinking would have done for you? SM is always connecting, filtering, flowing. Where is the creation?

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
  45. Very interesting post and discussion. I think I agree with you that SM has been exaggerated by a lot of people, especially the SM gurus, but then isn’t this the case with any new tool when it first comes out?

    As for… “SM is always connecting, filtering, flowing. Where is the creation?”

    What Twitter, FB, G+ do well is connect people and allow you to see a flow of ideas passing by very quickly. You can then jump onto something and focus more deeply on it. Before these tools became popular, it was harder to connect to people, and previous systems made it unlikely you’d connect to many people. SM has changed this radically, and I don’t see us ever going back to the way it was before.

    I think there is also some knowledge creation going on in SM too. An example of Twitter being used for knowledge creation is – twice a week, educators come together to share ideas around a hashtag (!). Although the tweets flow thick and fast, these are then curated and turned into transcripts and summaries that makes for an interesting archive of knowledge of ELT.

    It would be difficult to think of a better way of getting as many ideas and opinions from as many people about a particular topic.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  46. You wrote in “Connectivism:
    A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”
    these words:
    “Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources”,
    so, this new post, contradicts the theory of connectivism?

    Monday, August 1, 2011 at 12:53 am | Permalink
  47. Doesn’t flow carry substance? It seems analogous to me that you are arguing that metaphor isn’t important because it only carries over the truth. I agree the valorization of social media is overblown, but so too is your devaluation. As is your very rough equation of social media with emotion and blogs with intellect. Cognitive science surely has convinced you that the mind is embodied. You are very influential. You have influenced me. It seems to me you are as guilty of letting your feelings lead your mind in this post as you claim others are led by their Twitter posts. I hate to give you shit on this but I think your post is half-baked and came out too quickly. Perhaps it needs a little more quiet reflection first. Frankly, I don’t mind the raw unfiltered feel of the post, but please don’t insist that when I send someone a video or a photo or quote or a poem or anything in Twitter that I am not creating something. It feels like I have. Just as a carpenter has a bias for regarding every problem in his trade as a nail that can be fixed with a hammer so too can a scholar have the same kind of discipline bias. You are a damned good thinker. The zeitgeist has you running scared. We need better from you. We don’t need very imperfect dichotomies. I am not nor will I ever be as good a thinker as you, but I see that you have let Jarvis tweek your usual aplomb. I suspect that there is a deeper, slower and better truth in your reaction. I hope you take the time to explore what that might be for my benefit and for all of our benefits.

    Monday, August 1, 2011 at 5:06 am | Permalink
  48. I see Twitter & Facebook as roadsigns to there. I don’t expect either to be a destination, but a pointer and I believe that’s the intent. They’re not the diners, but the means to find the diners, the diners that other hungry folks have enjoyed. I don’t expect to sate my hunger at the sign (and George sounds like a traveller with burn out who saw one too many plastic burgers, and in his frustration forgot it wasn’t intended to be the real thing. But signs have their places. Not delicious or nutritious but, if used correctly, leading to satisfaction of what we went into social media hubgry for.

    Monday, August 1, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  49. mashmtz wrote:

    Social networking is what you make it. Everyday I find more “substance” through these ends than I have time to read. Perhaps you should have focused this blog on the intellectual gains of blogging and saved your whining for facebook?

    Monday, August 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  50. Frank wrote:

    All of it is a bit overwhelming to be honest. I remember when you had the Connectivity online course with about 2000 students at one time. That was overwhelming too. Trying to determine just how to use social media responsibly so as to not actually lose ground via a time suck. Thinking about returning to blogging again, but not sure or not is that is now outdated.

    Monday, August 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  51. I don’t have unreasonable expectations about Twitter. I expect it to be some substance, some ‘what I had for breakfast’, and that’s ok.

    I’m interested in those smaller details from the people I follow regularly. It’s through sharing the minute of our lives that we develop connections. It’s the time spent in the staff room talking to a collegue about their kids, their weekend, their lives, that develops the friendship. When they talk on a subject worthy of deeper consideration, I have more context, and a deeper connection with them.

    I have to agree with many of the posts her regarding platform fatigue. I just don’t see the point of another at the moment. Google+ was curious, but just not for me. Twitter serves my purposes for the moment, links to deeper considerations like your blog, and some socialization.

    To present yet another metaphor … Twitter for me is like a river of information. Every now and then I like to dip in a cup and see what I’ll find.


    Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink
  52. George, your assertion that social media is about flow, not substance is very ‘McLuhanesque’. It speaks to the ‘medium’ (eg. Twitter, FB, TV, print etc.) as being very distinct from – yet inextricably linked to the ‘message’.

    You seem to equate social media sites like Twitter with the “look at me” attitude that preoccupies popular culture. Yes, many people (educators included) use sites like Twitter and FB to ‘navel gaze’, but many also use these social media tools to share rich ideas (links to blogs etc.) that can and do lead to deeper thought.

    Thanks for sparking an intriguing discussion thread!

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink
  53. Nick Kearney wrote:

    “Social media=emotions. Blogging/writing/transparent scholarship=intellect.”

    I think this may be an oversimplification.

    The conflation of terms and activities is also questionable, here (blogging, writing, transparent scholarship) and in the bracketing together of “an academic profile, journal articles, blogs, online courses” as substance.

    I also have problems with what underlies the idea that Twitter/Facebook/Google Plus are “secondary” media. Maybe that idea needs further unpacking.

    I think you also stray into technological determinism; “The enormous and complex problems faced by different societies around the world will not be solved by twitter, G+, or social media”. Well they wont be solved by Gmail or WordPress or Tumblr either, or Office for that matter. This is to mistake the technology for the people using it, and the ways they use it, however much there may be different affordances in the different tools. I would hazard that the uses made of social media in your MOOCs (online courses) contribute in a vital way to the substance of these courses, which appears to be to a large extent located in the conversations that take place.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  54. Nick Kearney wrote:

    “Social media=emotions. Blogging/writing/transparent scholarship=intellect.”

    I think this may be an oversimplification.

    The conflation of terms and activities is also questionable, here (blogging, writing, transparent scholarship) and in the bracketing together of “an academic profile, journal articles, blogs, online courses” as “substance”. They appear to me to be very different kinds of “substance”

    I also have problems with what underlies the idea that Twitter/Facebook/Google Plus are “secondary” media. Maybe that idea needs further unpacking.

    I think you also stray into technological determinism; “The enormous and complex problems faced by different societies around the world will not be solved by twitter, G+, or social media”. Well they wont be solved by Gmail or WordPress or Tumblr either, or Office for that matter. This is to mistake the technology for the people using it, and the ways they use it, however much there may be different affordances in the different tools. I would hazard that the uses made of social media in your MOOCs (online courses) contribute in a vital way to the substance of these courses, which appears to be to a large extent located in the conversations that take place.

    Other comments point to the importance of social media as “context” as faciltators of access to the substance. This is important, but I would suggest that they can, and do, in the interactions that take place between people provide “substance”, in the sense that they can help to provide solutions to problems people face, or increase their awareness, or their understanding.

    The comments in this blog have much in common with a thread on a social media site, or a forum. There is an exchange of opinions, a to and fro, a conversation, and I have learned by reading this conversation (and by participating in it for that matter). In other words I have found “substance”. I have had similar experiences with Facebook, G+, Twitter, fora, email lists, and face to face, to name but a few.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink
  55. Mark Gbur wrote:

    George Siemens recently wrote a blog post entitled “Losing interest in social media: there is no there there” where he challenged the value of social media stating that its merely an agent of flow of two components, emotion and links to content produced elsewhere. He noted that in itself, social media does not empower a platform for genuine dialog or content creation, framed in the comments that “[s]ocial media is generally useful for real time interactions or about events that are currently happening in real time. It’s like a news broadcast. News is good for a day or so. After that, it’s not a huge reference point.”

    George, I wanted to say thanks for following up and replying to everyone’s comments, this was a very thought provoking article and I’ve seen your sentiment about the value of creation and generating content echoed in many of your previous posts and conversations.

    There was a rather large reaction from the commentators to George’s article and several took exception to a couple items in this article. Personally, I have to admit I slipped a bit off my rocker over one particular line and I believe it is this particular line where he seemed to have had a disconnect with many of the other respondents:

    “What has Twitter and Facebook done for me? Nothing, really. Other than perhaps attending to my emotive needs of being connected to people when I’m traveling and whining.”

    At the moment my eyes finished the line they drifted off the screen into space. I lost sight of George’s overall theme about creation and the actual argument of the value of social media with regard to its impact as a platform for change, capacity to resolve real-world problems, and as a resource for content and dialog. I agree that in many ways the utility or actual power of the medium is being over exaggerated and there being a perception by both more prominent users and even actual members of the media. Specifically, George made an excellent point that the value popularizing or obtaining a trending hashtag is nonexistent with respect to enticing actual and genuine change.

    Still, I was momentarily bubbling from the snippet by George because I firmly believe Twitter has done a lot for people beyond emotive and flow. It has enabled others like myself to conversations we had no knowledge of, or opportunity in which to participate. For George specifically, it has directly led to some monetary residuals from me as I purchased his book.

    Moreso, I believe that George and I may have a contrasting value of flow inside of this article because I believe that in those flows and connections, the reputation that George has built, exists a tangible component in the equation. Those connections in the audience do more than carry the ‘flow’ of any content; they challenge, question, either by mere presence or a direct effort validate and help sharpen thoughts and shape opinions. In itself, ‘flow’ is often thought to be unidirectional and the benefit here definitely has a bilateral component. Furthermore, I would contend that both participants, person and follower, maximize value in that bilateral relationship, even if the communication is asynchronous.

    I would still concede that the value of social media transactions decrease with time. However, on a differing level, I would contend that there is still a deep and empowering component being generated as a result from social media.

    As always, thanks for sharing.

    Cross posted from:

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  56. Jeff Lebow wrote:

    While certain tools may be labelled as ‘social media’ it seems to me that the vast majority of media is social these days. Be it a tweet, a personal photo, or a network newscast, there’s almost always a way to comment, converse, and/or remix. To me, the challenges are filtering, processing, and archiving – how we find the content of interest to us, how we make sense of it, and how we find it later. I think the potential value of G+ is that it can do a better job at all of these. Circles help us more efficiently sip from the firehose and keep the discussions a bit more focused, while the ability to link to posts (like this ) help with the archiving.

    I’ve always been a big believer in the meaningfulness of ‘the flow’ and the power of conversation. As I look back on my participation in the ‘read/write/listen/speak’ web, the conversations I’ve had with people have made a much bigger impact on me than the blog posts I’ve read. Granted, I’ve never been a big blog reader, but given how fluid the information landscape is these days, I think blog posts and even journal articles are often as ‘context specific’ as many of the flow artifacts.

    In any event, thanks to all for this interesting discussion. For those interested in flowing into a ‘listen/speak’ conversation about it, we will likely be discussing it on the next couple of MOOCasts – Aug. 3 & Aug. 10 1400GMT (global times: ) All are welcome to tune in and join in at:

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
  57. Garrick wrote:

    If you have seen this yet, it’s a riot,

    Now for more serious bits. Really provocative article. Thanks for the thoughts, George, and for all the thoughts you’ve shared with us throughout the years.

    Some thoughts:

    Social Media should be a tool, as opposed to us being the tools. I think what’s a bit different about social media, is that it’s a “tool” we take part in shaping with our choices and configurations. Mold a crooked hammer, and you can’t expect to nail anything on the head. Choose to use a straight one on a screw… you see what I’m getting at.

    It seems to me it can be easy to undervalue social media because of it’s lack of depth and the lack of space dedicated for content. But, that’s like disliking Christmas cards for their lack of space to write more. Besides, the content is meant to be momentary. I don’t use (value) social media much currently, but the potential seems undeniable to me. I can’t think of anything else out there, that can get so many anonymous/selective/private people/groups to virtually circle in a very timely way around one event, idea, link, or word. I don’t think journalists these days, who are forced to stay current with tools like Twitter, consider these tools secondary media. Well, I don’t write Christmas cards either, so that’s about all I can say.

    p.s. Don’t go to people’s blog and accuse them of “whinning” in their own blog of thoughts. Only thing worst is to be accused of being arrogant brute.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 1:08 am | Permalink
  58. Lenandlar Singh wrote:

    @George – as a young, up-and-coming wannabe educator, i think your post has shot me down and all i’ve been thinking about what “social media” is “likely” to bring to the table. I guess i will have to re-think.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  59. Donald Clark wrote:

    If social media goes so does connectivism

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink
  60. Lenandlar Singh wrote:

    So after reading Donald Clark’s article, i can breathe a sigh of relief. What about my experimentation with Facebook Groups for classroom discourse? That’s the question that has bothered me all morning.

    Now i can think again.

    Or am i more confused? Help the youngster please.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink
  61. Eduardo wrote:

    Adjunto un enlace con mis reflexiones en Google + :)


    Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  62. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Edgar – no contradiction at all. Social networks do not equal social media. Connected specialization involves bringing together different information sources or people with different levels of expertise. I replied to Clive Shepherd’s blog addressing this in a bit more detail. Again, as stated in other comments, social media has a role to play. There is nothing in what I wrote in this post that contradicts assertions I and others have made about connectivism. For that matter, the first article I did in 2004 on connectivism was a few years prior to the current “social media” hype. You don’t need Twitter or Facebook to connect with others. That said, tools like Twitter/Facebook can be useful, but don’t mistake the tool as being the point of value, when it’s the connection it enables that is most critical.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink
  63. gsiemens wrote:

    @Lenandlar – you should do exactly what you feel like doing in using different technologies for teaching an learning. Experimentation is critical. I’ve used various tools in my teaching practices – some are successful, others aren’t. The best way to understand the tools is to experiment with them. You’ll find, soon enough, what works and what doesn’t.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink
  64. gsiemens wrote:

    for those still following this thread, here is a great article that gets at what I’m trying to say in the above post:

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink
  65. Lenandlar Singh wrote:

    @George – you are very right. In my experiments so far with Facebook Groups, some things have worked while others have failed totally. So a timely reminder. I’ve found that planned activities don’t work well in social spaces (or at least the type of planned activities i have experimented with so far).

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink
  66. gsiemens wrote:

    @TerryElliot – interesting argument that flow is a type of creation. I agree that when you share a resource with others that you are involved or a part of the process. SM does give us a sense of belongingness. We feel connected to a cause or to a movement. But, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what that connectedness means. In the context of my post – the thought that creating a hashtag is somehow equal to a political movement – SM is over reaching. As I stated above, there is enormous value in connecting people…but we need to acknowledge that we connected before social media (ah, those good ol’ days of email, BBS)…and before the internet.

    I recall reading an article a few years ago that equated activities on Twitter with social grooming in primates or with gossip in small communities. Gossip is a type of glue that helps to bind people to each other – much like water cooler chats. However, what I see lacking in SM is the recognition of its limits and boundaries. SM is not the same as academic discourse. Or as policy making. The quality of our understanding of a topic is related to how clearly we are able to demarcate and detail nuances. In most SM talk, we treat SM as an amorphous entity that is everything in all contexts. Let’s pull it apart and see what it really is – when is it useful? When is it not? What context generates SM value? When does SM detract?

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  67. gsiemens wrote:

    @JeffLebow – glad you raised the issue about the increased social aspect of all technologies. Obviously, we need to define social media before we can have a meaningful discussion…otherwise we simply talk past each other. In my post, I tried to detail that I was referring to Twitter/FB/G+/Quora/4SQ as social media…tools that have a primary purpose of connecting others, with creation of content being a secondary feature. I’ve seen your MOOCasts – a good use of SM to create artifacts and capture conversations. Similarly, tools like Storify can help to give a conversation some structure and coherence. At this point, however, the artifact creation of social media is limited. But that’s not a bad thing. Newscasts are recorded as well. But I rarely search through local TV station websites trying to view a year old newscast. News is ephemeral. Sure, little segments (such as someone in 1985 trying to understand how big the internet is with its 10 million users) are interesting. Usually, however, once the news (like SM) has flowed its message, its value is vastly diminished.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink
  68. Lenandlar Singh wrote:

    I hope i am allowed to share this blog article on “Seven Reasons why Professors should use “Social Media”

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink
  69. Lenandlar Singh wrote:

    Should Professors use Social Media? Some attempts to answer that question on this LinkedIn Group –

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink
  70. Lenandlar Singh wrote:

    Sorry – here’s the actual link —

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  71. gsiemens wrote:

    @Pat – sorry I’m late in replying. I really should have set comments up for threading :( .

    In terms of your question: what do people allege social media does – in the context of my post, I was referring to Jarvis’ hashtag=movement argument, one that I find nonsensical.

    Interesting points about dampening. I need to think more on that. Obviously, without some barriers or obstructions, misinformation as well as information, can quickly spread through networks, creating a mob-like mentality. In that reagard, I think mobile phones are the real innovation/revolutionary device. But I wouldn’t classify them as social media.

    Friday, August 5, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink
  72. Lenandlar Singh wrote:

    @George, can i share an example? If i may…
    2-3 days ago someone created a Group on Facebook called “You know you are Guyanese when …”. After 3 days there are 15000+ active users posting stuff such as “you know you are Guyanese when ‘you eat beg your neighbour for curry”…

    Now at first, there were many replies to the early posts, however, as the mob culture set in, all the “nice” things-Guyanese got lost. so just after a week good stuff gets “mobbed-up” by the mass of no-so-good stuff.

    i think the phenomenon is very interesting though

    Friday, August 5, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  73. gsiemens wrote:

    @Mark Gbur – thanks for your thoughtful reply and reflections.

    How much of the value that you describe is due to social media like FB/G+/Twitter? RSS was on of the first fluid connection tools I encountered. I still rely on it heavily. So are mobile phones. Blogs are helpful too – largely because they make publishing fairly frictionless. But media – social media – is about flowing messages (i.e. medium – an intermediary agent). Sure, there is some overlap between creation and flowing (a recorded newscast is a creation as well as flow, though the recording loses relevance quickly. I generally don’t watch week-old newscasts).

    So, question to anyone: I’ve defined social media quite narrowly as tools like FB/G+/Twitter/. TV/Radio/Newspapers are also a type of media. Blogs/webpublishing/academic journals are also a type of media. What is so new about SM that it is suddenly going to transform governments, enable democracy, change policy?

    Friday, August 5, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  74. gsiemens wrote:

    @Graham – we’re agreed that the value of SM is overstated. I’m not convinced that we can’t get discussion and ideas out as quickly with SM as we can with broadcast media/blogs/BBS. We did just fine without these tools until about 3 years ago :) . I want to reiterate, though, that I’m not anti-social media. I’m questioning the ludicrous claims that people are making about what SM does. In a few years time, wild SM claims will be rendered to the digital immigrant/native heap of over stretched ideas.

    Friday, August 5, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink
  75. gsiemens wrote:

    @GerryW – glad you brought in discussion of other media that were similarly over-hyped. Context is important in these discussion. I noted in the original post that SM is great for connecting with others based on shared interest – a largely social experience.

    @Nick – yes, the dichotomy is an over-simplification – as Emeri Gent stated. Agreed as well that the concept of “secondary media” needs to be unpacked.

    @MartinJ – good metaphor about twitter/river and sampling!

    Friday, August 5, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  76. gsiemens wrote:

    @Donald – an odd argument (social media goes, so does connectivism). We didn’t connect with others before Twitter/FB?

    Friday, August 5, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  77. Donald Clark wrote:

    George – what you claimed was a virtue, in terms of networked learning, is now a vice – based on simplistic generalisations from your own experience to everyone else. It would appear that the 750 million new nodes on Facebook and oodles of daily communication is merely emotional outpouring. That’s quite simply false. What is odd is your summary judgement on the use of these media in the Middle East. On that you’re quite simply wrong.

    Friday, August 5, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink
  78. gsiemens wrote:

    @Donald – when I first read your post, aside from not-so-subtle jabs on your part, I was most surprised at how significantly you misinterpreted my post. I was referring to a very specific subset of media – namely the FB/G+ SM type. The activities in the Middle East were driven as more by mobile devices than by social media. Now, if you classify mobiles as social media, then we may be saying similar things. We – as in the western world – heard about what was happening in the middle east by twitter/FB. But that revolution wasn’t about us and our interest in knowing what was happening. The thousands of lives lost in the ME as a consequence of the revolution is too great a loss to be used as a marketing and feel-good ploy for Twitter/FB.

    If there are instances where FB has been significant (you cite one example in your blog post) in leading change, then I posit it is an anomaly. In fact, the example you provide of a person having a stroke, is very much an emotional connection – feelings of empathy, hopes that she’ll recover, etc. It supports my argument rather nicely. Did you do anything (tangibly) different in your life as a consequence of her struggle?

    Friday, August 5, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  79. Jon Dron wrote:

    How do you keep up with all this George?-)

    I really like your use of the word ‘flow’. But I really like the power of that flow. It’s not at all trivial. I think there is a confusion here between necessary and sufficient conditions and a focus on a single piece of a technological assembly rather than the whole machinery of which it is a part.
    Social media (which include this blog, telephones, Skype and email as well as more public social networks and more set-oriented tools like Twitter) are of course used for a lot more than flow – Donald is absolutely right about that – but if flow were all they were good for it would still be great. Twitter, for instance, is a very very soft and very needy technology that is virtually useless on its own but that is incredibly powerful when aggregated with other technologies and phenomena and applied to some purpose. And that’s the point: of course it is not *just* a particular bit of the whole technology assembly that changes things. Twitter, a hashtag or Facebook are no more and no less a force of social change than electromagnetic radiation (mainly in the 2400GHz range) or microchips. No tool, not even the wheel, not even language, has ever changed the world on its own. It’s what it is used for, what it is used with, and how it is used that makes the technology that makes the difference. So a hashtag matters, not in and of itself, but because (when many people use it in a particular socio-technological system) it represents a collective, and that collective is used for a purpose in ways that were formerly impossible, and that, together with a whole lot of other things that are also necessary (but not sufficient) conditions, can bring about change, in a way that change could not be brought about in the past. The power of flow is the power to open up adjacent possibilities that were not there before, and that’s a hell of a power.
    I think the entirely separate but really important and excellent big point you wind up making here though (apart from the fact that it is really tedious making one technology act like another for no obviously good reason) is that some social networks are, for an increasing number of people, a destination not a feature. The network becomes a reason for its own being and people within it become narcissists in a hall of mirrors. That’s probably pretty bad.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011 at 1:50 am | Permalink
  80. gsiemens wrote:

    @Jon – Your definition of social media is broader than the one that I was thinking of in my post. I was focused on the current breed of Twitter and such. Now, if you add mobiles to the SM list, well, that changes everything! As stated (somewhere) above, mobiles are a tool that is changing the world. I just read an article about the popularity and critical importance of SMS: . More than Twitter/FB and other tools, mobiles and texting are changing how people in many parts of the world get their info and connect with others.

    Very good points about assemblies, and not individual items, being agents that changes things. Integration and connectedness gives power to a system (as Apple knows quite well). The point of my post (mentioned rather frequently above) is that Jarvis is proclaiming the value of a hashtag as a function of SM…but ignoring the integrated structure that you detail. The concern you raise in your final paragraph (about a network being its own reason for being) nicely sums up my concerns with how SM is often used.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  81. It is a relief to read this blog. My general observation in the use of twitter and facebook is that the signal to noise ratio is too low. I think a lot of people are over-reacting to the blog posting which I think is only saying that the claims for social networking are somewhat excessive. Some describe it as just a tool and blame the perceived limitations on how it is used, but as an early adopter for 30 years, I find it difficult to use tools like twitter and facebook to do the kind of things I want to do and as a trainer of trainers would not particularly advise others to use them. I’m a little hopeful for Google+ as I find that you can have more control over your social interactions. Four years ago I was being told that the LMS was going to be superseded by tools like Facebook. As someone who used Moodle and Google Docs with my students at the time, I did not agree. The LMS still seems to be doing quite well and working nicely with external tools. We do need to restrain ourselves from getting over-excited.

    Now, I can relax and not worry so much that I am not “getting it”.

    PS George, you can ignore my friend request on FB or if you do accept, don’t worry, I don’t post very much.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink
  82. Donald Clark wrote:

    George – Middle East driven by mobile not SM – what were they were doing with their mobiles? Are your online courses driven by laptops? They’re all connected causally and to isolate the device from software is bizarre (is that what connectivism does?). I do real work in the Middle east and travel there frequently. This is not some sort of game – it’s the real world and these things matter.

    In the case of Jan’s stroke, you must understand that ideas can change behaviour,lives and have a causal effect in the real word. I have, and will use Jan’s case within Medical Education to try to effect change – keynoting on this at global education conference in Vienna is a start but I’ve spent my whole adult life implementing real projects in real organisations. You also fail to note the REAL effect this had on Jan. She believes that social media was critical in her REAL recovery.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  83. Glen wrote:

    I’m a bit more with the “It’s like a tool” descriptions…although, I’d say SM is more like a starting point. The mouth of a river originates a process and chooses the landscape, but it doesn’t dictate what happens once things start flowing.

    Different people socialize at different frequencies. Although it’s difficult to resist going faster, just because I can socialize more it doesn’t mean I have to. I think I do a good job of reflecting my own pace and depth in my SM use.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 4:15 am | Permalink
  84. David wrote:

    Interesting – I live in Birmingham which experienced a couple of nights of rioting last week. On the morning in between I did a search for Birmingham on Twitter and then monitored new tweets in real time. Most of it was frankly nonsense… people still repeating half-baked rumours about things that had occurred, several hours after mainstream media had reported otherwise. So if young people really are turning to such media ahead of traditional types, we could be in for some worrying times…

    On the other hand, like anything else, it’s about teaching users how to make best use. I get a lot of useful information and links via Twitter for work purposes, but only by being ruthless about those I choose to follow.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink