BLOGSCANNING by Robert Janelle

Janelle-92X185Flip.jpgAt first the site bears a striking resemblance to Facebook though red is the dominant colour as opposed to Facebook’s blue. All the familiar social networking tools are there.

Niche networks work well for communities of interest
From SCAN's Print Edition

Over the summer there has been quite a bit of chatter about the convergence of social networks with traditional blogging.
Much of this has been inspired by SixApart and Automattic, companies that are adding more and more social features to their blogging platforms (MovableType and WordPress respectively). Though the ideas are really nothing new they’ve become widely embraced.
For the average person, Facebook and LinkedIn have been enough to stay connected and provide updates for those interested in following their exploits, but moving those features to a stand-alone blog has provided a way to have more control for the online content creator especially in regards to Facebook's imfamous “walled garden” that keeps submitted data trapped within the confines of their architecture.
While the features have existed for some time, new developments have made it easier than ever to pull written musings, photos, videos and data from other services into a single blog, giving users complete ownership of their own online media while retaining the social aspect of Web 2.0.
All these developments have certainly been welcomed by corporations gaining some social media culture and government departments trying to break in. But they have left me wondering about their role in traditional media, which are increasingly moving toward a blog format.

To take statistics from the United States (which would probably be similar in Canada) Pew Research Center's latest Biennial News Consumption Survey shows traditional newspaper consumption among respondents dropping to 34 per cent in 2008 from 58 per cent in 1994. At the same time, the group of people surveyed who get their online news more than three days per week has grown to 37 per cent from just two per cent in 1995.

So how do these numbers fit in to social media convergence? For this, we'll need to look to the new generation of journalists. While just starting to learn their craft they now have their own social network.

Enter First Run [firstrun.cc], a product of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) put together by interns drawn from Algonquin College's Interactive Multimedia program.
At first the site bears a striking resemblance to Facebook though red is the dominant colour as opposed to Facebook’s blue. All the familiar social networking tools are there: a customizable profile, the ability to network by adding “friends” a messaging system and of course, the ability to post articles and garner feedback from other First Run users.

It was while discussing the system’s feedback functionality with CATA public relations associate Emily Boucher (who acts as First Run's administrator) that I realized the true value in niche miniaturized social networks.

Like many, one my main reasons for using social media tools is to keep the self-promotion machine working and thus post most of my own articles to my Facebook profile but I do realize that only a small number of my connections have any interest in “social media convergence.”

On a niche-specific network like First Run, the total audience size might be smaller but the majority have an interest in, say, looking over a student's first draft of an article on social media convergence. First Run is the brain-child of CATA executive vice-president Barry Gander, who has been heavily involved in social media for some time. The site experienced a soft launch in July and has amassed a small user base, mostly of them students attending the University of Western Ontario. A full launch is planned this month as students begin heading into classes for the fall.

As the site grows, Ms. Boucher says she hopes to see new features added that would make First Run useful for public relations students and other communications professionals, and as a tool to match graduating students with publications in hiring mode.

I have to say, I really wish all these tools had been available to me when I was still in school.

Bob Janelle is a freelance journalist who has plied his trade at the Citizen and Kingston’s Whig-Standard. A bilingual grad of Algonquin’s J-School, where he won awards for both writing and photography, he is a self-confessed video game addict.

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