Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

“Popcorn, chewing-gum, peanuts and bubble gum” : not on the A list but they may be here

[Published in the OSALL newsletter of August 2011]

Although I generally manage to behave myself, well, quite a lot of the time – or sometimes then, I find it quite possible to while away the boredom of supermarket queues by observing the contents of others’ baskets. Not in a snoopy kind of way but in enjoyment of the seemingly random combinations of items that land up going home together after time on the shelf. Occasionally I find myself looking at my own basket in the same way. That’s pretty much how I feel surveying the articles, products and services that have caught my attention recently and are now about to be bound together for better or worse.

Sausages, peas, blusher

Despite the fate of my groceries, I can think of few worse things than being pushed into a box, constrained by someone else’s concept of what I should be. It was therefore with interest that I read Karen Jeynes’s post1 on how women who have an active online presence are perceived. Do we really wish or deserve to fall into the categories of “maiden, mother, crone”? Like the author and undoubtedly most of us, all three elements are a part of who I am ; but I am also so much more. My choice of avatar/s would certainly not place me in the obviously sexy category. In fact, my followers would probably identify my online wobbly bits as occasional rants on Twitter rather than anything more carnal. The observations are thought-provoking, though I find it inexplicable that there are those who revel in promoting a “bad ass” reputation, or who canvass followers by means of overtly suggestive images and comments. There is so much diversity to cherish and, yes, flaunt. Consider those commentators/columnists/observers you enjoy reading regularly. Isn’t it their quirkiness and ability to see the unexpected that makes them who they are? I finished reading this post with a determination to continue celebrating who I am and who I want to be and not feeling obliged to conform to stereotypes, even one as evocative as “crone”.

Bird seed

My personal Twitter account has enabled me to build a network of publishers, well-known journalists, government officials, politicians, local personalities, existing friends and random profiles that together give me access to a wider variety of information than any other single facility I have come across, particularly in terms of interaction. My input is diverse and periodic, ranging from retweets of facts or comments that beg for further exposure to observations of my own ; silent partners are not valued in social networks, although a surfeit of silliness will make one even more unpopular. There is no reason I can think of to archive my tweets at this stage, apart from as an experiment to assess various online tools that offer this service. The reason for the surge in this type of product is that Twitter Search now only covers messages in the preceding week or two.

Starting with what seems to be the easiest option2, Twinbox integrates Twitter into Outlook, an email package that many of us use constantly. Read the product’s promo for full details but this is one I’m likely to try out. It offers keyword search and tracking, administration of multiple Twitter accounts, sorting of new tweets into per-sender folders, status updates from Outlook, management of replies and DMs, as well as graphs of usage statistics, among other features.

Next is the option I find most intriguing. It involves the use of OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) which the article3 describes as a “simple protocol for dynamic information delivery”. That alone will get it into my basket. One needs to have a Google Reader account and this product. There are directions for the creation of OPML files that will archive the tweets of selected profiles, going back two years. Once the files have been created they are imported into Google Reader. This isn’t being advocated as a way to read tweets but rather as a method to archive, retrieve and search messages from the profiles you choose. With these files one can sort twitter users into files in different folders in Reader which in turn will facilitate searches in particular folders. To borrow from another social network, “It’s complicated”. But oh, it sounds so worthwhile.

For those who are going to go out and experiment, another service I came across is The Archivist4 but I haven’t explored it at this stage.

Salad veg, fruit mix, nuts, vine leaves and vino

If anyone is still wondering about the real value of social networks, here are three special interest online communities that may capture your imagination :

WiserEarth5 is described as “the social network for sustainability. It exists to “connect, collaborate, share knowledge and build alliances” and “help the global movement of people and organizations working towards social justice, indigenous rights and environmental stewardship” ;

Experience Project6 enables individuals to “support a cause or start your own”. Highlighted themes on the day I visited the site included ‘I want to help people’, ‘I have diabetes’, ‘I live in a sexless marriage’, and ‘I have premonitions’. So diverse that I feel like I’m standing in four queues simultaneously, but undoubtedly worth a closer look when I have premonitions, suspect my sugar levels, live in a . . . Oh wait, I digress ;

Couch Surfing7 could be invaluable to those who are planning to visit a particular foreign shore for the first time. Emphasis seems to be on making safe personal connections with reviews and recommendations from within the community.

Notebook, pens, hammock, Harry Potter and The Ceramicist

To wrap up, a selection of social networks catering specifically for book lovers :

Goodreads8 was referred to in the previous column. It describes itself as the “largest social network for readers in the world : we have more than 5 500 000 members who have added more than 170 000 000 books to their shelves” ;

LibraryThing9 also sees itself as “the world’s largest book club”, and has also been mentioned in an earlier column. Once users have created their online catalogues, the choice is theirs to keep them private or make them public ;

weRead10 has “more than 3 million readers and 60 million books . . . easily the most popular book site around”. There’s a “never ending book quiz”, discussion boards, etc ;

Shelfari11 includes “authors, aspiring authors, publishers, and readers” in its network and encourages interaction with authors ;

There is also aNobii12 which takes its name from Anobium Punctatum, “the Latin name for the most common bookworm” which I found quite an endearing aspect in a sea of like-minded networks.

The more adventurous might like to take a look at Byliner13, “a publishing company and social network built around great stories” that “typically range between 10 000 and 35 000 words and are available in digital form”.

You can tell this is not one of my genuine shopping-lists from a mile away : (a) no chocolate and (b) the items are not in alphabetical order. The supermarket manager is also taking his time in capitulating and reorganizing his store into a more orderly layout. “Persuasive home executive” leaves him unmoved, as does “end of day office worker” ; does he really want to meet “crone”?

1 Perceptions of women online are stuck in the Dark Ages / Karen Jeynes. 14 September 2011
2 Twinbox : use Twitter directly from Outlook
3How To: Backup And Search All Your Friends’ Tweets In Google Reader
4 The Archivist
5 WiserEarth
6 Experience Project
7 Couch Surfing
8 Goodreads
9 LibraryThing
11 Shelfari
12 aNobii
13 Byliner

PS Having typed this up in the middle of the night on my daughter’s notebook, I love her more than ever : she too does not use Spell Check. More power to you, Spell Chick Two

Mary Bruce

Opinions expressed in this column are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.


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