A Social Networking Nightmare

This is an exclusive guest post by , posted on August 26th, 2008.

[ ~{*}~ ] Picture it. You have just prepared some recent snapshots of your buddies from a gathering over the weekend. Special care was taken to choose the images, and resize the images appropriately. As you sign in to your favorite social networking site to upload these images, you realize your credentials are invalid. You type in permutations of your user-name and password, check the “Caps” Key, but find that you are still not allowed access to your account. Your account could be have been hacked, removed, or just made unavailable. The site that you swore would hold and keep your memories, thoughts, feelings, and treasured moments are inaccessible or worse, gone forever. How could this happen? Just as we get attached to material things in life, we become attached to our email, blogs, podcasts, bookmarks, and images. In other words, this is our new digital existence. Some would call it our digital baggage.

With all the fresh and neat Web 2.0 social networking apps available on the Internet, comes the risk of losing our digital mementos. These sites give us services that allow us to communicate with like-minded individuals. If there is a problem, these individuals that we have gathered may return, may partially return, or may never return. We run the risk of losing important connections we have worked hard to obtain when we do not backup our contacts’ information. If a journalist has accumulated friends or followers that read his/her articles, a network forms and communication is shared. If this network disappears due to site outages, this could drastically change how information flows. In many cases, this could have serious repercussions especially if a breaking news story requires factual information that cannot be obtained from sources before a deadline. Jobs could literally be at stake.

We must not fully rely or trust that our digital lives will stay intact or secure. These sites see attempted exploits and abuse daily. In addition, the rapid unexpected growth and expansion of some of these social sites can cripple its own resources. One or more back-ups and practices must be employed by users to reinforce social networking’s fragile state. It is not reasonable for a free service to be available for every message or data transaction, no matter how important or trivial. Responsibility must be taken on our parts to prepare in advance for outages and unavailable resources.

Here are some tips that may prevent a social networking nightmare from being your reality:

1) Find a way that you can cache or save your online contacts, friends, or followers.
Look for features to import and export contact lists. Save your contacts by either exporting them to Excel, CSV, or as a text file. In some cases, you can export contacts directly into an HTML file. If your account gets removed or deleted, you will not have to rebuild your contact list from memory.
2) Confirm important facts and information with an actual phone call.
Just because you instant message important information to someone, does not mean they received it or that they will remember what is in their message pane. Internet connections are more stable these days, but with wifi, one’s connection could be pretty spotty. Often, instant message providers will experience hiccups in service where reconnection is necessary. Confirm with a phone call, whenever possible to ensure that there is a clear understanding.
3) If you use Gmail, familiarize yourself with smart features like labels, searching, filters, and starring.
Gmail developers have worked feverishly to make your email experience fresh and fun. Using features like labels, searching, filters, and stars could help you organize your inbox. These features, when used properly can help you find important messages and discard unsolicited emails.
4) Make use of import and export functions with social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us.
To synch up bookmarks saved in popular browsers like Internet Explorer, Opera, and Mozilla Firefox, use import and export features so that your bookmarks do not have not be entered in multiple times. Having your bookmarks available online can help in situations where you switch to different computers from time to time. Your bookmarks can move with you from the office to home easily.
5) Try out different programs that do a similar function.
Perhaps one browser will not suit your needs. Try different kinds. Compare and contrast. This is not limited to browsers. Trying out different software packages like instant message clients, and web-based email could turn your Internet experience into a rich and productive one.
6) Try to follow or friend people of importance.
Carefully choosing the people that truly interest you, can save time and can reduce the amount of distractions, or unwanted attention. It is up to you to decide how many people to follow for information that may be valuable to you.
7) A phone call can sometimes save the time used to develop, spell-check, and obsess over an email before sending it to a recipient.
Instead of sending an email with a reply like, “Thank you,” occasionally make a phone call and express your heartfelt thanks or gratitude. Email can be cold and can lack the personal touch of greeting someone politely. Conversation should not be eliminated from our busy lives.
8) Keep a hand-written log of important dates, phone numbers, places, and appointments. Making your schedule available exclusively online could be a disaster when Internet access is spotty or unavailable.
Having an offline version of information that you readily use can be helpful if there are times you are not connected to the Web. There will also be situations where details cannot and should not be recorded online for the sake of security, but are better stored in things such as: notebooks, journals, planners, or a dinner napkin.
9) Invest in USB pen drives or flash media.
If you work with large amounts of text, you may want to consider saving these pieces as text files on flash media. For digital pictures of your family, save a folder a recent images to your USB flash media to present to other members of your family with a computer. Although online file storage systems are available, do not rely on the fact that an Internet connection and access to a computer will always be possible and available. Using USB flash media devices are a great alternative to burning a CD, especially if your data is temporary.
10) Label everything with descriptive names.
Use descriptive names for folders and handwritten labels. Those important drivers you need for your devices every time you rebuild your machine can be found in time when a computer emergency strikes. Also, with the advent of digital cameras, we are able to save thousands of images from one event. Label your digital camera image folders with names like: “Grandma’s Birthday 2005” or “Piano Recital — Son”.
11) Find a way to record and archive RSS or Atom newsfeeds for your favorite sites.
Offline an online RSS tools like news aggregators can help you consume large amounts of news related items of a feed. Being able to view these newsfeeds for later use can help you be more productive at the office and at home, where time must be used more efficiently. With proper use, you may be able to read and sift through the news you are interested in. Some offline and online tools worth researching are: Bloglines, Google Reader, and Mozilla Thunderbird.
12) Become familiar with commands that could be used like shortcuts to filter and search through large volumes of data.
Twitter is a site that many people use for communication. In addition to communicating with others, it can also be used to find out what things other people are interested in. By using Twitter’s Search, you can query what other users have written about, spot trends, and learn about events taking place. A series of commands can be used to zero-in on keywords, locations, and previous conversations on the Twitter website.

These tips are by no means finite. Feel free to make suggestions and make other recommendations. Enjoy the many social networking apps available on the Internet and offline. However, do not forget that traditional forms of communication and some web know-how could save us from becoming tormented by our nightmares.