Connect Project: How Do You Connect?

11 11 2009

D’Arcy Norman posted a request on his site for people to help out with a grad school research project looking at how people connect online.  Here’s the assignment:

To start the project, I have a single simple question:

How do you connect to people online?

I’m guessing people will interpret the question in radically different ways, so I’m intentionally leaving it vague and open. Define “connect” however you like. Same for “people” and “online.”

Please take a moment to think about the question, and if you’re willing, submit a contribution to the project. Contributions can be in any format – video, audio, text, photographs, interpretive dance, poetry, or whatever way you can express a response. I will take the contributions and assemble them into a narrative based on the themes and ideas provided by contributors. The end result will be published online on this website to serve as a starting point for conversations about the nature of connections between people online.

All contributions may be made anonymously, or with your name to be used for attribution in the assembled narrative.

Contributions will be accepted until midnight on Friday, November 13, 2009, and the assembled narrative will be published on this website on Monday, November 30, 2009.

Like probably everyone else online, most of my online journeys start with either a Google search or something popping up in my Google News Clips, Twines or Diigo groups (or, in some cases, a totally random skimming of a general news site or magazine.)  Since this is pretty typical, I won’t go on about this.

With regard to “connecting” (to actual people), though, I would summarize my method as “one degree at a time.”

A few examples:

  • I’m a fairly introverted person by nature, so half or more of the people with whom I am “friends” on social networking sites (e.g. Facebook) are people that I am actually friends with from having worked together, gone to school together, shared a neighborhood, etc.  However, I have made new connections online through these connections when paths have crossed on a mutual friend’s blog comments or Facebook page.  Let’s call these FOAF connections.
  • Twitter.  I’m an infrequent tweeter.  I’m not a Twitter snob, but if I’m not doing anything interesting, I don’t see a point in broadcasting it.  If I am doing something interesting, I usually get so wrapped up in it that I don’t think to document it in the moment.  (This is a problem with photos, too.  If I’m traveling and see something awesomely spectacular or bizarre, I stare at it but usually forget to snap a picture or take a video.  Therefore, my personal photo and video collection is mainly of places and events that I found moderately, but not astoundingly, amazing/beautiful/weird.  If I wrote a series of pictorial travel guides, they would have to be titled “Things to See and Do in ________ If You’re Stuck There a Day Longer Than You Had Originally Planned.”) So, I don’t contribute much to the Twittersphere, but I do use it to find a lot of interesting people and stuff.  For example, if I stumble across a really interesting article or blog post online, I’ll often see if I can find the author on Twitter and then browse some of their posts.  If it’s interesting, I’ll follow them.  Further, continuing the one degree at a time strategy, I’ll see who they are following and browse a few of those people’s posts as well.  Often, this helps me find other writers and researchers that produce stuff I love but would never have thought to Google.  It is also fun to sit in on informal, sometimes messy, sometimes impolite conversations among people I follow in books and journals (where you get clean, well organized thought but little hint that the author is actually a living breathing person who gets the swine flu, pissed off at airports, loves or hates a movie, celebrates or mourns birthdays and election results, and spells badly on their BlackBerry or iPhone.)  I adapted this strategy from a strategy that Donna Enersen taught me for conducting literature reviews at Purdue University.  She suggested starting with an article that’s related to what you want to study, then finding all of the articles referenced in that article and reading them, then finding all of the articles those articles reference, and so forth until you reach a point where you’re either reading works that are irrelevant to you or you’re just turning up the same set of authors over and over.  It’s much faster and more fun on Twitter, though.
  • Blogs.  I have just recently started being more active in conversations initiated on blog posts and comments, but really think this might be one of my favorite media for conversations with strangers.  First, there is always mutual interest (even if there isn’t agreement), which is a necessary ingredient for good discussion.  Second (unless I or the other person acts like a jerk), you can usually count on a “warm” interaction, since most of us appreciate people who take the time to read what we write and give us feedback.  The format also lends itself to longer, more thoughtful conversations than you typically have via Twitter, Facebook, or a discussion board, although public discussions via blogs do sometimes shift to more private, personal media like e-mail, Skype, or online chat.  However, often, conversations will continue in public forums where third persons will join in, bring fresh perspective, and form a new connection.

So, nothing earth-shattering or terribly strategic, but there it is.  It’s interesting to read and view the other submissions, though.  There are some fun, informal video submissions over at D’Arcy’s site, so to read them or add to his data pool with your own submission, click here.