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Talking with Will Taylor about Facebook & Twitter    (11th February 2011)

The Times recently reported how Facebook had been used as a means of communication to generate the unrest in Cairo that eventually led to the downfall of the regime in Egypt. The news also reported that Facebook and Google are actually talking about buying out Twitter for between £8B and £10B! So Facebook and Twitter are without any doubt very serious contenders for people’s attention in life today.  Will Taylor is a local youth and community worker and has for some time used both Facebook and Twiitter, so we asked him to share his experiences with us. We hope you will find it both useful and enlightening.

Sharing in the Family
Rochford Life: You have had a fair bit of knowledge and experience of them both. Relatively briefly tell us your experience of Facebook and then Twitter.
Will: I use them for very different things. They aren’t just duplicates where I use them to speak to people. Facebook, primarily for me, has been about connecting with friends and family. I guess it is about sharing a deeper level of my life with the people that I connect to, and that includes photographs and movies of my kids. It’s been helpful that I’ve been able to point family in the direction of a load of photographs so they can see them on line. I have family over in Australia at the moment and they are living out there for the next five years, and I’ve had family over in the Far East as well, and we’ve been able to keep in contact and I’ve been able to see photographs of their kids as they are growing.

Value of Sharing the Mundane?
Yes, you can share the inane and whatever is going on in your life, but what has been interesting is the way that people have used it, as I have watched, and it helps normalise life. For instance, a mum yesterday was saying my daughter is so tired, it’s coming to the end of term, she’s really struggling, she’s doing this and she’s doing that, and I said, yes, I can understand that, I’ve got a four year old who’s doing exactly the same thing, looking forward to half term. Five other parents also said the same thing and at the end of that the most telling thing was a comment by the mum: ‘This is brilliant, thank you guys, I thought I was alone’. This was her child’s first term in school and so in that kind of supportive way, she’s been able to throw out into the world, ‘this has been a real stress for me’, and a load of people have come back and said, ‘yes, I feel the same thing, I empathise with you, we’re also going through it’ and that has helped her and she’s gone, ‘OK, I can relax now’.           

About Real-World Friends
RL: So that is Facebook and those are people who have become your friends.
Will: These people, I would say, in all situations bar one that I can think of, are real-world friends that I have then connected with on Facebook. They are people that I have met and that I know. The one exception is the brother of a friend that I know over in America and because I have been communicating with him and his brother is there, I’ve said a couple of things online and so we talk on there, but everyone else, until recently at least, is someone I have met in the real world; I have either worked with them or I just know them and therefore connected with them on Facebook. It has changed slightly with Twitter use but I’ll come to that later.      

RL: So do you do the mundane, ‘I’m going out to do this or that’?
Will: I tend not to, I try not to. For me, I think, I will share stuff about the girls or what we are doing as a family and I think because of Twitter, I use Facebook less for that sort of stuff.

Limit by Security Settings
RL: Do you allow friends of friends of friends to connect to you, people that you don’t actually know?
Will: I’ve actually got my security settings locked down very tight. Everything on my Facebook is ‘friends only’, so photographs, status updates, videos, anything, is just for my friends, so no one else apart from my friends can see it.
The only time I’ve changed that is, say, when I’m at an event.  Recently I took a load of photographs for a friend of mine who is in a band and they want those photographs to be used for anyone, and so what I’ve done is set it so anyone can see just those photos.
I tend to set my settings to the strictest, most private settings and then you can pick and choose any individual things that you do, to what you want that to be set on.
If I want a status update that I’ve been to a particular event with a whole group of people, and I want a wider group of people to be able to see it because some of their friends might have been at the same event and it might start a discussion or something like that, then I will set that individual post to anyone or friends of friends but I only do it on a piecemeal basis.         

RL: Can we just check something: a friend of a friend can’t see things that you have designated ‘friends only’?
Will: That’s right

RL: OK, can we move on to Twitter.


How I started
Will: Twitter I started a while ago when I was setting up a website for somebody because I thought Twitter is going to have loads of people who are very techy minded. You can do searches for people by their interests, or you can do searches of the little things that are in their biography that describes them, or words they are tweeting about, so literally to start with, I put a few key words in of some of the things I was struggling with in terms of designing websites using Word Press.  I found a few people who said, we’re Word Press experts or whatever, so I befriended them and started communicating. A few people that I also know in the real world were also on Twitter so I also befriended them.     

RL: If you are looking for information from people that is obviously a very good way to contact them but if they are going to give you loads of information, say, do you then move on to good old fashioned e-mail?  
Will: It depends on the nature of the question and how long the answer is. I have done that with a couple of people. One guy was sharing something that was very, very complicated and so I gave him my e-mail address and we started up a conversation on there. Since then I’ve not spoken to him; he was happy to help and I needed the help and that was that, but we’re still connected, so rather than being friends on Facebook, the terminology is that you ‘follow’ somebody on Twitter.

Different expressions of ‘digital life’
About four months ago I had a sabbatical from my work and I had given Twitter a break, not thinking, ‘where does this fit in my digital life?  I use Flicker for sharing my photography, I use Facebook for my friends and family, and there are a couple of other things I use in terms of ‘online presence’ things. I also have my own blog and so when it came to Twitter it was a case of where does it fit in and what is it?  

Now at the point I went on my sabbatical from being a church youth worker, I started a blog about my time on sabbatical, and I was starting to get into writing about that. I wanted to have conversations with people who had maybe done the same thing or who were going through the same thing, or who were involved with churches and could relate to some of the things that I was going through.

Finding people to follow
One of the things Twitter does on a Friday is a thing called ‘Follow Friday’ which has a hash tag (the hash mark - #) and the letters FF or the words, ‘FollowFriday’ (all as one word) and people that you follow will recommend people that they follow, who they think are worth following, people they think have got something to contribute. They will tend not to be businesses or robots that are just posting adverts, or people that are simply posting blogs, but are people worth following and have got something of value to say.
Also at the same time I am the trustee of a charity and one of the new trustees is really into social media, really into Twitter, and when I met with him in the real world he named someone he said I ought to follow, who happens to be up in Scotland, so I connected to him (I found him on Twitter and I clicked ‘follow’). I then introduced myself and told him who had said I ought to connect to him, and that I was working with him, and he replied, and so through our tweets we contacted.

What is a Tweet?
A tweet is a message with a maximum of 140 characters, to make a statement.  I think more people talk about the inane, the every day, on Twitter, but I’ve also found that it’s a better place for conversation than Facebook is.

Facebook or Twitter?
Facebook is more where I post a bit of information up there and a few people comment, and that’s it, whereas with Twitter I have much more conversation. So I may say, “I’m going through this today”, or a whole variety of other things or questions, and I may get four, five or six people coming back to me with their experiences of that particular situation, scenario or thing that I may be wrestling with.  
I can start talking with all six of those people by replying to each of them and a whole conversation opens up with others joining in sometimes. It’s interesting how this spider web of connections forms and how different people can respond.   I found it the best thing by far while I was on sabbatical because the people I started to connect with came from all over the place, often in completely different forms of church life.
Some of them I have got to know really well just through Twitter, through these connections where we’ve conversed a lot. OK, it’s only 140 characters but we’ve done loads and loads of backwards and forwards and got to know quite a bit about the individual.

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