I spend quite a lot of time reading online articles about social media. Since starting this blog I’ve also spent a lot of time looking for images to accompany my posts and it struck me recently – images for social media articles are really boring. Most of the time it’s either the Facebook or Twitter logo or a picture of a mobile or laptop screen. I’ve tried to avoid this as much as possible with my own blog posts, but it’s not easy.
This blog is actually my second blog, I also blog about nature over at Blacktop Rain. On my nature blog, photography plays an important role. Not only are the images pleasing to look at (if I don’t say so myself), they also help the reader to visualise and enjoy the places and landscapes I write about. But with Woven Together Differently, the image at the start of the blog post is there out of form rather than function. Does this mean, given that images of social media are generally a bit dull, I should just give up and not bother? Or, is it in fact possible to visualise social media in more interesting ways?
I got thinking about what my experience of using social media actually looks like. Yes, obviously it looks a lot like everyone else’s. I see the same Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest etc. layout that everyone else sees (unless I’ve adopted a new layout before them). But I also don’t see these things. As with any well designed website, the design should get out of the way. It is not about what the social network looks like, but about the content I care about seeing and the content I care about seeing is tweets from particular people, pictures of my nieces and nephews, and Facebook updates from my friends. This is what my experience really looks like – it is the words and images – and people – that mean something to me. Yes, the Facebook and Twitter logos are instantly recognisable. But they make for boring visualisations of social media because they only portray one aspect of it and one we don’t really care much about. The blue ‘F’ and the Twitter bird are about the company, not the people that actually fill up our social media lives.
I buy Marmite and Heinz baked beans primarily because of an emotional and nostalgic attachment to those brands. There may be cheaper, just as tasty alternative out there, but I always reach for the familiar yellow and black jar or the blue tin. When it comes to social media, however, I don’t really have the same kind of attachment. The other day, I found myself reminiscing about the Too close for guns. Switching to missiles quote that used to appear below Facebook searches. However, if everyone I’m friends with on Facebook one day upped sticks and moved to another social network site, I’d probably start using that social network too. In fact, that’s probably one of the factors that has prevented me from using new social networks in the past – no one I know is using them.
Facebook recently launched Paper, an app that lets you browse Facebook, as well as news sites. I don’t have an iPhone so I haven’t been able to check it out, but the Paper website gives you a run through of what the app can do. It looks beautiful – but then, it’s an ad so it’s bound to look beautiful. The website shows a fictitious person browsing Paper and this fictitious person is friends with people who lead interesting, exciting lives and are all good photographers. But, as others have pointed out, most people’s Facebook friends upload quick snaps taken on their phones and their status updates are usually fairly mundane.
The standard representations of social media that you see on countless blog posts and articles are boring. They don’t really reflect our lived experiences of social media. Then again, would we want them to? If my Facebook feed is anything to go by – X has just completed a level on Candy Crush Saga, Y took a quiz and it turns out they’re exactly like a random celebrity, Z is at a restaurant, here’s a picture of Z’s meal… you get the idea – maybe it’s best to steer on the side of mundaneness when it comes to images of social media.