patrickkeaveny

Welcome to my corner of the Web.

Life

I don’t believe in fate. Most days of the week, I don’t believe in God either. There was a time in my life where I did believe in fate, although it was awhile ago. At some point in my life, I either became uncomfortable with the idea that my life is already set out for me, or I had seen things that made me believe the idea of “everything happening for a reason,” or “it’s all going somewhere” were ludicrous and based more on wishful-thinking and the hope that things will always turn out good no matter what than they were based on reality.

While this is probably starting to sound like a spiritual blog by this point, I assure you there is a method to my madness. The thing is, since this semester began, I decided that if things were going to happen, they were going to happen as the result of action, not fate. While fate might indeed be real, I don’t believe that letting fate do all the work is a lifestyle that agrees with me. When this semester began, I rejected the idea that fate was going to do everything for me and decided I was going to do things myself. This was tough for me, as I knew it meant going very far outside my comfort zone, involving myself in things that might not necessarily be “me,” and facing the reality that the world is much bigger and more frightening than I used to believe and that it will find every reason to tear me apart.

So, I did things. I chased down opportunity, I never allowed myself to relax, I always took risks, I never said no and I constantly struggled. There was even a point in time where I was sitting at the Social Media 4 Good presentation and decided that I was not going to pursue anything social media in the future, as it did not interest me in the slightest, nor did I feel particularly passionate about it.

Yet at the end of it all, as I sit in this room in Hithcock, a place I’ve spent more time and felt more at home in than any of the many rooms I have lived in throughout my life, I can’t help but wonder if there really is something to this fate thing. Even though I said I would never do anything social media related, I somehow got a job with VoterTide, a company that analyzes social media to give accurate and detailed information on what people are talking about. I started following Nick Kristof and started finding myself more interested in trying to solve the problems of the world than simply solve the problems in my own life. I found out about events like Pecha Kucha, the InCommon art show, Kony2012, and countless other things I would not have found out about before. I started building websites with a talented Graphic Designer. I spent some nights with my friend Annemarie having “Studio Night,” while spending other nights in a halfway house in New Mexico learning about Nuclear Abolition. I spent the whole semester learning about worker justice and ended up writing an article about sweatshops and the initiatives of a group of Creighton students’ maniacal effort to make Creighton a symbol of worker justice. I’ve lived such a diverse and transient life in the past four months that a lot of times I forget that a year ago, I was in Ireland, ready to come home but nervous about being back at Creighton. In a way, my life has become an abstraction of the growing digital world of social media, technology, global issues, and the trans-continental connection between people. And as I sit here, immensely enjoying the process of writing this very blog post, after spending all day working on computer programs and studying things like morality and justice, I can’t help but think there may actually be some reason behind everything that happens. I know that if it weren’t for my social media class, and the guidance I have felt from some of the most amazing teachers I have had this semester, I would not be as hopeful about the future as I am today.

What have I learned this semester in social media? I’ve learned that life, like the world of the Web, has the ability to surprise, inspire, and intimidate you. Similarly, life has the ability to hit you in the face with something big (like Kony2012), and challenge you to do something about it. I’ve learned that life is full of opportunities, great people, and endless knowledge. All I have to figure out at this point is whether or not I’m able to keep up with this endlessly rising tide that is life.

The New World.

After reading the pew report, which gives a yearly report about all things newsy (and in particular the business repercussions), I found several things.

First off however, I find that whenever I think about the Journalism industry, I always think about it in conjunction with business. Journalism isn’t a non-profit industry, it serves a useful purpose, but that purpose must ultimately have some kind of financial substance. If it doesn’t, then the reporters don’t get paid, the services don’t get used, and in return the information doesn’t get out there. Which is why it’s actually been pretty heartbreaking to see the business application of Journalism stagnating.

This weekend, I spent the majority of my time inside the Omaha World Herald building, a place that handles almost all news and information gathering for the city.

I was there for a hacking competition, yet as I was working late one night, I decided to go exploring. As I walked around all the empty rooms and the lobby, I wondered what this place must have been like ten, twenty, thirty years ago. I started to imagine myself being a reporter in this big building, joining the ranks of Bob Woodward or Nick Kristof as they spent a portion of their day making calls from their office, then the rest of the day running around the city. As I stood in between the elevators, I started to wonder how many ambitious Journalists had been forced to wait as the elevator made its way to every floor, anxious for it to go faster as there was a breaking story they had to get to. To see the world of Journalism in the old school, the kinds of people who literally run around the city with one focus: getting the story.

When I think about how much News organizations have taken a hit lately with the online media market, I realize that that world of old school journalism is probably at the end of its era. With the wealth of open-source information available at your fingertips, there’s less of a need for that middle-man/woman to find the information for you, and hence, less necessity to fund that middle man. With that, Journalists working for the New York Times or the Omaha World Herald are getting paid less as the information they gather is no longer as exclusive as it used to be. Reading the pew report, I realize that the amount of information openly available on the Internet changes the world of Journalism drastically.

I was surprised however, to see that “six in ten Americans reported getting most national and international news from television.” This was surprising because (and this may just be because I’m a college student surrounded by other college students who are always extremely busy) I think it’s rare to see anyone turning on the TV nowadays. When I talk to people, they don’t tell me they get their information from CNN or Fox, they tell me they get it from Twitter or Reddit. Even I used to be an avid TV watcher, and I would most definitely reach for my computer to find out about something going on in the world before I turn on my TV.

Which is why it wasn’t surprising to see that “the top 25 news sites in the U.S. recorded 342 million average unique monthly visitors in 2011.” With the Internet and vast amounts of refined search data (such as Google), you get the information as fast as the Internet connection you have will permit you to (which I realized this weekend is really really important). With that mentality comes a necessary transition I believe Journalists have to make into the online world. If we are the information-getters, and people would rather get their information online or on the TV than a newspaper, then we need to adapt our information-posting methods to match that. After all, we serve the audience, they don’t serve us.

I think, professionally speaking, each person planning to go into the Journalism industry has to acquaint themselves with the tools of the digital realm. This includes social media, analytics, databasing, web content, and a variety of other things. This applies to me too, as I would have immensely enjoyed being the kind of Journalist that talks to people face-to-face or on the phone, rather than “tweeting” at them. Yet I know that I must be active on Twitter and be able to harness the influence of social media, as much as I may dislike it.

I think that kind of openness, mixed with a combination of being able to adapt quickly to changing environments (such as the Web), a keen and borderline obsessive interest in all things information, and a strict code of values for being fair and impartial are all things that need to be implemented by Journalists in the new digital realm. As it happens, all of these things are necessary for being a quality Journalist, no matter what the realm.

KITTIES

The thing I found most inspiring about hearing Elizabeth Hilpipre, who gave a presentation to my Social Media class on how she incorporates social media into her work at the Nebraska Humane Society, was the fact that Elizabeth had found a job whose cause she believed in.

When I think about my future plans, or even when I discuss future plans with my friends, we all are very focused on finding a job we believe in. The reality seems to be that most of us will be scooped up into the corporate world after College, where we’ll be dronified and then make money doing work for a boss we don’t even know, and most likely for a cause we don’t even believe in.

I know one person I met recently who works in the CS field told me how she worked a corporate job for a little while, but found the biggest hindrance to doing her work was getting motivated, which was difficult as she didn’t believe in the company’s goals.  Numerous other people I’ve met have expressed similar dissatisfaction, which is why personally, I know I don’t want to get stuck working a job I don’t believe in.

Elizabeth, it seems, has accomplished this goal. When you do work for a company that is in the business of, hell I don’t know, making expensive clothing, that’s one thing. When you do work for an organization that finds abandoned kitties, takes them in, fixes them up, and then finds said kitty a nice family, that’s quite another thing. I love kitties.

One of the things I think would be particularly satisfying about Elizabeth’s job would be the advertisements for pets. She puts up pictures and brief bios about individual animals, and then people call when they want to take them. I know that if I was in the business of finding a puppy a home, and then found said puppy a hope using facebook alone, there’d be a pretty pronounced hop in my step for the rest of the day.

I thought it was interesting too, how Elizabeth talked about how much putting up the right pictures makes a difference. I would naturally assume that if people want a puppy, any picture will do. Elizabeth noted that they try to make their pictures either as professional or cutesy as possible in order to garner more attention, which is an interesting and very effective method of utilizing the Internet to further a goal, seeing as how 99% of Internet users love pictures of cute puppies.

All in all, I learned that it’s indeed possible to find a job you believe in, and how much having that kind of job influences your motivation and work ethic, something I hope to achieve in my own professional endeavors.

Kony, Uganda, and my take on the issue.

I like to think I keep myself pretty informed about what’s going on outside my little world. Every minute, I’m looking for an update on the many interests I have via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, (and before Lent started), Reddit. At any given time, my mind is on what’s going on in Syria, what’s happening in the technology world, the release date of the newest album from one of my favorite bands, or a new review of one of my favorite authors.

Which is why I found it very ironic that Kony 2012, the 30 minute film about Joseph Kony, the leader of a militant group in the African nation, became big while I was conveniently in Albuquerque, NM, without a phone, internet, or computer for a week.

When I turned on my computer for the first time in a week, I saw tons of hashtags like #stopkony #kony2012 #invisiblechildren etc., tons of people mentioning the name Kony, and lots of people a buzz over some film that had been everywhere on the digital media-verse in the last few days. So, seeing an obligation, I watched the film.

The thing that spoke to me most about the film was the fact that it centered on the issues that the nation of Uganda has faced in the last few years. The reason for this is that I am actually scheduled to go to Uganda with Creighton on a Faculty-Led Trip Abroad, where we receive college credit and stay in Uganda for two weeks. Seeing this film then, made me incredibly excited about the Creighton trip, and after spending a week doing service and rediscovering my drive to do good in the world, I felt a swell of keen fascination with the film and the issues it discusses.

…once I got past the issues with the film itself, that is. The main problem I have with the film is it’s prettiness. Now, while I have an appreciation for how effectively the look of things can communicate a message, it still irks me when I see certain methods implemented that are meant just to “hook” people. For instance, the film uses a lot of (well-done) graphics and images, as well as the incorporation of cinema-style movie effects to make Invisible Children looks like it’s less of an advocacy organization, and more like a small nation revolutionizing against an evil and oppressive regime. The part that irks me the most is seeing Jason Russell, who is featured prominently in the video, and his level of personal grooming. To me, that begs the question, why is someone who claims to devote his life to a cause so focused on fashion and how neat his hair looks? The film seems very self-indulgent and into itself, which I believe is contrary to the message of an advocacy organization.

Despite these little things however, I do not think it is a negative reflection on either Jason Russell or the organization itself (which many critics seem to focus on). The part that the film really hits home is the scenes describing Jacob, the boy in Uganda who was once a part of Kony’s army. Now I don’t know about other people, but seeing a boy who grew up in a war – torn nation saying that he hopes he dies soon so he can be with his dead brother, whom he misses, is one of the saddest things I have ever seen. And while certain (to quote Nick Kristof) “armchair cynics” decide to criticize the call for action, I realize that this kind of event probably doesn’t even scratch the surface of the sadness that is going on in places like Uganda, or Syria, or the Sudan, or anywhere else for that matter. Which I think is what the film is really about: informing people on the atrocities that take place in the world. While it’s nice to live in our comfortable, privileged lives with our over-processed food and our shiny macbooks, to ignore the suffering of another is, in my opinion, the worst sin one can commit. And personally, I’m glad a video such as this has won out over videos of cats or Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video. I think people should concern themselves with injustice, and things relating to justice SHOULD be the most-watched content on Youtube, not Lady Gaga’s newest single.

So, despite its flaws, and despite the organization (Invisible Children)’s questionable money practices, I think the Kony 2012 campaign is noble, not simply for the specific issue it is combatting, but for the ability to get people thinking about injustice, and for the potential it has to inspire people to take action.

Changing focus.

When I first came to College, I only knew one thing for sure: I wanted to be a Journalist.

Since then, I have tried to figure out the other aspects of my life. I got involved in clubs, I studied abroad, I chose a major that was really challenging and difficult (Computer Science), I took classes that interested me, I went out and made friends, I had a variety of jobs, I networked, and many, many more things. I put myself outside my comfort zone as often as I could, and I definitely grew as an individual, and learned many invaluable things.

Most recently, I went on a service trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I lived in a halfway house, engaged with the homeless, learned about Nuclear Weapons, and swung a pick-axe for several hours each day. Coming back, I’ve found a sense of fulfillment, not just in the opportunity to do service to others, but in my own satisfaction as well.

Doing service, helping out the community, connecting with people, fighting injustice, these are all things that motivate me and give me drive. When I came to College, I realized I didn’t want to simply work to make money. Instead, I want to work to make a difference. 

Problem is, while Journalism is very much a field that has the ability to promote and fight injustice, Computer Science is not. Working with computers is very much a skill that is used by others (big corporations, freelance, development), and there is not a whole lot of room for someone who wants to make a difference.

As well, studying Computer Science has always been more of a personal endeavor for me than a professional one. I didn’t want to take courses that I knew I was good at (such as the humanities, political science, journalism), I wanted to be challenged intellectually. I wanted to be outside my comfort zone and really excel at a field that I am not inherently good at. Now that I’m almost done with the major, and have done better than I expected, I’m finding myself shifting my focus back to the ambition I had when I first came to College.

My recently acquired skills include programming, web development, and design. But my inherent skills are writing, seeing problems from every perspective, and work ethic (I spent 4 straight hours everyday of this last week swinging a pick-axe). These skills, to me, are better suited for Journalism or Law.

Law is something I’ve always considered since before even High School. People I’ve met tell me I would make a great lawyer not only for my debating ability, but for the wealth of experience I’ve had in different countries, as well as my interest in philosophical dialogue, and my ability to spend days focused on research and studying.

The nice thing is, being a Journalist is very similar to being a Lawyer, the two simply have different focuses. For Lawyers the focus is defending and prosecuting. For Journalists the focus is informing the public on a specific event or issue.

I sat down with my advisor today, and he told me there are several CS graduates who went to Law School. I’m still in the process of re-analyzing my life, but at this point I’m feeling a shift in my focus. The last little while, it’s been about challenging myself. For the future, it’ll be about putting the skills I have to use. My world is changing, and the horizon looks brighter than ever.

Watch out, here I come.

 

Connections

Earlier this week (Feb. 26th), I had coffee with a recent Creighton alumnus.

Julia Smith, who now works for Gallup as a Web Developer, graduated from Creighton University in May 2011 with a degree in Journalism and Graphic Design with CS and Inter-Web Development minors. As well, she was part of the Creightonian, the school newspaper, and Studio Blue, our on-campus Graphic Design/Development team. While this particular entry probably sounds like the beginning of a feature story, I assure you it’s not.

Thing is, after hearing about Julia from different staff and faculty, as well as viewing her various social media profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), I found that she did a lot of the things I’m doing now while she was here. Namely, she found a way to combine Journalism, Computer Science, and Design in her time here, as well as was involved with organizations like the Creightonian and Studio Blue, which I am a part of currently.

As such, I felt that Julia would be a great person to get advice from. Especially because I have a lot of fears and reservations regarding everything I’m doing at Creighton at the moment. So I found her on LinkedIn, sent her a message, and three days later I was sitting down with her in Aromas Coffee Shop discussing things.

Before I talk about what we talked about, I’d like to first talk about the benefits of this kind of opportunity. While initially I felt I was very unique and creative trying to combine the realms of Journalism, Technology, and Design, seeing the breadth and depth of work that Julia did while at Creighton took me by surprise. I realized I wasn’t as unique as I thought, which is actually a good thing in several ways. Being in contact with someone with similar motivations and aspirations is beneficial, especially if it is a rarity. You can learn a lot from such a person, who can act as a guide and model for your own professional development, and in the meantime they can probably learn a few things from you. I think the technology and journalism world, while some have commented on its cutthroat-ness, are in reality industries of collaboration. I don’t believe people make a difference in these fields from being vile and obsessively competitive or by cutting out the competition in whatever way they can, but instead benefit from the work and input of others in an atmosphere of mutuality and respect.  I thought I’d share this revelation to those who, like me, like to believe they are unique fucking snowflakes. Congratulations, you are not.

Having said that, I managed to learn a lot from Julia, as well as be given some peace of mind about certain things. For instance, for the last little while I’ve been worried that having a degree like mine with a lot of broad skills is inhibiting. While it’s a nice idea to have Computer Science, Graphic Design, News Production, PR, Web Design and a variety of other things on my skills palette, too much breadth of knowledge is detrimental to depth of knowledge. Lately I’ve been worrying that not having one well-defined singular focus in any one field is a problem. Today, Julia told me that that was how she operated while she was here. She said that every semester, she tried to focus on one thing while she put the others on the back-burner. For instance, one semester she says was devoted to functionality, taking CSC courses. Another semester was more about design, and development of creativity.

As well, Julia assured me that the focus of college/career life should be what you’re good at, and making what you got better. She said that if you have that, you can have a much better sense of which direction to take. We jokingly concluded that writing and coding are my stronger skills, while design is a weaker skill. Knowing that, I find myself proceeding with a much better sense of which fields to focus on.

It was nice talking to Julia. Not only for the advice she gave me, or the glimpse of what my professional career could look like if I work hard enough, but also because it’s nice to talk to someone who has a lot of similar ideas and aspirations as me. I think an encounter like this says a lot about not only our ever-shrinking world, but the value of something as simple as sitting down for coffee. Today, I feel a lot more driven to succeed than I did before. Mainly because I now know it’s possible to accomplish some of the obtuse things I’m trying to accomplish.

Also, DeadMau5. Just cause.

Identity

The last six months or so, I’ve been focusing pretty exclusively on acquiring skills.

All of last semester, I devoted myself entirely to studying web design, computer programming, and the scientific study of computers. When the semester was over, I found I had a lot of newfound abilities that I’ve been exercising lately (such as building functional websites and writing programs). This semester, I’ve taken those same topics and gone more in-depth with them, as well as tried to learn more about the areas of design (color, space, aspect ratio etc.).

I’m finding though, that despite all of the technical skills I have acquired recently, as well as the other skills I had before (writing, communication, generating ideas, work ethic, and adaptability), I am extremely lacking in the creative realm.

This is strange to me, as I remember up until College I was very creative. I played several instruments and was very very involved in music, as well as somewhat involved in theater. Lately, I’ve been so focused on obtaining skills that I seem to have lost some creativity in the process.

The most telling part of this was looking at my online Resume. Since the beginning of the semester, I have been involved in an on-campus Graphic Design group, and have seen tons of creativity coming out of the other people involved. When I looked at my own website recently, I was horrified. Compared to other websites I’ve viewed recently, mine’s is comparable to a picture of a stick figure mounted on a wall next to the Mona Lisa.

It seems important then, that I get back to building some of those creative muscles I used to have, which have become flabby lately. Luckily, I’ve met plenty of talented people I can learn from.

Process of Elimination

The Social Media 4 Good event on Wednesday, despite being boring at times and giving me a slight feeling of being back in High School, did give me some insight into my own future career.

The thing I learned the most at the conference, sadly, is how I have decided that Social Media is not a profession I want to go into. While I do understand the importance of social media, particularly for promoting businesses, encouraging interaction, and generating revenue, I do not think it is a skill I am particularly cut out for. Of the many skills I have tried to acquire over the years, I think my biggest ones are my ability to write, my instinctual sense of adapting to situations quickly, and my borderline obsessive work ethic. Skills of mine that are quite lacking however, are things surrounding social media. Specifically, the ability to provide content that will grab people, that people will retweet, share on facebook, blog about etc.

Watching the people speak, particularly Brittany Mascio, a recent Creighton alum, I could tell that these people have an interest and enthusiasm for the social sphere. Finding trending topics on Twitter, making events on Facebook, continually finding new and interesting things on the Web such as Pinterest, HootSuite, and others, are things that they seem to love doing, an enthusiasm I noticeably lack. While I know how important social media is for my career, and I plan to utilize it to the best of my abilities, I don’t see myself working any job that is exclusively PR and social media based. I’ll just be that coder who sits in the corner of a room with 3+ cups of coffee and DeadMau5 blaring out of his speakers.

       

Having said that, there was another speaker there that did, for lack of a better word, speak to me. Joe Moore, Promotions Director for the College of Arts & Sciences, is a mostly one-man team that handles all of the marketing, social media, and promotion of events for the CAS. From what I could tell, he’s a man with a lot of different skills, skills that he uses in his profession. This reflects my current professional status pretty accurately. While my dream is to be a world reporter/travel journalist, in order to get there I try to amass a refined palette of marketable skills. These are programming, graphic design, web design, writing, people skills, group-work, individual work, and management. All of these things will probably put me in a job at some point in the future where I will be working mostly on my own. Even now as the Creightonian Online Editor, I work mostly by myself maintaining and updating portions of the website. As such, I found his comments on working by himself insightful (particularly the part about waking up at 6am every day to get the news out, and being done with work whenever he deems necessary).

All in all, I think I got quite a bit out of the event. Probably not a lot that was intended, but I definitely know my future career goals a little more certainly after the event, even if it is simply understanding exactly what I DO NOT want to do. Plus the cookies were delicious.

Journal-This.

If you’ve tuned into the news at any point in the past week, or been following any high-profile journalist on Twitter, or subscribed to any media outlet on Facebook, or followed any kind of Humanitarian effort for that matter, you’ve probably seen or heard something about Syria.

At this point in time, Syria is in an immense state of unrest. According to Wikipedia knowledge, the death toll as of Feburary 16th is approximately 8,387.

The conflict is the result of the rising Arab Spring, a romantic term referring to the recent wave of social and political revolutions across the “Arab World,” that began in 2010. These conflicts are the result of Arab nations wanting more freedom from the Government, as well as abolishing autocratic political systems. Nations that have been “liberated” include Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, and, the most talked about nation, Libya.

Syria is the latest in these uprisings, with protestors seeking to take the Ba’athist government (most similar to our understanding of Socialism), who have ruled for five decades, out of power.

The deaths that have resulted from protests are the highest in the history of the Arab Spring, next to the death toll of the Libyan Civil War that took place this time last year. Yet despite all of the bloodshed and senseless violence that is occurring at this very moment, to most of us here in the “Western World,” it is all very far away. Even I haven’t been following what’s happening over there until recently.

When I was in Ireland last semester, I was dating a girl from the Czech Republic who was always very informed on the crisis in Libya at the time. While she and I never had a conversation about what was happening, I would often see her reading articles online about Libya. As well, there was a large Libyan population living in Dublin at the time, and when I visited there one day, I saw a large group of protesters in the city center:

Besides these two instances, I knew nothing about the Arab Spring, Gaddafi, the thousands who died, or any of what was going on in the Arab World. This is something I’m starting to see as typical of most of my friends, relatives, and the people I meet and talk to every day. To most of us, the Middle-East is a very far away place, very different from everything we’ve come to know as familiar and natural. The people there are different from us, obviously. It’s therefore easy and very understandable that we wouldn’t actively inform ourselves on what’s happening over there.

But here’s the harsh reality: they are NOT different from us. The people who are dying right now are human beings, like every human being on the planet. And most of them are people trying to fight for freedom. As a result of wanting freedom, these people are shot and killed.

According to a defected Syrian Security Agent, the soldiers were ordered to open fire on groups of civilians, or they themselves would be executed. These groups, according to said agent, were “just chanting freedom” and nothing else.

As well, children and families have died. Since the protests began, over 400 children have died, and even more have been arrested and tortured.

The even harsher tragedy is the fact that no one can do anything. According to CNN, the United States can not take strong action because of the Syrian Government’s alliances with Russia and China, two of the most powerful nations in the world. Not wanting to piss them off, the U.S. is holding off involvement in the conflict. As well, the Syrian Government has barred journalists from entering the country, and most humanitarian efforts are being stopped at the borders.

Yet despite all of this, people like Arwa Damon, and the recently deceased Anthony Shadid are risking their lives to both help out over there, and to bring to light the nature of the violence.

It is here, amid all this tragedy, that the true meaning of Journalism is seen.  In most cases, journalists are seen as law-neglecting people who only report on whatever is “popular”(the paparazzi, for example), yet I believe that what a journalist really is is a person who reports on information in the name of what is right.

And despite my obligation as a journalist to be impartial, this is my blog so I’m going to say this as straightforward as I can: People are dying. People are dying right now in the name of freedom. Men, women, children, families are being torn apart. We can NOT sit idly by and pretend that what happens in the rest of the world is no concern of ours. While it’s easy to avoid the news because it is too “depressing,” it is that exact feeling that inspires people to action. People NEED to take action. Not just in the name of Syria, but in the name of what is right.

People need to take action to change the world. Without said action, violence, famine, conflict, and atrocities ensue. It is our job as journalists to inspire people to create change. And that, I believe, is a job worth working.

GoogleBook

I’ve pretty much been on the social media train since its inception. I remember back in the day when MSN “Spaces” were popular. They were linked to MSN Messenger and you could build your profile catered to your Messenger contacts. After that, there were other various sites I saw rise and fall. Hi5, Multiply, Friendster, MySpace. I was the most into MySpace, mainly because that seemed to be the one most people were using. As well, I liked how MySpace had profiles for musicians where I could listen to their songs for free.

Then Facebook came along, and is now the largest and most profitable social networking site in the world. It got so big in fact, that about a year ago I read a list of most visited sites on the Internet and Facebook was catching up to Google. This was a shock to me because Google, in my mind, has always been the perfect model for a website. It’s simple, it describes the necessary input/output function flawlessly, and its uses are innumerable. So when Facebook came to be more visited than Google, it became clear in the Google hierarchies that retaliation was necessary.

Thus came Google+. I read in an article once that this is not the first time Google has had a social networking initiative. Most every one that came before however was a disaster. So what makes Google+ different? The Guinness-loving Irish heritage in me likes to think it’s because of Paul Adams, the leading social researcher in Silicon Valley whose work brought about Google+ (yet he ironically now works for Facebook), who just so happens to hail from the same small town in Ireland that my ancestors came from and even attended University of Limerick (the school I attended this time last year). Adams accumulated vast amounts of research that brought about some of Google+’s bigger features (such as Circles).

Yet reports have shown that while Google+ is successful compared to Google’s previous social networking attempts, it is far less popular than Facebook. This begs the question, what in the hell makes a website successful? Why did Facebook succeed where MSN, MySpace, Hi5, Multiply, and countless others failed? I bet you anything that the minds behind Google+ are working night and day obsessing over the same questions.

Adams statement about why he left Google seems to boil down the defining statement of each company:

Google values technology, not social science.”

FACEBOOK

From what I can tell in my own observations, there are several things that Facebook did right.

1) They followed the age-old rule of design: Simplicity is Key. Myspace failed because it gave people way too much control over their profiles. By the time I got off  MySpace, there were so many features and options that I couldn’t care to figure out what every single one did. Facebook had a very simple interface, and limited user control.

2) They had the right target audience. In the music world, everyone knows that if you want a musician to take off, cater them towards 14-year-old girls, who are the prime purchasers of music. If you want a social-networking site to take off, cater it towards the most socially-oriented atmosphere in the world: college. Facebook began as a website to connect denizens of Harvard. Not the creepy old guys who troll high school parties, and not the younger kids who will do anything to hang out with the big kids. While this isn’t the main thing behind Facebook’s later success, this did get their foot in the social media door.

3) If you want to build a company, hire the best people to do it. In my entire time using Facebook, I have never seen the server crash. That’s because the guy behind it, Mark Zuckerberg, was a Computer Science major at Harvard, while Tom was a musician.

In my mind, these things are necessary to build a website: streamline the interface, target the right people, hire the best people. Facebook did all this with their site, and Google did all this with GoogleSearch. With Google+ however, I’m finding some drawbacks.

GOOGLE

Namely, the features on Google+. In my use of it, it seems the majority of said features are not very easy to use. For instance, while Circles is an interesting idea, I think most passive Internet users would find it too cumbersome. On Facebook, adding a friend is clicking a button. On Google+, you add them to “Circles,” where you specify if they’re a friend, good friend, acquaintance, or whatever name you want to give your circle. This may not sound too complicated to me, or to you, but to the majority of the people on the Internet, this may sound like too much busywork.

As well, the process of getting to Google+ seems cumbersome as well. When I go to Facebook, I type in “F” in the URL, then press enter. With Google+, thanks to the fact that Google has GoogleSearch, Gmail, and a variety of other things beginning with “G,” I spend an extra five seconds getting to my Plus account. Not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but makes all the difference in the social media world.

Other than that, I think some of Google+’s features are quite ingenious. Namely, the +1 feature, which allows you to be on a random page on the Web, hit the +1 button, and that page becomes part of a list of things you’ve +1’ed already. I imagine this is Google’s response to Facebook’s “Like” feature, which is how Facebook gathers information on people’s interests that they sell to businesses. This would be an interesting idea, but in the face of Facebook’s lightning fast “Like” feature, the extra 3 seconds it takes to +1 something on Google+ makes all the difference.

In short, I think the reason Google+ hasn’t taken off is mainly due to the lack of interest. Facebook was an underdog company that said no to all the big companies who wanted to use them for advertising. Google is a major corporation trying to convince people it’s cooler than Facebook. While I am a believer in Google as a company and generally side with them on most endeavors, I think the issues I have described, plus the fact that Facebook came from a unique position into the corporate world which is hard to beat, are what impede it.