Remember the first time somebody told you about Facebook? “…Yeah, it’s totally cool. You can update it with all the cool stuff you’re doing every day and tell everyone how cool American Idol was last night, and you can read everyone’s cool updates and it’s so cool and…” … and you were thinking, “...sounds incredibly lame to me, why would anybody want to read the mundane details of anyone else’s life?” And yet now, every morning, before you check your work email or the weather or the stock market, before you’ve even made a cup of coffee or taken your coat off, you’ve logged on to Facebook and are thrilled to know Aunt Jenny is “thinking about vases”, or you’re troubled by the knowledge your friend Katie’s kitten is sick (again).
Microblogging, which is what the clever people who know all about the Future of The Internet, call these little status updates, is on fire. Status updates, whether delivered through Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or even LinkedIn are the lowest effort way of flinging a thought out to the universe, and, occasionally, getting something in return.
Dutifully following the current trend in the media to fill the media with talk about the media, The New York Times recently covered the phenomenon. But I think they missed the mark on what makes a great status update. Here are my tips for success.
Food is bad. Seriously, nobody cares what you had for lunch. The only exception might be ‘Lizzie is baking, and she’s got a cookie for you’, but even still, I prefer to stick to the rule that what’s in your stomach is not for public consumption.
Drama is good. Here’s a recent status update from a member of my family: “[unnamed family member] just got over the flu and then opened a car door onto a passing bus.” One of the success indicators of status updates is the number of comments received – the flurry of response to this one confirmed it as winner. Commentary ranged from the concerned, “Sounds terrible, hope the bus is ok” to the clever clever, “One flu’s over, the car door’s next”. Herein, of course, the inherent risk of microblogging – somebody’s comment may be cleverer than your original update, leaving you publicly one-upped.
Brevity is key.
Careful with the ‘I’m better than you’ comments. “Esmerelda just adored the retelling of Brecht’s classic ‘Man equals Man’ through the under-rated medium of mime” makes me immediately reach for my mouse to un-friend Esmerelda. But, “Oliver was delighted that everyone wore their Dress Fleeces to the Seattle Opera” nicely positions Oliver as charming, witty, AND better-than-you.
Check your spelling. The fact that it’s the internet doesn’t excuse you from the rules of spelling and grammar. Your failure to manage your apostrophes leaves you wide open to unfavorable judgment. “Dean is you’re best bet for Saturday night” is just so clearly, clearly not true.
This is not the place to deliver bad news. I was recently horrified by a post from a pregnant acquaintance who wrote “Tina ‘s little angel is looking down on us from blessed skies”. I assumed the worst – turns out Angel was the name of the dog and it was the anniversary of her death. The anniversary!
Frequency matters. More than once a day, and it’s clear that the balance between your real friends and your online ‘friends’ is tipped the wrong way. But if your status update still says “Frankie is excited that the stock market just keeps going up and up”, maybe microblogging is not the medium for you.
No cursing. Your MOTHER is on Facebook, for goodness sake.
A nicely constructed status update is a chance for you to remind your 342 closest friends what a charming, clever, devilish, funny, insightful chap you are. It’s a little tiny stroke to the ego when your boss from 10 years ago is moved to comment on your razor sharp wit. Of course, there’s a price to pay for all this. Seeing your life through the filter of what might make a compelling status update causes a strange shift in your self-perception, in the most extreme cases resulting in the updater starting to think of him or herself in the third person. Gillian is signing off now.