Until recently, I pretty well had a handle on my use of social networks. Rather than try to use a single social networking system in multiple ways, I have used different systems in different ways and for different networks.
- I have a blog, of course, and I use that to pontificate on various aspects of operations research. While the communication is primarily one-way, I see this as a network since 1) I have enough regular commentators that I feel there is some two-way conversation, and 2) there is a network of OR bloggers (the “blogORsphere”) and our various posts often riff off each other, particularly now that INFORMS provides a monthly topic for us to use in common (this post is part of the July challenge on OR and social networks). You can get a feed of all the OR blogs either in the sidebar at my page or through a Google Reader site. If you have an operations research blog and are not included, please let me know!Feedburner and my log files suggest that each post is read about 3000 times in the first week of posting (after that, each post gets a regular trickle of readers through search).
- I have a twitter account (@miketrick) where 90% of my tweets have some operations research content (denoted by an “#orms” hash tag). About 10% of the time, I am griping about some failure in customer service or something similar on non-operations research aspects. When I post on my blog, a tweet automatically goes out through my twitter account. I follow 183 other twitter users and am followed by just over 700 others, most presumably for the #orms content.
- I have a facebook account (michael.trick). Again, a post on my blog generates a facebook entry, but I primarily use facebook for my real-life friends and family, and rarely post on operations research (except the blog entries).
And that seemed enough! But recently, there have been more social networks that I have had to integrate in to my life, and the existing ones have changed.
- LinkedIn remains a mystery to me. I certainly have done a fair amount of linking, with 365 direct connections. Many of these are former students who want to stay connected to me, and I am happy to be connected. It has even been useful when getting a request like “Do you know anyone at X who can help me with Y”. And somehow I am getting emails on conversations that are going on at LinkedIn that actually look pretty good. But when I go to the site, I can never find where those conversations are coming from, and I am just generally overwhelmed with minutia about who has changed their picture and commented on what. My blog and twitter feed gets mirrored at LinkedIn, but otherwise this is just not something I have been active in.
- OR-Exchange is a Question and Answer site that focuses on operations research and analytics. In many ways, this was a response to the death (or near death: there are some diehards holding on) of the Usenet group sci.op-research. That group died under the weight of “solution key sellers”, ersatz conference announcements, mean-spirited responses from curmudgeonly long-timers, and general lack of interest. So I registered the site or-exchange.com at a Q&A site, and started things off. Since then, the system has taken a life of its own. INFORMS now hosts it, and there are a dozen or so very active participants along with a larger number of regulars. I am not sure the system has really reached critical mass, but I am very hopeful for it.
- Facebook is moving in a direction that might make it more relevant for my professional life. Bjarni Kristjansson has put together a group “I like operations research” that is getting some traction. I put together a page that provides the feed to all of the operations research blogs that I can find (this is the same group of entries that is in the sidebar of my blog).
- Reddit.com is a very popular way to point out links, and “cavedave” has done a great job in putting together a “sysor” subreddit. With a couple thousand readers, a post there gets a noticeable bump in readership.
- Google Plus simply baffles me at the moment. I have an account, but I don’t know how to treat it. It seems silly to just recreate a twitter feed in plus, but there doesn’t seem to be a hole in my personal social networking activities that requires plus. I had already done the “circles” thing by my different uses of facebook, twitter, and my blog, so it is not a great addition. But I hate to think I am missing out on something big. On the other hand, I did spend a couple of days on Google Wave, so I am a little hesitant to simply leap on this bandwagon.
As I look through all of this, I can’t help but reflect on how fragmented this all is. Wouldn’t it be great to have a real community site where all of us in operations research can get together to share thoughts, papers, links, and more? Bjarni is working hard at pushing INFORMS in the direction of providing such a community site. But the sad thing is that we had such a site more than ten years ago, when social networking was in its infancy. ILOG, through people like Irv Lustig, created a site e-optimization.com. It lasted a couple of years, but could not survive the pressures of the dot-com crash. INFORMS keeps a snapshot of the site (with limited functionality), and it is still impressive long after it shuttered its doors.
And, as I look closer to all of the activity, I am amazed that there is not more. Why are there not hundreds of operations research blogs, instead of the couple of dozen that I list? Why doesn’t every doctoral student in operations research have a twitter account? Is there a social networking world I am missing? If not, where is everybody?
Of course, if you are reading this, then you are in my social network, and I am very grateful that you are.