Coyote Blues Band

I’d like to thank Jolie O’Dell for capturing this moment. I almost forgot it happened. I don’t think I’d ever told that story before that night. It might not seem like much, but the story means a lot to me. By the way, that’s Josh Kulpa and Dingman who occasionally poke their heads into the video. Had a great time with those two that night. Jazz clubs that close by midnight, liquor stores that accept WIC, and a beautiful woman with the power to seduce you to Central America. Good times.

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RoadTwip in Toledo: A Preface

Photo by Bob Bell

Jolie O'Dell and Me (Photo by Bob Bell)

“We’re here!”

“You’re here? Here where?”

“We’re here here. We’re out in front of The Blarney”

“Oh snap! I’ll be right out”

Seconds later, I embraced my friend Jolie O’Dell on Monroe St. in downtown Toledo. After directing Kurty D. and Dingman to my parking garage, Jolie and I entered The Blarney. There were only seven tweeps in attendance, but they gave Jolie a rock star welcome. And rightfully so. She is a rock star.

A few minutes later, the other two RoadTwippers entered the building and the party was finally started just after 9:00 pm. Channel 13 News arrived about an hour later. Fast forward another hour and the Official RoadTwip Toleetup was little more than a memory fresh in all of our minds.

When the gang pulled out of my driveway yesterday afternoon, it was hard to believe that they were leaving already. It felt like they just got there. When I look back on it, I can’t believe that all of the preparation for their arrival occurred on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. Phone calls, text messages, emails, and tweets to friends, acquaintances, and news stations… they all seem like a blur to me now. And for that matter, so does their visit.

I have a lot that I want to say about the RoadTwippers’ visit to Toledo. I mean a lot to say. But at this point, it’s just a random collection of thoughts zipping around in my mind… a confused mess… an imbroglio, if you will (that one’s for you, Apprentice Dingman). Over the next few days, I’d like to gather my thoughts and split them up into two or three posts. I told Bob Bell that I would compile a list of the local attendees, so I wanted to get something up here relatively quickly. I also wanted to at least put up a placeholder for posts to come.

So I guess this post is just a preface to future posts about the shenanigans, friendship, and inspiration that three road-weary travelers provided for a handful of lucky Toledoans in just 19 hours. Stay tuned, gang. If you don’t follow any of the attendees listed below, correct that today. It’s what made all of this possible.

Breaking Out Of The Monitor

Social networking: it’s a subject that fascinates me. For those who don’t get it, it’s just pointless drivel amongst “internet friends.” They lump it in with the mindless banter that dominated the AOL chat rooms of the early- to mid-nineties. For some, maybe that’s an accurate assessment. But for many, it’s so much more than a BBS for BS. The fundamental misconception that skeptics have is that social networking resides strictly within the confines of their computer monitors. But the people who get the most out of it know that it transcends the World Wide Web and becomes a part of our physical lives.

To a certain extent, various social networks can be utilized to conduct business without ever meeting in person. A good example of that happened for me yesterday. On the official RoadTwip trailer (more on them in a minute), the music of Chris Merritt was featured. His Twitter name was displayed at the bottom of the screen as his song “North” played. Intrigued, I went to his profile, then followed the link to his website. From his online store, I ordered the album Pixie and the Bear. Just like that, Chris Merritt had a new fan and customer. The emotion of music can change your whole mood. And I discovered new music that I never would have found if it weren’t for social networking.

Some users are perfectly content to allow their online relationships to remain there. By that measure, maybe some of the critics are somewhat accurate in their claims. But the real beauty of social networking occurs when we break out of the monitor and have face-to-face interaction. Tweetups have become more and more popular. Strangers are coming out of the woodwork to make their online acquaintances real world friends. Toledo’s social media rock star Damian Rintelmann has taken “Toleetups” to new heights by attracting the attention of our local ABC affiliate WTVG. Watching perfect strangers build relationships on the eleven o’clock news hardly seems pointless to me.

But for some, Tweetups are just the beginning. I mentioned the RoadTwip gang a couple paragraphs back. The gang in question is Jolie O’Dell, Kurt Daradics, and Jonathan Dingman. The trio are currently knee-deep in a tour of the Midwest, stopping at cities in a loop around the heartland to meet with social media gurus and everyday people. Stops in Blacksburg, Virginia, Nashville, St. Louis, Omaha, and Chicago all precede tomorrow’s stopover in Toledo. The gang will meet up with Damian Rintelmann before attending an impromptu Toleetup at The Blarney at 8:00 pm. I’ll be playing unofficial host to the weary travelers as they work their way east to Cleveland, Boston, and the Big Apple. I say “unofficial” because nobody ever asked me to do it. I just want to make sure the gang has the best experience possible in my hometown. Why? New paragraph. Hold, please.

Your enjoyment of this blog post is very important to us. Someone will be with you shortly to continue relevant content. Aaaaand… we’re back. My rationale for jumping into the mix is two-fold. One, I want the magic of social networking to work. That whole “breaking out of the monitor” thing. The more people I can gather, the more we can disprove the naysayers. And two, I want Toledo to be a memorable stop on their adventure. We’re probably the smallest city on the trip… ahem… Twip. I want to make sure that when the gang write the recaps of their adventure, our little corner of the country leaves an impression on them. We reach out to the world to feel like we’re part of something bigger. But at the end of the day, we want the world to be a part of us. If you’re not proud of your hometown, move.

So for all of the doubters, critics, and skeptics who have already written social networking off as useless, I would like to invite you out to The Blarney tomorrow night. Videos of the shenanigans will undoubtedly find a home on YouTube and Qik. Pictures of our goofy mugs will grace the pages of multiple Flickr Photostreams. The Twitter hashtags #RoadTwip and #Toleetup will be rolling off of keyboards on Tuesday morning. And when Toledo disappears from the rearview mirror and Jolie checks in on BrightKite heading east, a handful of Toledoans will be happy to defend the merits of social networking. They might even tell you about #myflavorObacon.

Social Networking Is A Mixed Bag

Trying to explain social networking to an outsider is like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man. There really is a little bit of something for everyone. While social media marketing fascinates the bejeezus out of me, the underlying infrastructure is what makes the profitability of the whole shebang possible.

Any decent social networking IP can provide satisfaction for its user base completely on its own. But the real beauty of social networking is integration between multiple IP’s. My good friend Jolie O’Dell wrote a pretty comprehensive piece about the pitfalls of aggregators, and status-pushing and file pushing services here. With that in mind, I’m not going to get too into that part of the equation as she is by far a more qualified subject matter expert than me.

What I am saying is that the integration between the many SN services that I use have truly simplified my life. I’m the type of person who starts to keep a journal for a couple weeks, updates it religiously, then abandons the whole idea within a matter of weeks. It’s not that I don’t want to keep a log of the events of my life. I’m just an impatient person and possibly A.D.D. If I had to track down all of my friends across multiple social networks, link them to the pictures that I want to share, and type out the same updates redundantly, I would have walked away from this mess months ago.

But Jolie does bring up an excellent point. We’re discarding the need to post the same updates over and over again by redundantly pushing the same updates to our friends and peers. Here’s my example. Whenever I send a new photo to my Flickr Photostream, it sends the title and a link to the photo to my Twitter timeline. It also sends a thumbnail and link to my Facebook page. On top of that, whenever I send an update to Twitter, it pushes that content to Facebook. You see the problem?

People who follow me on Twitter and are also my friends on Facebook see the same Flickr update twice. But the problem doesn’t stop there. Facebook also receives the update that was sent to Twitter. So now my Facebook page shows the Flickr update twice. Friends who follow me on both networks have now seen either the picture or the link three times. But from a usability standpoint, the problem is also the solution. I’ve never received an angry message from a friend stating that my redundancy irritates them.

I guess my point is that, for a casual social networking user, redundancy is OK. I have to believe that my “real” friends would rather deal with the redundancy than not get updates from me at all. And let’s be honest: if I didn’t have the integration between Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr, they’d all be so disconnected that friends on all three networks wouldn’t experience a very comprehensive view of my life.

There are other services that I use that get pushed to Twitter and, consequently, Facebook, just not as frequently. I like what Blip.fm is doing. It reminds me of what MySpace included on their blog entry page. Music has always been such a huge part of my life, so I’m a big fan of including music updates in my “lifestream.” But I honestly think I’d use the service more if it were integrated into one of the IP’s that I do use daily. I think Kevin Rose and Leah Culver had the right idea with Pownce. It just never took off.

Third party apps like TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop are starting to fill some of the gaps. But when is a comprehensive social networking intellectual property going to step forward and make all of the redundant content-pushing obsolete? I don’t think we’re ever going to consolidate the whole shebang into one central location. But I do think it’s possible to push all of our content from one source to multiple networks and still have control over what updates go to each individual network.

This is getting wordy, but I’d like to give an example of what I’m talking about. I’m not looking for just an aggregator. In fact, I’m looking for the exact opposite in addition to being an aggregator. I’m looking for a central content-pusher that allows me to choose which networks my updates get pushed to. I’d like it to be split up in tabs a la recent web browsers. One tab would pull my friends’ Twitter updates. One tab would pull my Facebook account. But the most important tab would be for updates that are pushed to the various networks.

I’d like a place to input text and attach files. If it’s a photo, I’d like to be able to have a default image recipient of my choice. Maybe that’s Flickr. Maybe that’s TwitPic. If I want to push a video, I’d like to have the option to send it to YouTube, Vimeo, and/or another service. I’d like to decide if I want links or thumbnails to be sent to Twitter, Facebook, etc. Either way, the interface needs to be completely customizable on the fly. I’d like it to be as simple as checking boxes to determine if the update is pushed to all of my social networks, just one, or a few, but not all.  Is this really that groundbreaking of a concept? Or is the R&D just pricier than startups are willing to part with for an IP that might be difficult to monetize?

Wow. This post was intended to be an homage to the beauty of integration amongst social networking IP’s. Instead, it turned into a diatribe about its shortcomings. Nonetheless, I am a fan of the simplification of sharing updates of various forms of media across multiple social networks. I just think the whole thing needs to be tweaked. An improved Twitter might be the answer. If not, there’s a gaping hole out there that can be filled by an ambitious upstart. Either way, things are getting more exciting every day. I can’t imagine how Noah will be networking with people ten years from now.