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22 posts from May 2007

Ghost blogging and the coming end of the Golden Age of blogging and transparency

Let it never be forgot
That there once was a spot
That for one brief shining moment
Was known as Camelot.
     - from the musical Camelot

There has been a great conversation raging these past few months in the PR/marketing section of the blogosphere about whether or not "ghost blogging" is acceptable, i.e. the writing of a blog for someone by someone else (including by a PR firm).  On the one side are those who don't see any real difference between writing a blog entry for someone and writing a speech, press release (with quotes), annual report, etc.  On the other side are those early adopters of social media and others who worship at the altar of Cluetrain who believe that ghost blogging is the polar opposite of what the "transparent" world of social media is all about.  Blogs are just another communication vehicle with which we can assist our clients, say one side.  Blogs are a departure from "corp-speak" and are meant to be in an authentic, human voice say the other side.

It's been a fascinating discussion to watch, especially as many of the people who I now consider friends have weighed in on the issue.  Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson have covered the issue on multiple FIR episodes. Terry Fallis and Dave Jones talked about it on their recent Inside PR #59.  Bryan Person kicked off a whole thread with his mention of a "blog" ghost-written by Topaz partners, to which Topaz responded (and made some changes).  Back in February, professional ghost writer Sallie Goetsch provided her interesting viewpoint. Chip Griffin talked about it in his Disruptive Dialogue podcast.  Mitch Joel just recently wrote excellent posts here and here (this latest one today).  Many, many others have written great posts.  Folks like Doug Haslam from Topaz has been running around posting excellent comments on so many of those articles. Regular "news" articles have appeared on the topic, such as this in Investors Business Daily: "Writing Blogs Can Be Hard, So Get 'Help'", which predictably set off more blog commentary.  Even Scott Adams got into the story with Dilbert.

To me the most salient point was perhaps Dave Jones commentary in Inside PR #59 that while on one level "there are no rules" in blogging, "the rules today" are all about being transparent, and that rules change.

Transparency... today.  But tomorrow?

Given that there are no real "rules", let's call them instead "conventions".  The "culture of the Blogosphere" is such that certain "conventions" are adhered to by those who participate.  Those who don't adhere to those conventions will be roundly chastised, attacked and otherwise shamed into conforming with the conventions of the culture.

This will, of course, change. 

We've been here before.

If you go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was an extremely strong "convention" among those of us using this bright shiny new thing called the "Internet" that there was to be absolutely no commercial activitity whatsoever on this here Internet.  Anything that smacked of sales was absolutely verboten.  Anyone who sent an email trying to sell something was chastised and might in fact be banned.  Anyone who put up a gopher, ftp or (pre-1993) web server selling something was criticized.  There was a view that it was our playground and we weren't going to let any of those sleazy salespeople come in and deface everything with their grafitti.

Obviously, that changed.  The rise of graphical browsers in 1993 along with the rise in consumer Internet services, faster modems, etc. all brought about a massive influx of people onto the Internet.  And you know what?

They didn't respect the conventions!

They put up websites with all sorts of advertisements.  They sent email to (gasp!) hundreds or thousands of people!  They harvested email addresses!!!  The valiant defenders of the playground desperately attempted to fend off the immigrants, but there were just way too many and in time the battle was lost (and those defenders went off to go find other playgrounds to be in... at least until those, too, were overrun (think of the issues in Second Life around those who resent the new corporate presence)).

There were other conventions, too, that went by the wayside (in many cases as the technical restriction that created the convention ceased to be relevant). Consider these:

  • It used to be considered extremely rude if your e-mail "signature block" (aka "sig") was longer than 3 or 4 lines, and a 1 or 2 line sig was considered best.  Look at sigs today!  Often many lines... with graphics... animated icons and images... and so much more.
  • It was once the convention that you should never, ever, ever send an email with an attachment larger than 100 Kbytes.  That's long gone as it's now pretty routine to get multi-megabyte file attachments.

There's many more, but the point is... cultural conventions evolve.

I definitely count myself among those who enjoyed Cluetrain and who revel in this world of social media primarily because of the authenticity... because of the "human" voices... because of the conversation that occurs outside the traditional stilted language of corp-speak.  I believe in the power of blogs and podcasts to "humanize" subjects and even people... to let us know them in all their humanity, warts and all.  I believe in the power of the authentic conversation.  For all those reasons, I do see ghost-written blogs as unnatural.

But I also expect ghost blogs to become quite normal... for one simple reason:

We have succeeded.

Blogs are no longer dismissed as trivial online diaries kept only by people who want to talk about their cats.  They are a serious and viable way to communicate directly.  They are increasingly thought of (if not yet used) as part of the regular toolbox of corporate communication vehicles. Oh, yes, and by the way... in the Age of Google when Search is king, blogs seem to get good "Google-juice".  So you're seeing the "I need a blog to be competitive" syndrome kicking in, and gee, since the tools are so easy to use, basically anyone can start up a blog.  And so you've had so many new people entering the blogosphere and I expect that we'll see even more as the tools become increasingly easier and easier.  And you know what?

They won't respect the conventions!

CEOs who want a blog but don't seem themselves having the time will simply have a staff person do it.  Companies who want a blog will just hire a firm to do it... just look at the number of companies already out there today who will "provide content for your blog" if you want them to do so.  Those blogs will even "sound" human... just as good speechwriters today can create speeches in the style of the speaker, so too will ghost bloggers take on the style of the blog "author".  Blogs, podcasts, wikis, etc. will just be part of the communication plan... and in many cases will sadly spew out the same bland corporate drivel that caused so many of us to celebrate the changes brought so far by social media.

I hold onto the perhaps vain hope that those blogs, podcasts and other vehicles that do speak with "authentic" human voices will rise to the top.  I'd like to hope that those CEOs who wade into the fray using their own words and writing their own text will get more attention (and see greater success) than those whose words are massaged through umpteen rounds of internal approvals and editing.  I'd like to hope that the public conversations that can be had directly between companies and their customers will foster greater transparency and openness. 

We'll see.  Does "social media" truly represent a shift toward transparency and "authenticity"?  Or is it still too early to tell?  Will the established conventions hold?  Or will they be simply trampled upon by those newly arrived?  How long will the defenders of the conventions be able to hold out?  Will they be successful in converting the masses?  Or will they have to retreat to some other place where transparency and authenticy can reign?  (At least until it is discovered.)

Stay tuned... the story is being written all around us.

Twitter's outages sure do get tiring... (even with the cute kittens!)

Cute pictures of kittens aside, it's getting increasingly hard to remain a Twitter fan.  Readers are aware that I've been a fan of Twitter and have an account there where I post small entries to links and/or notes while travelling.  It's been definitely an interesting communication experiment and has provided a great amount of interesting links, connections and more. I've enjoyed using it and found it of value both personally and professionally.

But you can only enjoying using it if you can get to the site! And lately, that hasn't been a given.  Now, maybe it's just been my timing, but there have now been several times in recent days when I went to go post something and wound up seeing the kitten.  While it's definitely an amusing and cute way to do an "Please stand by" page, it doesn't get around the fact that the service is unusable.  I do realize that Twitter is suffering under growing pains and I'm certainly willing to give them the chance to fix it.  I just do hope that I stop seeing that darn cat soon...

As I write this, the service is back now and it appears that I did not lose my last post, so, like a good addict, I'll go back to my usage... at least, until the next time the kitten appears.

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All Hail Helvetica! (On the occasion of its 50th birthday)

Listening to FIR #240 this morning, I learned that it is the 50th birthday of the Helvetica font.  This actually struck me as a bit odd, as I personally thought the font was older than that, but no, it was created back in 1957 and is now owned by font giant Linotype.  The BBC article starts out positively glowing about Helvetica and then introduces a bit of criticism... I'll leave it to you to read it, but I did find this quote from typographer Neville Brody quite intriguing:

"Typefaces control the message. Choice of font dictates what you think about something before you even read the first word. Imagine Shakespeare in large capital drop shadow. Our response would be quite different towards the content."

Exactly.  Typefaces definitely do matter.  And they definitely evoke passion... just look at the comments to the BBC article

Personally, I can't say I've ever been a "Helvetica enthusiast".  It's a nice font, certainly, and I've used it in numerous documents (and continue to do so), but I don't know that I really have any great passion about it.   I do, though, recognize that it has had a tremendous influence within the computer industry as one of the dominant sans serif fonts in the electronic publishing space... and no doubt will continue to be used for quite some time.  (And undoubtedly will continue to attract both supporters and detractors!)

Happy Birthday, Helvetica!

Terry Fallis wraps up "The Best Laid Plans", his podcast of his satirical political novel... and the listeners want more!

Over the weekend, Terry Fallis finally distributed the final chapter of "The Best Laid Plans".  For those of us who have been listening throughout, it was a thrilling ride to the end that very nicely brought the various storylines and characters together in a fun and exciting conclusion.  You kind of knew it had to work out somehow... but the how was the fun part.  As I started listening to the final chapter, I realized that somehow the hovercraft was going to factor in... but the precise manner in which it did was very enjoyable. 

Kudos to Terry for creating characters that we could care about... and also for making the subject of Canadian politics fun and entertaining.   Even though the Canadian system is different from my own world of the US,  Terry left enough clues along the way to help those of us outside the world of Ottawa get a glimpse of how it works inside.  (Full disclosure - I'm a political junkie, so this was great!)

It was amusing to note the other effects of the novel on me.  Last Friday I was in Ottawa and up early driving home to Vermont.  Staying out on the western side of the city, I figured the Queensway (the 417 highway) would be starting to get crowded, so at about 6:30am I took Carling Ave to Richmond Ave down to Wellington Ave and went up over Parliament Hill  (eventually winding through some other streets to catch the 417 on the eastern side of the city and avoid all downtown highway traffic).  As I drove up Wellington in front of the Parliament buildings, I was impressed as always by the sheer grandeur of the Hill, but I also had to laugh and think of the follies of Angus and company in the novel.  As well, Terry threw in enough history along the way that it did give me a deeper appreciation for the sight that lay before my eyes. 

This weekend was, of course, also a sad day... for those of us who have followed the book are now left with no more chapters to hear!   There is, of course, in the comments to the podcast episodes the call already that we want to hear more... which I'm sure I'm sure is both gratifying and a wee bit intimidating to Terry!  (He does, after all, have a PR business to run, family time, Inside PR podcasts to record and all those ice/ball hockey games he has to play!)

I'm looking forward to seeing the book in print... and also to continuing to watch Terry go through the self-publishing process on his blog (where he will also post other announcements).  It's intriguing to see the options now available to authors... and I thank Terry for keeping us all in the loop.

If you haven't checked it out, do give it a listen, even if you aren't that into politics... I think you'll find it enjoyable.  (I would, though, suggest going back and listening starting at chapter #1! ;-)

Celebrating 7 years of blogging... missing the anniversary by a day... and the renewed Advogato site after a community goes through severe change...

Yesterday was a special day for me... it was seven years ago last night that I entered the world of blogging through the creation of my Advogato account on May 10, 2000.  I had meant to mark the occasion yesterday with a special post, but time just got away from me.  I find it rather humerous to re-read parts of that first entry:

In any event, since it's after 9pm and I'm still here in the Linuxcare office in SF, I decided to join this experiment... let's see if I actually keep up with it.

Well, yes, I did "actually keep up with it" a wee bit.  Actually, for pretty much four years... until the 5+ week server outage starting in May 2004 had me move over to LiveJournal, where I focused my writing until the beginning of this year when I broke my writing out across several blogs (including my LJ account).

Also amusing that I mention Cluetrain and also my first visit ever to Ottawa the previous week.  Little did I know that Ottawa would very soon play a much larger role in my life!  Yet so many other pieces of that entry far removed from my life today. And then this line:

Okay... my first diary entry... and a long one... typical... no one has ever praised me for my brevity!

Well, some thing don't change!

It's definitely been a long, strange trip... filled with lots of fascinating people and interesting changes...

Speaking of changes, I was pleased to see that Advogato successfully went through a change in management from Raph Levien to Steven Rainwater last fall.  Here's an interesting series of articles showing a community going through change:

Reading through the comments is certainly an interesting way to see the passion of the community that began there and obviously still continues today.  I'm thrilled it continues, as it continues to provide interesting articles, as well as a home for many who still write there.  Steven is now actively improving the site (as shown in the status blog) and after remembering my password and logging in, I can see he's offered users some interesting new features.

One of those is the ability to syndicate other blog feeds there... and so perhaps what I will do is create a feed of the items in my various blogs tagged "opensource" and have that syndicated over there.  We'll see. 

If you've never visited Advogato, do check it out.  It's obviously focused on the community of free software and open source developers, but along the way some of the "trust metric" work was quite intriguing. (And here, here and here are some fascinating posts about blog spam and how the site and community fought it off.)

P.S. Raph... should you stumble across this post, many thanks to you for hosting Advogato for so long and giving us all a first place to start blogging.  And thanks to you, too, Steven, for picking up the torch and carrying it on.

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Of cowboy boots, Twitter, Facebook and the changing ways we communicate (a.k.a. how social networking sites helped me buy some new boots...)

As readers of my Twitter feed know, today I had a problem.  I had just crossed through Canadian Customs and was now inside Canada when I noticed that my Blackberry battery was almost dead.  Having told my wife that I would call as I usually did when I got to Ottawa, I figured I would give her a call now while I still had battery power.  I did, but our conversation took an immediate turn:

"Did you get my message?"
"No, what message?"
"I called your cell phone and left you a voicemail message. You left your boots and jacket here!"

Uh-oh.   Though I had been in Verizon coverage area while driving through rural upstate New York, I never received either her call nor her voicemail message.  (Ironically, I did not actually receive the voicemail notification until I reached Ottawa!) 

Now people who know me know that for "dress shoes" I pretty much always wear western/cowboy boots.  With suits.  With slacks.  With khakis. Whatever.  I have for now well over 10 years.  I don't recall why I started, except that perhaps it was because we lived by a really great boot store in Hooksett, NH.  Over the years it just became part of my dress code.... and to a degree I guess you would say part of my "personal brand".  After meeting someone again they would say "Oh, yeah, you're the guy with the boots!"  or "Oh, yeah, you're the guy with the beard and the boots!"  Hear that enough and you realize that it's something memorable/remarkable that sticks in people's minds....  here is this guy from New Hampshire or later Ottawa wearing cowboy boots.  It seemed to make an impression (good or bad might be open to discussion :-) and in a sales-oriented world where relationships - and being remembered - matter, it just became part and parcel of my dress code.

So here I was already in Canada with no boots and wearing some black slip-on L.L. Bean mocassin-type shoes... not exactly what I want to wear while doing presentations tomorrow.   Had I called before crossing the border, I could have gone back into the Akwesesne reservation where there's a store that I seem to recall selling boots.  But the thought of going back over the bridge, through US Customs, to the store, then back across the bridge and through Canadian Customs again just didn't seem appealing, so I figured I'd just find a place in Ottawa.

But where to buy boots in Ottawa?  I had never had to buy any in Ottawa and couldn't think right then of anyone to call who might know about boots (I did much later).  I realized that if I waited to get to Mitel's office in the westernmost "Kanata" section of Ottawa to ask around, I would have had to go all the way through the city first and then probably backtrack.

So I posted a message to Twitter asking if anyone had a moment and could search on "cowboy boots, ottawa, ontario" and email me some names and numbers of stores. (Now, I could have asked people to send me a "direct" message via Twitter, but I wasn't sure I had configured Twitter to send direct messages via SMS, so I fell back to the lowest common denominator of email.)  When I checked about 15 minutes later, there were no messages and so I used the mobile interface to Facebook to change my status message there to say I was urgently looking for a store in Ottawa that sold cowboy boots.

Another 20 minutes (at another rest area) I had an email message from Sebastian Kiel in Germany who told me it wasn't all that easy but here were some links.  I took a look and, though I couldn't remotely think of "The Bay" selling western boots, I figured "Hey, this is Canada after all!" and gave a call.  The guy in the shoe department  there was very helpful and while they did not carry boots, he told me that I could get them at Apple Saddlery (Duh... a *tack* shop!) off of Innes Road and gave me some directions.

At this point I was nearing Ottawa and got off on Innes Road.  I realized I was unclear on which direction I needed to go, so I pulled into a parking lot and figured I'd use Google Maps to find the exact location.  However, Alec Saunders had already sent me a Facebook reply also telling me about Apple Saddlery and giving me the exact address.  I looked up to my left, saw a street number, looked to my right... and saw the store down across the street!  At this point, Michael Bellina in New Jersey and Greg Demetrick back in Burlington, VT, had both also emailed me responses, followed a few minutes later by Brad Grier out in Alberta, Canada.  (And at which point I also updated Twitter and Facebook to say "thank you" and that I was all set.)  Interestingly, there was very little overlap between the sets of stores sent my way... it turns out that "cowboy boots" was not a useful search term and so people tried something else.  ("western boots", or, in retrospect, "riding boots" might have worked much better).

In the end, I wound up with a great pair of boots (pictured above (click for a larger picture), by Boulet, and amazingly manufactured in Canada versus China, where most shoes seem to be made these days).  I tend to prefer a entirely black boot so that when your suit pant legs rise up slightly when walking or sitting the design doesn't jump out at people, but the all-black boots they had in my size didn't quite fit, so I wound up with this nice pair.

But think for a bit how all that communication occurred.  I didn't call anyone (initially).  I didn't email anyone.  I didn't even IM anyone.  Instead I posted to two "social networking" sites and people who could see my status updates contacted me.  Now I've met both Alec and (my physical neighbor) Greg.  I know Sebastian through FIR and podcasting. Michael I've just started to know through CAPOW.  Brad I have never met.  But they all responded to the call for help and took a moment to do reply back to me (and do searches).  MANY thanks to them all!

The communication did NOT occur through "traditional" methods... instead it occurred within walled gardens, but yet with email assisting (in getting info to me and letting me know of the Facebook posting).  It involved a global "community" of people who were staying up on what each other were doing....  and it had a successful conclusion.

Fascinating.  (says a very grateful boot-wearing man)

P.S. How was I doing all this if my Blackberry was dead?  Well, I was charging the Blackberry by connecting it via a USB cable to my laptop, which I then left running.

Geek Dinner in Ottawa this Thursday, May 10, 2007... details to follow

About a month ago, I dropped Terry Fallis (of Inside PR and The Best Laid Plans) a note to say that I would be in Ottawa this week and wondered if he would be able to get together with perhaps a few folks for a dinner just to chat on social media-related issues (or anything else).  I knew Terry was normally in Toronto but made frequent trips to Ottawa, so I thought I'd ask if he happened to be in town.  I've enjoyed meeting Terry in the past and it's certainly nice when you're away for a bit to get out of your hotel room and meet up with people.

Terry isn't in town, but he connected me to some others and now Bob LeDraw (of FlackLife) is organizing the event. It will be Thursday, May 10th, at 7pm, probably somewhere on the western side of the city.  If you are in the Ottawa area and want to have dinner with a bunch of folks connected to social media/PR/etc., check out Bob's post or contact him.

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Update on LinkedIn and email address requirement - you *can* return to requiring people now your address

Just discovered a bit more info about the change I wrote about last week at LinkedIn where e-mail addresses are no longer required for invitations.  In receiving yet another contact request today in email, I noticed this at the bottom of the message:

Following the link brought me to this page (click for larger image):

which shows the change.  The default is now "Notify me of all invitations" where as the previous behavior is better described by the second option "Only notify me of invitations from people who know my email address or appear in my 'Other Contacts' list".    It would appear to me that LinkedIn has rolled out this change and in doing so changed everyone's default to receive all invitations.  Which, realistically, is what I would expect them to do, given that they want to enable people to make more connections.  Loosen it up for everyone... and then let those of us who care go back in and restrict the setting.

Needless to say, I've changed my setting so that people need to know my address (which, gee, is not very hard to find (see the sidebar)).  As I just wrote in reply to Jeff Pulver's "The 'Obligations' of Social Networking", I only accept LinkedIn connection requests from people I know (and I figure that if they really want to connect, they either already know or can find my email address).

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May 7th in Burlington, VT - "Green Mountain Media" - a panel discussion on trends in today's online and print media

If any of you reading this are in the Vermont area, next Monday (May 7th) here in Burlington, the Publicity Club of New England is hosting : "Green Mountain Media: Panel Discussion and Networking Event" featuring six writers and editors talking about trends in today's media.  The panelists are:

  • Mike Townsend, editor, Burlington Free Press
  • Shay Totten, editor, Vermont Guardian
  • Joe Healy, editor, Vermont Magazine
  • Peter Oliver, editor, Ski Vermont Magazine
  • Peggy Shinn, ski and travel freelance writer
  • Sarah Tuff, freelance writer for National Geographic Adventure, Men's Journal, New York Times

Sounds like it should be a great event and if you are interested, you can still register.  Sadly, I'm otherwise committed that night, but I look forward to future events in our area.

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Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the Return of the Walled Gardens of E-Mail

"Email? I only use that when I have to contact old people!"
      - frequent quote these days from teenagers

When I started using "the Net" back in mid-1980s, the world of "e-mail" was an incredibly fractured place.  There were the big services of CompuServe, GEnie, The Source, The Well... there were the thousands of small BBS's... there were "corporate services" like MCI Mail and IBM PROFS... and there were all sorts of others services in the middle (my particular focus in those days was EcoNet, given my involvement then in environmental activism).  They all shared one thing in common:

They were all walled gardens.

Users on the system could only e-mail other users on the same system.  CompuServe users with their (then) numeric accounts could only talk to other CS users.  GEnie users to GEnie users, MCI Mail to MCI Mail... and so on.

But a funny thing happened along the garden path... the walls started to slowly break down.  UUCP started interconnecting UNIX systems.  FidoNet started linking together BBS systems.  X.400 came out and had corporate interest.  And then along came SMTP, which ultimately became the "one email protocol to rule them all" (paralleling the emergence of TCP/IP and the "Internet" as the dominant network in the midst of all the network walled gardens). 

While the fight against the interconnection continued for quite a long time, especially with some of the largest services continuing to try to go it alone, eventually all the services succumbed to the inevitable and provided SMTP gateways that allowed their members to send messages to everyone else. 

All was good - and everyone could send messages to everyone else.

However... a curious thing seems to be happening more and more on this thing we call the Internet.  Increasingly, our messages are NOT moving over what is traditionally known as "email" but instead are migrating to other services.

You could argue that this started some time ago with the walled gardens of instant messaging.  Users of AIM, Yahoo!Messenger, MSN/WLM, Jabber, Skype, IRC, etc. all can have really nice conversations with each other... but no one else.   As IM has continued to grow in usage and replace "traditional" email (which we could argue about why but I personally think it has a lot to do with "presence", but let's save that for another post another day), we've moved to a different messaging paradigm where we write shorter, quicker messages.  And we've also become quite comfortable with our IM walled gardens.  It's routine for people to run several different IM clients (or use something like GAIM that works with multiple services).  Looking down at my task bar, I count 4 IM clients, and I know there are 3 more on my laptop that I could be running.  Now, the walls of IM are slowly breaking down... there's "federation" now between MSN/WLM and Yahoo.  GoogleTalk can work with Jabber.  Other interconnection services are appearing.

But looking beyond IM, so many conversations now are moving to "social networking services".  The quote I started this article with did not come from any particular place, but it's the kind of thing that I've seen repeated again and again in any interview with teenagers (or even those in their 20s).  The service we know as "email" is today just a "communication mode of last resort" or "least common denominator" to communicate with those too old or clueless. All meaningful communication occurs within the worlds of MySpace, Facebook or any one of a zillion other websites that seem to be popping up on a daily basis. 

And all those sites are chasing each other.  Facebook started out as something of a "college/university version of MySpace"... now it's added "professional" settings like LinkedIn.  LinkedIn has gone the other way in adding "college" features to attract the college/university crowd.   Orkut started out as more of a dating site and then added other fields and settings. MySpace continues adding new features.  Not a day goes by when there isn't some notice about a new service that has been launched.

Even Twitter, which I personally use more as a micro-blogging platform, is used as a messaging platform by many.  And the "status" format of Twitter can be found in Facebook as well as newer services like Jaiku.

What do they all have in common?  Simple:

They are all walled gardens.

Each one is a messaging world unto itself.  Facebook users can only see messages from other Facebook users - and only generally when logged into the site.  Ditto LinkedIn.... Xing... MySpace... and others.  Twitter allows the public viewing of messages, but you can also change it to give only updates to friends.  (To "reply" in Twitter, of course, one would need to be a member... and also be "followed" by the person you are replying to.)  Sites like YouTube and Frappr blur the lines by providing messaging as well.

The result, of course, is that like running multiple IM clients, we all have multiple social networking accounts.

How many do you have?

For me, I can remember at least:  LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, Twitter, ecademy...  There's probably a dozen others where I signed up to try it out and then forgot about it.  In each one, I can send and receive messages to and from the other members.  I can post updates and see messages from my "friends".

Interestingly, most all of these sites fall back on that "least common denominator" of good old e-mail to let me know that I have messages waiting for me.  I have to go back to those sites, of course, to read the messages.  Yes, some sites do updates via SMS and some let you subscribe via RSS, but generally you have to go back into the site.

The other intriguing difference is that within those sites, you can generally only see messages from the people you choose to see.  Within Facebook or Twitter, you only see updates from people who you have added as a friend.  Your friends or contacts can send you messages in many services, but others can't until they are your friend.

We've gone from the closed communities of email services to the complete openness of Internet e-mail and now seem to be returning back to those gated communities, with email/SMS helping keep us aware of updates.  Given the amount of spam plaguing email, this may in part a reaction and a desire for purer message flow.

So how do you communicate with others within this space?   Or stay up on what someone is doing?

It's not enough even to follow someone's blog anymore, because they may be posting more updates to their Twitter, Facebook or other account.

Given that email may not be the best way, how do you best reach someone?  Which IM service?  Which social networking site?  Which ones do they use?  Which ones do they monitor the most?

In which walled garden do they spend most of their time?