Designing Your Future: Networking without the Ick

May 19 , 2009

Once upon a time…

Leslie Jensen-Inman and I were having a discussion about my visit to Chattanooga. I told her how I had spoken at my own college, UF in Gainesville, FL in past visits to advise graduating seniors on how to go about finding opportunities. Basically things that your design class doesn’t teach you. Everyone right now is trying to find a way to keep their job, look for a job or find new ways to make their situation better. Leslie suggested that I give two presentations during my visit.

We came up with two sub-topics: “Creating Your Future: Networking without the Ick” and “Creating Your Future: Creating Opportunity.” All this started out as a talk about design but its hard to separate form and function when you are discussing our passions intermingling. The first presentation was given at GreenSpaces. The second one was at CreateHere.

I’ve posted both of the slides up on slideshare but for now I’m going to write about the first presentation, “Networking without the Ick”

Lots of Conferences

(Slide 3)
I started out going to conferences because I was looking for inspiration for my career. I had been at AOL for about 7 years at that point. I wanted to leave the cocoon and find some new inspiration. My friend Elsa asked me to accompany her to SXSWi that year. What was my goal? It was to meet people and find inspiration.

Social Networking

(Slide 4-8)

  • What is your goal for networking? Think about what you want out of networking on-line or offline. Is it friends that live in your area or a specific hobby? Is it advice? Is it a job?
  • Creating Your Brand: Each of us is a brand whether we realize it or not and with each website we visit we create another instance of our brand.
  • Finding a Network: What websites are out there for us to use for our own interests? Do we start one of our own or find existing ones?
  • Privacy: Do you want privacy? Do you care? Which websites are watching out for your interests?
  • Inside vs Outside Conversations: The context of our conversations is important. Do you know who is watching you?

Vanity Check!

(Slide 9-11)
When was the last time you “Googled” yourself? We all do it. You should be doing that. You need to check your name and see what is coming up. Your friends are checking you out. Your future significant other, even the person interviewing you next week has “Googled” you.

Example: Leslie Jensen-Inman
I used Leslie Jensen-Inman as an example because I knew she was going to be there. Searching her on Google revealed that she was a professor, has written for A List Apart and is part of the Web Standards Project. Her name is really specific but what happens when we start looking for another name that is more common?

Example: Nicole Sullivan
What happens when your name is a bit more common? I used Nicole Sullivan as the next example. According to the search results she was an actress or a geek. Which one is which? So you start looking further into the search results and you realize you’re looking for Nicole Sullivan who is also known as “Stubbornella.”

The advice from this is if your not making a name for yourself, someone else is so, you need to do it. If this is part of your professional career then it is even more important that you have an online presence. When you use your handle (your name) for a website, choose your real name or find a consistent handle to use so people can associate it with you. Facebook is an example of a social networking site that forces you to use your real name. Sure there are people that will find ways around it because of privacy issues but for the majority we are looking for our friends and colleagues and we can’t remember “Simba1234” as you. So make it easier on us, don’t make us work to find you.

Creating Your Brand

(Slide 13-22)

Your Avatar:
Be consistent: pick one and stick with it. I am a visual person I remember your avatar when I’m scanning through the list on sites like Twitter. Now if you go around and switch your avatar every other week I can’t find you. Maybe you like it that way but just in case you don’t, stick with one.

Use a photo: If you have a web cam, a camera phone, or a digital camera you can take a picture of yourself. We’ve become such a shutterbug society, there’s hardly an excuse for it at this point. Now why am I saying this when I’m so in love with illustrations? For social networking sites its better to use your photos (unless you are trying to mask yourself because your ashamed of being part of the One Tree Hill fan club; which I totally understand). Use a photo because it helps us remember your beautiful smiling/quirky face. Take a look at slide 22, which one has more meaning for you? The photos or the illustrations?

Masking Effect:
There’s a wonderful book called, “Understanding Comics” by Scott Mcloud
that my friend, Craig Cook introduced me to. The book introduces the idea of the “masking effect,” which is that the illustration of a person makes them appeal to a greater audience because the recipient of the image can place their own relationships and emotions on the illustration. If we introduce a specific photo of a person there is no question that it is that person (unless you find your doppelgänger. ;) So if you are trying to connect with other people it is better to use your avatar to represent you.

There are plenty of sites out there if you do want to hide your identity or “mask” yourself.

(Slide 21)
Take a look at the community. Which person can you spot in the room while looking at the avatar? Which one would be anonymous? I’ve met people and then I’ve met people because they introduced me. We’ve been making friends and enemies since we were in grade school so we know our social networks are really powerful. The difference now is that we’re using on-line networks to maintain and explore new relationships. So we learned how to interact on-line, the question is can we do it offline again? Each of my relationships on-line have been made stronger because I had the opportunity to meet those people in offline aka the real world. We’re all running around being super busy and we’re not able to keep track of people like we would like to. Finding social network sites like Facebook, Ning, or Yahoo! Groups allows us the opportunity to stay on top of our interests and relationships.

Finding a Network

(Slide 23-25)
We’re all wanting to connect with people. We’re human. We want to find people who inspire us or can relate to us in some fashion. Don’t deny it, we just do.

Ways to Network
Attend an event and talk to the people in the group. It was much simpler when we were kids. We’d just walk up to another kid and say, “Hey wanna be my friend?” You would usually say, “Yes.” ;) In the Washington, DC area, Jason Garber started Refresh DC. I helped him by speaking at it early on and I talked about it all the time. I talked about it while I was at AOL, on the plane, and whenever I was out. If i figured out you were in the web arena I’d invite you to Refresh and sometimes if you weren’t. (Cue “guy who thought I was single and tried to find me via Refresh” story ;) ). Find events using upcoming, some that are hobby based, professional, or even just something random. You can create events that aren’t yours, like promoting a local fair in your town. You can also create private events for events at your house. It’s pretty versatile.

LinkedIn: Find groups that interest you based on your profession. Find events that are being hosted. Join professional groups that don’t have association fees just to speak to the members.

Meetup: Another website that is based on interests. Groups schedule in-person meetups. Get it? :P

BarCamp: was started in SF and has grown into worldwide events. Anyone can start one but you will need others to help promote and organize it. People come to a designated space and camp out to speak about whatever tickles their fancy. People post topics and other people come and listen. Sometimes its rather geeky and other times its just fun. People sharing their knowledge; its a great thing.

Create your own

(Slide 26-27)
Now what if you want to create your own social network for your local book club. Some of those sites I’ve listed will allow you to do this, Ning for instance will let you create a group. It’s also good practice to check that there isn’t a local group already set up.

Inside vs. Outside Conversations

I’ve written a blog post about “Inside vs. Outside Conversations” already which explains what I’m about to say in more detail. But for those that haven’t read that…

I love Twitter but between that and Facebook we can cause a lot of trouble for ourselves, or we can watch train wrecks via our networks from the comfortable seat in front of our computer. The days where we accidentally hit reply all to a message that was meant for a specific friend is now happening on those sites. People again are reading things meant for just one person. Things are getting taken out of context and we’re all watching. Things you write on sites like Twitter can be found using a search query. Think about it. Do you really want it to be indexed? Remeber what happens on-line goes on Google. ;)

(Slide 30-32)
Brightkite is a location based social network. You log into the website and put in your address via the web form or use your iPhone to pin point where you are. You can post pictures with your location. You can select the level of privacy for the photo or text message. They are doing it right. They are allowing you to choose what level of privacy you want. Location is a tricky situation. Some of the people I know don’t want to be found, they have been stalked before so they are really nervous about giving their whereabouts. Giving them control over who sees the data is empowering. It is the correct usage of the technology.

Fire Eagle
(Slide 33-35)
Fire eagle was created by Yahoo! It allows you to pin point where you are. It also connects to other location based networks to tell them where you are. The great thing about Fire Eagle is that it lets you set a reminder telling you what your privacy currently is. Our needs change and sometimes we just forget what websites we use. The problem with location is that leaving it exposed makes us vulernable, so sending a reminder is really great feature. They even have a sense of humor about it, “You’ve said you’re okay sharing your location until: The end of time. We’ll contact you a couple of days before this date…”

(Slide 36-37)
Facebook’s privacy controls are a bit more complicated like relationships.The privacy controls take a bit of exploring to work out. The easiest feature is to add someone to the block list, but even then you need to know their name and have the right instance of their name.

(Slide 38-39)
If you want to choose who gets to see your personal information on Facebook you need to decide if it is to be: “your friends”, “friends of friends”, “networks”, or those you designated as “limited profile.” There are a lot of sub privacy drop downs that will take you some time to figure out. There’s even a privacy setting for your contact information. You can choose who exactly gets your IM, mobile phone number, address, website and your email. With all these options the simplest rule is: if you don’t want people finding out about what you are up to don’t publish it.

Our relationships are complicated and the social networking sites are learning and growing every day. Think about what context you want to be seen-IF you want to be seen. Think about how your relationships offline are improved because of on-line interactions.

That’s the beauty of networking and I hope I’ve guided you through networking without the ick and the benefits of it. :D

Thank you!

I want to thank Medium (formerly Coptix) for sponsoring the lunch at Easy Bistro. It was fabulous and a great way to meet the students before I did a portfolio reivew with them.

The Design Students

I spent the day reviewing their portfolios and helping them with presentations for their future interviews. I had a great time with the students and giving them advice from my experiences. (I wrote a blog post on how to interview for a job in 2006)

The students from UTC were kind enough to write blog posts about my talk and I’m going to list them here for some link love back. :) Hopefully I haven’t left anyone off if I did contact me and I’ll add it in.


Constantly, trying to learn new things, and on the way I get to meet some amazing people with my camera by my side. XOXO!

on Flickr