Using Feed-Based Social Media

Social media fundamentally transformed the web by making everyone a content producer. But this move from web 1.0 to 2.0 also exploded the number of websites that people wanted to monitor. Now we want to see what is going on with our hundreds of Facebook friends, and visiting each person's Facebook page is laborious.

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Social media fundamentally transformed the web by making everyone a content producer. But this move from web 1.0 to 2.0 also exploded the number of websites that people wanted to monitor. Now we want to see what is going on with our hundreds of Facebook friends, and visiting each person's Facebook page is laborious.

Thus, Facebook implemented a timeline-based system that feeds the user updates from people they were following. This move to what we might call web 2.1 initiated a general shift to feed-based social media. We have too many places and people we are monitoring to check each one in sequence. Now, instead of searching for social media content, that content comes to us in an information flow that we can monitor from one or two applications.

This move to feed-based social media also makes social media more immediate, closer to a live conversation. In fact, it is starting to replace live conversations for young people. Teenagers seldom call one another. Instead they communicate in real time via text—hence the joke about groups of teenagers sitting around a table texting one another instead of talking.

It is important that any faculty member using social media understand the shift to a feed-based world. When I started having students use blogs and VoiceThread many years ago, I could expect them to check each other's sites on a regular basis for updates. But now I need the social media updates to come to the information flow that students have set up if I want them to notice those updates.

Send-side social media feeds

There are two ways for faculty to implement feed-based social media in their teaching. One is to use social media that is already designed around feeds. For instance, traditional blogs are designed to host somewhat lengthy content that is preserved—like a personal webpage—and so are designed to be visited. Traditional blogs gave way to microblogging platforms designed to push content out for others' feedback, with Twitter being the most prominent. Of course, there is a character limit with Twitter, but it can hold links, images, and videos, and so can be used for a variety of purposes.

Texting is, of course, the paradigmatic form of synchronous social-media communication today. While texts are sent to specific individuals, like emails, rather than posted to be picked up by followers, like Tweets, there is a way to use them in classes via group texting apps. Group Text!, available on iTunes or the App Store, allows users to set up contact groups to send texts to a large audience. Students could set up a group with classmates' numbers to create an instant messaging feed of all messages intended for the class. 

It might be tempting to use Facebook, as it has switched to a feed-based format. But while I am sure that some faculty have had success with this, it has become somewhat passé among the younger crowd and is now called “your mother's social media site.” While I originally set up my son's Facebook page to keep an eye on him, today's teenagers use Facebook more to throw their parents off the scent. Plus, students do not like to mix course content with personal content on their Facebook feeds. You could set up a class-specific Facebook group to have your students join and then post to, but this would likely start feeling like a Learning Management System discussion forum, not a genuine social media feed.

Receive-side social media aggregators

But what if you want students to use systems such as blogs and VoiceThread in your courses? A second option is to have students use traditional social media for their postings but then receive those postings via a social-media aggregator that compiles updates from the sites that you choose into a personalized feed. Feedly (www.feedly.com) is my favorite social-media aggregator because of its simplicity. You just get a free account and then copy the URL of the webpages that you want to follow into your list to get updates from those pages instantly. There is also a browser add-on that allows you to click a single button to add any webpage you visit to your list. You can view your feed either through the website or via a cell phone app. To use it in your class, have students set up accounts and then add either other's social media sites to their own feed. See my tutorial on how to use it at https://youtu.be/aBwvVUNmpzo.

IfThisThenThat (https://ifttt.com) is another way to aggregate content. It takes content coming in via one form and then sends it out in another. That is, you set up a “recipe,” which is basically just an instruction, and then it might take all the Tweets that you subscribe to and send them to you as an email or text message. You can then choose a single system, like email or texting, as your method of aggregating content sent out through a variety of other systems. Again, have students set up a free account on the website and then provide it with instructions to aggregate the class-related content into a single feed in the format of their choice.