News Column

Social Media: The Good, Bad and Bottom Line

June 12, 2013

In the age of the Internet, new social media sites seem to pop up by the day, giving people more options to share and communicate via computers or smartphones.

Facebook has been atop the social media world. It was created by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004 as a way for people to connect at his alma mater, Harvard University. Now it is open to anyone 13 or older, and users post updates on their "walls" for their network of friends to see.

Facebook has also become a popular way for businesses and musicians to communicate with their customers and fans. Surveys show that many users also get their news from their Facebook feeds. The company grew so large that it went public a year ago, leading to more ads appearing on the site. Users also play games on Facebook.

Twitter, another widely used social media website, was created in March 2006 by Jack Dorsey.

The site allows users to follow friends, celebrities and news sites to create a personal feed of updates. Twitter allows only 140 characters per post, including links. Hashtags (#) can help you group topics.

So what else should you check out? Here are a few other big ones to feed your inner social beast.


Instagram was founded in October 2010 by Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom. It allows users to follow friends and share pictures that can be creatively altered with Instagram filters.

The good: The filters; "liking" and posting comments on pictures (no character limit); and you keep your page private. You can even "tag" your friends to a picture with their usernames. You can connect your Instagram account to Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr (Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion a year ago). You can take photos with the Instagram app or use photos from your phone's library. You can also upload photos at its website,

The bad: The Instagram app only allows you to take square-shaped pictures instead of the normal 16:9 aspect ratio, so it can sometimes be a struggle to show scenery in a landscape frame. It also doesn't allow private messaging or solid communication with your friends. Conversations are limited to back-and-forths on a picture, where you have to tag them in order for them to see what you wrote.

Bottom line: Great if you like to get a little creative with photos. If you like taking scenic pictures though, you might want to stick to a real camera.


Vine was founded by Dom Hofmann and Rus Yusupov in June 2012, and then was purchased by Twitter four months later. It debuted in January and lets users create video clips up to six seconds long using an app. Think of it as an Instagram for videos.

The good: Vine also lets you get creative with your videos, letting you stitch different clips together. You can share your videos via Twitter and Facebook. Much like Twitter, you can follow anyone else with a Vine account.

The bad: Generally the same as Instagram; there is no private messaging, and six seconds is all you get.

Bottom line: Vine is a cool way to show what you're actually doing. And the stitching function makes for some creative video collaging.


If you put all of the previous sites and apps together, you would get Tumblr. It was launched in 2007 by CEO David Karp and developer Marco Arment, who were both interested in short-form blogging, or tumblelogs.

The "We are the 99%" Tumblr went viral and became the slogan for Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and Tumblr was also the first blogging platform to host President Barack Obama's blog. On May 20, Tumblr was purchased by Google for $1.1 billion.

The good: Tumblr's homepage shows a "dashboard," which is a live feed of recent posts by Tumblr users (you need to create an account to log in). It allows you to comment, "like" and reblog anything you see. A user can post his own blog, pictures, videos, audio and even quotes to their blog by a click of a button above the feed. Tumblr allows you to connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts, so you can post the same thing to all three accounts.

The bad: It's easy for users to pass off copyrighted material -- photos and text -- as their own, and Tumblr doesn't seem to regulate this. It also doesn't filter out adult content, and a large portion of the traffic is this. Tumblr has also been subject to spam and security problems, such as a chain letter scam that was sent out to more than 130,000 users in May 2011.

Bottom line: If you like to have every kind of blogging tool readily available in one spot, then you'll love Tumblr. Tumblr is also great if you don't really want a full-scale blog, but still like to share certain things.


Founded in June 2005 by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, Reddit is a social news and entertainment site where users post things in the form of a link or as text: It essentially acts as an online bulletin board. These bulletins are called "subreddits" and cover every category you can think of. The commenting and friend system make it a form of a social network, though not to the extent of Facebook. You can also sort by what subreddits are "hot," "new" or "controversial." You don't need a Reddit account to view posts.

The good: Some Redditors like to use the site as a personal bookmark collection. It can also be used as a news aggregator because of the size and activity on Reddit, and the crowd-sourced ratings of links (you can vote up or down for a post).

One of the most popular subreddits is "IAmA" (I am a) where users post "AMAs" (Ask Me Anything), for others to ask questions on any topic. AMAs are open to all Reddit users, and use the site's comment system for both questions and answers. Some celebrities have even done AMAs, such as President Obama, Bill Gates and Stephen Colbert. Redditors are also known to call actual face-to-face gatherings.

The bad: Free speech runs rampant on Reddit, and there are few rules about the content that may be posted, such as posts on racism, pornography and hate speech. Reddit faced criticism after users wrongly identified a number of people as suspects in the April Boston Marathon bombings -- but someone also posted a photo that showed suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leaving the scene.

Bottom line: Reddit is a great place to meet people and have conversations about anything. And it's even cooler when you can get a question answered in an AMA.


A highly visual website, Pinterest was launched by Ben Silbermann, Paul Sciarra and Evan Sharp in 2010. Users create their own themed boards (like food, art, or pop culture) and fill them with related "pins" that are links to the original content. Users can follow other users and browse other pinboards for ideas. It's also become a way for businesses to sell products. The site is managed by Cold Brew Labs and funded by a small group of entrepreneurs and investors.

The good: Pinterest gives users the chance to show off what kind of things that interest them visually (all pins have images). You can create boards solely dedicated to recipes, musical bands or even brands that you like. You can "like," repin and comment on the pins, and also link to Pinterest through Facebook and Twitter.

The bad: Pinterest seems to be more retail-oriented, with many companies touting products to sell. All the food photos can also leave you with a huge appetite.

Bottom line: If you like to show people your styles and tastes, then pin away.


Sometimes written as Google Plus, Google+ is owned and operated by Google and is the second largest social networking site in the world. As of December 2012, it had a total of 500 million registered users (you need a gmail account to sign in). Google has described Google+ as a "social layer" that enhances many of its online properties.

The good: "Circles" lets users organize people into groups for sharing across various Google products and services. In the "Stream," which occupies the middle of three columns on the page, users can see updates from those in their Circles. There is an input box that allows users to enter a post, and icons to upload and share photos and videos. The Stream can be filtered to show only posts from specific Circles. People are starting to use Google+ for news sources too.

The bad: After Google+ was hyped up in late 2011, it became a ghost town. Despite the large number of registered users, it doesn't account for the users who are registered because of Google's other services, such as YouTube. The three columns are very distracting to the eye because they provide no clear line of focus. Joining the service also requires mandatory real-name and gender disclosure, which led to criticism for making older Google profiles public.

Bottom line: If you're a fan of Google, and you like to keep your Gmail and other services together, then try it out.

Did I miss anything? Thoughts? Let me know via Twitter @honestten with the hashtag #smintern

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Source: (c)2013 The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, Va.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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