Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
By Mike Gould
Ah, social media (SM), king of the buzzwords. Facebook, LinkedIn, wikis, blogs, all that good stuff we are bathed in while living here in the technical vastness of the future. All courtesy of the Internet and the World Wide Web. And the web is truly world-wide, as I am finding out, and that is our theme today.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Now, me, I'm not that social. I'm a curmudgeon toiling away in a basement with a wife, a cat, and a wireless mouse for company. I have a Facebook page, but I rarely post anything there, and regularly un-friend or ignore people just because I'm too busy with other things that interest me more. I get a few responses from my LinkedIn page, but like most things in life, you only get out of it what you put into it, and I don't do much insertion or exertion, SM-wise.
This is not a good business model, so don't do this. I'm sure my various businesses would fare better and my iPhone would be ringing off the hook (if it had a hook) if I spent more time being social online. I get enough biz the old-fashioned way (with my website) that I haven't roused myself to be social online. This works for me, probably won't work for you, so don't. Be social. It helps most businesses.
Anyway, one aspect of SM that I just love is forums. (Well, fora to be pedantically correct, but no one seems to appreciate Latin any more so forums it is. Er, are.) And I like certain blogs like BoingBoing.net and Slashdot.com. But I find forums to be extremely helpful in a variety of ways.
Speaking of Latin, the original forum, was, of course, found in Rome where public speechification and such occurred. Wikipedia (another manifestation of SM) says:
Citizens of the ancient city referred to this marketplace as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum. It was for centuries the center of Roman public life: the site of triumphal processions and elections, venue for public speeches and gladiatorial matches, and nucleus of commercial affairs.
Sounds sorta like the web, doesn't it? Especially that stuff about commercial affairs. Remember that Rome in its heyday was the center of the western world, the server room of destiny, where all roads led.
Nowadays, we have a bunch of empires out there, and we have the web as a global marketplace where we can meet up, sound off, and sell each other fish and stuff. Now your modern-day forum is a place where members can ask questions, receive answers, and opine away on the issues of the day. Or, in the focused forums I frequent, share knowledge about specific subjects and issues.
Being a professional geek, I hit up the various Macintosh computer sites, MacInTouch, ArsTechnica, etc., all of which feature forums in addition to news and commentary. So you hit a site, learn what's new, then head to the site's forum for discussion, questions, arguments, and flaming.
Well, not so much flaming these days, depending on where you are. Flaming is picking a fight with someone in a public way, sorta like shouting down a speaker in a toga who is advocating destroying Carthage something. People have mostly learned to behave better these days (at least on the forums I visit, YMMV), but when the 'Net was young, a lot of intemperate behaviors were seen online.
I use the Mac forums to research problems my clients are having. Brand new computer problems are somewhat rare, so if you have an issue with a bit of gear or software, chances are someone else has had the same problem and asked for, and received, help. So if you search on "mac wake from sleep problem", for instance, you will find a lot of discussion about causes and cures. Now I'm an expert on this sort of thing, but I definitely don't know all there is to know and rely on forums for help when I get stuck.
(Oh, wait. This won't work for you. If you have a problem with your Mac, you should hire me immediately. Don't waste your time on the Web. You might have a virus or something...)
Seeing the Light
But what really gets me going these days is Photonlexicon. I am a laser geek. I build lightshow devices in my basement shop and display them at science fiction conventions and Maker Faires. And there seem to be a lot of people in the world who do that very thing in their basements and garages, and we all hang out together online at Photonlexicon (PL).
We all speak (well, write) in English, with various degrees of fluency. And differing amounts of skill with spelling, to be sure. The Americans seem to be the worst for this. But jeez, there are guys (members are mostly males, a couple of women) here from Athens, Rio, Belgium, and all over the US. There are a bunch of Aussies, Kiwis, Scots, Brits, Irish, and a big contingent from the Netherlands. And we all swap advice about lasers, galvos, and dichroic filters. Heaven on Earth.
I stumbled into this a couple of years ago, and it is fair to say I learned about 90% about what I know about laser lightshows from this lot. They post pictures of their latest builds, exchange arcana about 445nm laser diodes pulled from video projectors (which I wrote about in Blue Lasers from Hell, URL below), and generally chew the photonic phat.
Lovely lads, one and all. Great senses of humor, vast amounts of technical knowledge, and a good sense of one-for-all community. Sure, we get our share of flame wars, but we have an administrator who keeps a lid on things.
My point is, no matter what your area of interest, chances are that there are a number of others out there, world-wide, who share that interest and would be delighted to help you out. Community is just a Google-search away.
Mike Gould was a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds lasers into lunchboxen, performs with the Illuminatus Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.