After taking a break from social networking, I was interested to see a review of the Twitter app Wren in our sister site Mac.AppStorm.net. Wren’s a beautifully designed app for posting on Twitter … and nothing else. You can’t see your Twitter feed, DMs, @replies, or anything else. All you can do is post your thoughts to Twitter.
Sounds like a crazy idea perhaps, but truth be told, most of us are bombarded with too much information anyhow. It’s nice to share your thoughts online throughout the workday, and sometimes you come across something you feel you’ve got to share. Problem is, you’ll likely find yourself still browsing random links a half hour later instead of getting back to work.
Wren is a Mac-only app, and it’s only for Twitter. But turns out, most social networks have a way to post online without getting distracted by your feeds. Here’s how you can use Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and even Reddit and Hacker News in a distraction-free way.
Twitter seems like it shouldn’t provide as many distractions as other networks, since everything’s just plain text. Turns out, though, it’s so easy to read through a half-dozen tweets, you’ll find yourself reading more and more. By the time you’ve clicked through pictures, links, videos, and perhaps a trending topic or two, you’ve killed your day.
Twitter has its own Wren-like interface that you can access right from your browser. Instead of going to Twitter.com, open the Share page at:
This gives you a clean space to post a tweet, and nothing else. Since Twitter already shortens links automatically now, you won’t even need to go to bit.ly or another shortener first. Just write what’s on your mind, click Tweet, close the tab or window, and get on with your day. If you want to save a Tweet for later, just open a text editor or Simplenote, save what you want to say, and then come back and post it later. It’s distraction-free Twitter, for free!
Facebook may be the worst at distracting us. Nielsen recently found that social networks and blogs took up over 23% of American’s online time, and that Americans spent 53 million minutes on Facebook alone in May, 2011. That’s an incredible amount of time that many of us should have spent working, or, you know, talking face-to-face with real people (cut those of us with long-distance friendships some slack, ok?).
So, when you’d really like to tell the world what you had for lunch, but don’t want to chat with that old classmate you didn’t mean to friend in the first place, go to:
This opens a page where you can update your status, set your privacy level, and post it without distractions. Seconds later, you’ll be back doing what you need to do, instead of checking out pictures of your coworker’s new dog.
There’s a few other ways to use Facebook effectively without spending tons of time on it. First, tweak your email settings to work the way you want them to. I find it nice to get emails when comments are added to my posts, and I can reply and keep up with the conversation without ever opening Facebook. Then, if you want to chat with friends without keeping all of Facebook open, you can browse to:
Here, you’ll have a full-window chat interface, where you can keep up with multiple conversations at a time, without seeing everyone’s recent status updates and random pictures. It’s actually a good way to use Facebook chat on the iPad, too, directly from your browser.
Google+ feels like a perfect mix between Twitter and Facebook. It’s dominated by the early-adopter crowd right now, and to me, it feels like people share more like they would on Twitter. However, you can write as much as you want in a post, and see everyone’s comments underneath just like you can in Facebook.
Good thing is, you can post to Google+ from most Google apps right now, including Google.com. There isn’t a plain Post page, but just go to Google.com, click share at the top, and update your status without seeing anything else from Google+. Chances are, you needed to do a Google search anyhow, so that’s not too distracting.
Reddit, Hacker News, and other networks
There’s only one thing worse than Facebook and Twitter for wasting time: Reddit and similar sites like Hacker News or other dedicated forums. When you find a network of people sharing links you’d find interesting, and then join in the conversation, you can kill hours without accomplishing anything productive. I’ve learned tons from Hacker News, but have also learned to not keep it open in a tab if I want to get anything done.
So, when you think of something you want to share on your favorite forum, you might be better off bookmarking the Share page for that site. Then, you can add that link or thought you had, and check back later to see what others thought about it. No sense in getting lost in a discussion thread right while you’re in the middle of writing your Pulitzer Prize winning article!
Use Mobile UIs for Less Distraction
Truth is, you wouldn’t be a very good friend if you never checked to see what others write on social networks. If you’d like a quicker way to look over your networks and see what you’ve missed, the mobile web apps can often be a great help. Just go to http://m.facebook.com/ or http://mobile.twitter.com/, and you’ll see a simple page with status updates, and little more. None of the distracting extras that Facebook and Twitter have added to their main sites. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is a nice way to browser social networks quicker, especially on slow internet connections.
There’s no perfect way to use social networks. Chances are, each of us uses them slightly differently. For all of their problems and potential for distractions, social networks are a great addition to our lives, and I’d hate to live without them. After all, I got my first job via Twitter, and stay in touch with most of my friends around the glob on Facebook.
But, you’ve also got to know your limits, and find ways to keep yourself focused on everything else that’s important. That’s why I like the dedicated Share pages, and think they’re a great way to network more without wasting time. Do you think you’d rather use these tools to update your networks, or is it going too far to share without reading your stream of updates?