It feels to me as though there was a resurgence of energy and creativity among Unitarian Universalists using social media in 2013. I’m not sure we were always as effective as we could have been, but I saw energy and enthusiasm amongst Unitarian Universalist (UU) social media creators that led to some of our best use of social media ever. Here’s my list of the 2013 UU social media top three — two exemplars of how to use social media and one milestone in the evolution of UU social media:
1. CLF: This year, the best producer of UU social media was, without doubt, the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF). When you go to their Website, delightfully titled “Quest for Meaning,” you’re immediately presented with several ways you can engage with the CLF community: you can share your joy or concern; you can light a virtual chalice; you can click through to one of their blogs; you can register for an online course; you can find out about their online worship services; you can donate money or buy books that will provide them with a small kickback; and more. The front page of their Website lets you know that they really do have an online community — and their Website draws you in and offers you many ways to participate, at multiple levels of commitment. I’m pretty jaded by online engagement these days, but even so simple a thing as lighting their online chalice brought a smile to my face.
I’m even more impressed by CLF’s video offerings, which are easiest to track down on Youtube. You can watch video meditations, you can listen to their religious educator, Lynn Ungar, tell stories, you can hear homilies by their senior minister Meg Riley and others, and you can watch “The VUU,” an online UU talk show. I was particularly impressed by “The VUU”; I was prepared not to like it, I thought there was no way that I’d watch an hour-long video, I half-suspected it would be the usual overly-serious religious liberal talkfest. But it turns out that “The VUU” is funny, entertaining, thoughtful, and definitely worth watching. Ever since I watched the early videoblogs by Steve Garfield and others, I’ve been waiting for some Unitarian Universalist to figure out how to do something fun and creative with online video — and “The VUU” has finally done it; indeed, it exceeds my expectations.
2. UU World’s “Interdependent Web”: When Kenneth Sutton stopped curating “The Interdependent Web,” a weekly list of the most interesting posts from UU blogs, I was a little bit worried; I didn’t think anyone could be as good a curator as Kenneth. But I can say without diminishing Kenneth’s achievements in the least that Heather Christiensen, the new curator of “The Interdependent Web,” is even better. Heather has cast a very wide net, and tracked down new and unusual UU blogs that I otherwise would never have heard about; she has been unafraid to mention posts on controversial subjects (and her editors at UU World have obviously supported her in this); and she has been pretty consistent at finding good and thoughtful writing.
In order to find all those well-written blog posts from so many different sources, Heather must put in hours of patient Web surfing. But I suspect her task has been eased somewhat by an increase in good writing by UU bloggers. Go and check out “The Interdependent Web,” click through to some of the posts Heather finds, and you’ll find lots of good writing from lots of people.
3. The end of UUs-L email list: We passed a major milestone in the evolution of Unitarian Universalist social media this year: the demise of the UUs-L email list. In its day, UUs-L produced some interesting
arguments, er, conversations. Back in the day, email lists could be rough-and-tumble forums, places where you quickly learned how to hone arguments, and where sloppy thinking was immediately challenged. It was also the place where many of us first developed any kind of online reputation — the first time I found my name using an Internet search engine (before the days of Google, so it was Altavista) was in a post from UUs-L that had been archived on www.uua.org.
It’s easy to think that social media is a new thing, and to forget how long we’ve been interacting online. I missed the days of the BBSs like The Well, but by the 1990s I was reading Usenet and email lists using a 286 machine running DOS 6.0, with a dial-up modem to connect to the wider world. Today, we would turn up our noses at that old technology, but the principles of online interaction were not all that different than they are today. I learned that nothing you say online is truly private, I probably managed to offend more than one person, I forged some fascinating online friendships, and above all my horizons were greatly expanded.
UUs-L died from lack of serious content, The Well is long gone, Usenet strangled in spam, LiveJournal collapsed, AOL blogs were killed by a new business plan, and I have no doubt that some day Twitter and Facebook will die a well-deserved death. I don’t see much reason to mourn when old social media outlets die off, but I do mourn the excessive commercialization of social media. Facebook’s primary reason for existence is to deliver advertisements to your eyeballs, the goal of the Google empire is both to deliver ads to you and to collect your personal data to be resold to others, etc. So while I don’t mourn the death of the old UUs-L email list, I do mourn the fact that there’s one less source of social media run by a non-profit institution for benevolent purposes.
2013 has been a good year for Unitarian Universalist social media, but there are a few things worth noting. It’s worth noting that the most interesting and exciting use of social media comes from our biggest institutions — specifically, from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Church of the Larger Fellowship (3,000+ members). It’s also worth noting how many of the best UU blogs are now being written by UU ministers and other religious professionals, rather than by laypeople. I also note that most of the UU content I see on Facebook has a poor signal-to-noise ratio, with way too many posts unreflectively decrying the latest Horrible Injustice.
When I look forward to the coming year, I know what I’d like to see. I’d like to see the quality of UU posts on Facebook increase to the point where I’m never embarrassed by them. I’d like to see more exploration of new approaches to social media, extending the good work CLF is doing. I’d like to see more laypeople writing and producing videos and other online content.
How about you? What do you want to see from UU social media in the new year? And what did I miss in 2013 that deserves mention?