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May 2012 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family / Columnists / Growing Up Online

Social media

Ways to organize virtual clutter

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Anyone who spends any time online knows the frustration of finding something wonderful — a recipe you want to try, a book you want to read, a promising present for your child’s birthday, even an inspirational quote — and then never being able to find it again.

Pinterest is the latest attempt to bring personal order to the chaotic world of the Internet. Even though the site requires an invitation, it has rocketed into the top 10 social media websites in only a few months. Just visiting the Pinterest homepage is a voyeuristic glimpse into the places, ideas, and things that excite other people.

Like most good ideas, this one is deceptively simple. Once you have a Pinterest account, you create themed bulletin boards. The topics can be basic — recipes, craft projects, clothes, dream vacations — or idiosyncratic — fabric swatches, smoothies, clever. When you come across a photo of something that fits into your categories, you use a button to pin it to the bulletin board, creating a link that will lead you — and others — back to the original sources.

The result is a lush, visual collection of things that caught your attention for some reason. Some people use Pinterest like a refrigerator door — a mishmash of reminders, as well as images that bring a smile. Other people carefully curate their Pinterest collections, treating the boards as life rafts that keep them from drowning in information. Still others use the juxtaposition of images for inspiration the way people in creative fields use vision or mood boards. Need a dessert for the potluck, a rainy-day craft for the kids, a gift for a friend? There’s a Pinterest board for that.

The organizing possibilities alone are satisfying, but Pinterest also has a social dimension, because the site’s founders believe people can learn a lot about each other by seeing what they collect. A profile on Pinterest consists of a list of bulletin boards with nine images from each collection. You can decide to follow other people, including some designated Tastemakers and, of course, others can follow you. As people comment on and repin items they like, they form mini communities based on shared enthusiasms, tastes, and passions. Some people find this kind of interest-based sharing preferable to other forms of social networking.

Although Pinterest is the flashiest of the social bookmarking sites, it’s not for everyone. For one thing, you can’t simply join. The site requires an invitation, though a link on the homepage let’s you request one directly from the company. Also, because of its emphasis on images and not text, Pinterest is very much about things. The site doesn’t have ads, but there are already a lot of commercial links from people who hope you will buy their products.

For all of these reasons, some people may prefer other social bookmarking sites. All of the sites below satisfy what psychologists call a deep human urge to collect, organize, and share. They also help you organize virtual clutter. To make good use of any of these sites, get in the habit of tagging what you save. The more tags you create, the more likely you are to find what you need when you need it.

• Delicious: The first of the social bookmarking sites, Delicious has had a complete redesign that allows users to collect Internet content including articles and videos into stacks that can be private or public. The homepage includes hot lists that make it easy to stay on top of trends.

• Digg: A good choice for busy parents who are trying to keep up with news on a variety of channels. In addition to posting your own links, users can vote thumbs up or down on stories posted by others.

• StumbleUpon: A serendipitous way to explore the Internet, StumbleUpon allows you to submit, tag, and vote for sites that interest you. As you do, the site develops a sense of what interests you and helps you “stumble upon” other sites that have caught the attention of other people who share your enthusiasms.

• Tumblr: Tumblr is ideal for people who would prefer to keep a running online log of things that interest them. This microblog site is easy to use and has a huge audience,

• Wists: Wist appeals to people who like to window shop. The name is short for wish lists, and users create amazing collections of shoes, gadgets, light fixtures, jewelry, and other objects they covet.

Whichever site you choose, you’ll need to exercise some self-discipline. Collecting can be an addictive pursuit — especially if the next treasure is only a click away. Give yourself a time limit for this pastime, and then step away from the screen, back into the three-dimensional world, where there are real cupcakes to be baked, real rooms to be straightened, and real family members to be hugged.

Carolyn Jabs, MA, raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs. She has been writing Growing Up Online for 10 years. Visit growing-up-online.com to read other columns.

Updated 4:31 pm, May 4, 2012
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