How did we ever survive without social networks? I asked myself that today and couldn’t come up with an answer I liked. If I need to find contact information for that DBA I worked with three jobs ago, it’s off to LinkedIn or Plaxo. When I’m wondering about that guy from high school who was going to be a world famous rock star, Facebook is only a couple of clicks away. Out of town for a conference? No worries, I just check Twitter to see where my friends are.

I’m pretty sure TechEd (Developers) 2008 would have been a completely different experience for me, if not for Twitter. If I couldn’t decide between two sessions, the #TwitterTribe had plenty of opinions for me. If I didn’t feel like eating lunch alone (if you can really ever be alone in a room with 7000 other people) I could just Twitter “going to lunch” and within a couple moments I was receiving “wait for me” responses from a half dozen different people. While in Chicago for the Technology Summit, figuring out where to go for dinner was as simple as tagging a post with #MagenicNerdHerd and watching the responses come rolling in (including a few from people who weren’t there but still had good suggestions.)

The truly great thing about Twitter (and the various copycat offspring it has produced) is the effortless portability of being in touch with everyone you want to be, from wherever you are, on nearly every device you own. If I’m on my laptop, Twitter is integrated with my instant messenger program. I don’t even have to think about going to Twitter because it’s on my friends list, just like that guy from high school. If I’m on the go, I have Twitter on my phone. I can browse to a mobile version of the site or I can use text messaging.

It’s not all good though. There’s a dark side to social networking. It’s too easy. It’s too distracting. It’s the shiny object that some ADD developers, myself included, simply can’t stop staring at. There’s too much information out there and not all of it should be. Do I need to know about your bio breaks? Is the shirt color of the guy next to you on the bus really that important? Do I care that you thought the movie I’m in line for wasn’t any good. (Ok well, maybe yes on that last one.)

When I first discovered Facebook, there were so many games and toys to play with, I did little else. I’m (mostly) over my Facebook addiction now, although my vampire can still kick Rocky Lhotka’s vampire’s butt whenever I get the urge.

It seems like so many of the social networking sites want me to update my status and let the world know what I’m doing. Where do I draw the line? It seems to me that if it takes longer to type what I’m doing (with two thumbs, of course) than to actually do what I’m doing, that’s a good indicator I might be Twittering too much or too often.

Like any good addict, I suffer withdrawals when deprived of the object of my fixation. I get a feeling of disconnectedness, like I’m in that Twilight Zone episode where the guy wakes up and he’s the last man on Earth. Sadly, it seems Twitter has become a victim of its own success. Many times throughout the day, I see the “Fail Whale” informing me that Twitter has too many Tweets to deal with right now and could I please just give it a break for a while. So, just like everyone else, I sit there and continually hit F5 until the site pops back up again.

The upside to all this downtime is that we now have a number of competing services (welcome to the party, FriendFeed) that are more scalable and graciously offer to link to our Twitter feed so we can truly be everywhere and anywhere all at once. Besides, competition is healthy, right? Just look at IE and FireFox if you have any doubts.

It’s not entirely Twitter’s fault though. I don’t think anyone could have predicted Twitter’s evolution from the occasional “I’m on the corner of 34th and Fern, where R U?” to the “GroupThink” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 360 degree conversation it has become. I’m not sure we’ll ever get any closer to being Borg in our lifetime. Not that I’m complaining of course.

Oh and that guy who was going to be a world famous rock star? Hang on, let’s check Facebook… Ouch. It looks like he’s playing rhythm guitar in a Journey tribute band now. There are some things the world just doesn’t need to know.