The Engineering Social Hub

The Engineering Social Hub

engineering_social_hubOver the last year or more, we engineers have seen a great number of new social network changes and continued growth in social media. But where do we fit into this and why are all the big companies like RS, Farnell, Digi-Key etc. all after us to be members of their Social Hubs?

First off, let’s look at the big three social sites you could visit (alphabetical order): element14 ( Farnell ), DesignSpark (RS Components), and TechXchange (Digi-Key). There is then a host of other sites you could also use, like EEWeb, ARM, StackExchange, and even big cuddly Dave’s EEVBlog Forum. That should get you started.

These sites are first and foremost here for us to use as tools. We can use forums to ask questions, write blogs to tell others what we have been doing, post videos and pictures, and even have pages that follow our projects. Engineers are not the people you bump into in the high street every day, so having a way to connect is very important. We can then network through these tools as well as other social networking tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. However, there are pros and cons of signing up and being a member of these big sites.

When you join, you give very important information out: your name and email address. This is marketing gold for these guys as they now know you exist and know how to contact you. They also believe that once you’re a member, you have certain loyalties and will purchase though them. Engineers, however, smell marketing a long way off, and I know that we all shop around!

Having a popular site helps bring in more people, too.  Who wants to join a site where no one visits!? So these sites can grow very large. This is beneficial for you and me as there are now a lot of people who are willing to answer questions and give us feedback on our projects. I know from experience that you will get 10 or 100 times more views when you post on these sites compared to posting on your own blog site.

It’s all sounding good so far, networking with people and getting your content seen. There is a negative side to this, too. No, I’m not talking about the fact you are supplying and feeding these sites with free content; I’m talking about what I would call “swampage”.

This is when too much of something can suffocate a site. For example, let’s take someone I’ve not commented on yet – IET forums. On these forums, you find too many people asking how to get though their cEng interview. On other sites, the forums can also see streams of what I call, “How do I wire a plug up?” questions. Basically the sites bring in people who only want answers, don’t learn, and never contribute, or when they do, talk rubbish. Personally, I have found that only the EEVBlog forum seems free of this.

The sites can also suffer from too much content. Content should be good, but if you let all 10,000+ members write blogs or projects, then the good blogs get lost in the noise of all the rubbish ones. You will also see your hits fall as your project / blog visibility drops away.

Each site deals with this in different ways, and it’s down to us on the forums to help police them. However, the other sites need to police the swampage of content and make certain that higher profile people get seen and the noise is filtered or removed.

It’s also sad that we have so many sites. Do we need all of them? Once we wanted a place to share our ideas, and each site has tried to bring everything to one place. However, there are now lots of central hubs you can visit. You find that you are now visiting lots of big sites to follow differing content.

Whats the answer? Well, one big site would be good. A true central engineering hub for all our tech and social needs. No longer wandering from site to site, max networking but also lots of swampage.

I may not have the perfect answer but maybe one day all these big sites will see that we need a central hub and that they could all work together on a single resource. After all, it will increase our productivity, and we will all need more parts then…

6 comments

There is a fine line to walk there. On one hand, giving anyone the chance to provide content, provide a very diverse and rich pool of ideas to draw upon. On the other hand, it provides and exponential amount of not so good ideas to have to sift through to find those good ideas. I think a lot of things are like this though. Like performance car motors, if going for max horsepower, you make a lot of gains at first, gaining possibly 100’s of hp with a couple modifications. But once you have done those, and you are down to squeezing out every last bit of performance, you spend a lot of time and resources searching for 1/2hp here and there. Its that last 10% or so that is hard to get, which the internet and more so most social networking type services seem like an attempt to get that, when it comes to sourcing people for information and ideas.

The nice thing about having smaller communities is they can focus on specific niches. I know on a personal level I’ll go to different communities to ask about or talk about different areas of my interest. You can also get familiar with contributors easier. This may be especially true for vendor specific forums. What’s better than having a Microchip guru answer a question about one of their chips or a Texas Instruments analog guru suggest an alternate op-amp configuration for your design.

One good general electrical engineering community you didn’t mention is
http://forum.allaboutcircuits.com/

What would be nice is one database of forum usernames/passwords that would be adopted by every community. Having many different usernames and passwords is a royal pain. I also wish local bars would start having an “engineers night” with half price drinks for engineers so we could run into each in the real world more. Plus, just imagine how crazy those nights would get!

I did not comment on it becasue I have not come across it till now.

Would be nice if there was at least a web site that listed all these sites – maybe thats the center of our hub?

@Bill

You should get out to more exhibitions and conferences, they are a great place to meet suppliers and other engineers. There are also usually fully populated pubs nearby 🙂

@Paul,

You could also mention manufacturers hubs, like TI’s e2e community etc. I think engineering communities are a relatively new thing, and members will choose where they want to be.

When social media originally became popular there were a wide variety of choices also. Bebo, Facebook, Linkedin, Friendsreunited, MySpace etc, etc. Each will find it’s own niche or disappear. Maybe one will “do a facebook” and take over the vast majority, but likely not

I thought the point of Engineer Blogs was to blog about engineering and start that grand, global, one-stop-shopping community. Or was that my delusions of grandeur?

You are absolutely right though. While I don’t visit those particular sites (I’m ME, not EE), matching content with good traffic and sustainability is difficult. I mainly use LinkedIn and Twitter. LinkedIn for a real-time Rolodex (that would be phone book…) and Twitter mainly for just screwing around. Other than that, I never really got the point of social media for anything serious.

I’ve never viewed EB as a hub for all engineering because we’re not really set up for it. Nor do I think it’s possible to be. There’s zero chance of ever getting all those big companies to work together because they all think bringing in people to their site is the most important thing.

I view Engineer Blogs more as a news stand. We have the “covers” of all these magazines (writers of other blogs) displaying their wares and hoping to draw interest from the passerby.

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