I’ve recently come into contact with a lot of people who don’t know a whole lot about the whole social media thing. When I try to explain the stuff to them, I either get a yah, but….or just a blank stare. It’s true, there is SO much going on in this space right now that it’s hard to even know where to start or who to listen to.

A year ago, much like many other people, I barely knew what a podcast was let alone an RSS feed. I didn’t see much point in having my own blog. I would read the odd blog here and there, but I really couldn’t distinguish between what was worthwhile and what was a waste of bandwidth. I too, was confused.

The shocking part was I’d been working as a web designer since 1998. I was there when all this World Wide Web business started! I’m an oldtimer! I was an “industry professional”! How did all of this social media stuff pass me by? How come nobody told ME about it? I realized very quickly that if I didn’t get out there and learn about it I’d be left behind.

So I went to Podcamp Toronto.

For me, that was where this new world opened up. I learned about WordPress, Twitter, Talkshoe, Skype, RSS and a ton of other stuff, and realized the future of the Web. I met some great new friends who answered all my silly questions (and they still do, thanks guys!), and what I didn’t have answers for I figured out on my own. I farted around with it. I set up blogs and broke them. I mean, I really screwed them up bad, man. I made RSS feeds that didn’t work and played with them till they did. I clicked on every link I saw. Read every blog post I could, till my eyes went blurry. And I figured it out.

We have some new interns working at our office. Great bunch of guys, fresh out of college. Unfortunately the educational system always seems to be about 1 year behind the real world in what they teach, particularly when it comes to technology. The reason is that curriculum is set too far in advance. By the time they are teaching the classes, the technology has already changed. This happened back in ’98 when I graduated from my college Multimedia programme. We were focused mainly on CD-ROM development. We had only ONE DAY of HTML coding, using Notepad and Netscape version 4.7 because our school computers had not been upgraded to the new version 5.0 yet. We had a couple of in-class demos from some company we’d never heard of called Macromedia, showing us these new tools called Flash and Dreamweaver, but we really didn’t see any practical use for them at the time.

Within weeks of graduating, I was hired by one of my instructors to – believe it or not – TEACH web site design! So me, with my demo versions of Dreamweaver and Flash and my “Teach Yourself HTML in 7 Days” book, set to work to learn everything I possibly could about this stuff. 3 weeks later, I successfully taught a class of 20 students how to make their own web sites and put them online. I succeeded, not because I had any special training in it, but because I was curious about how it worked. And I sat there at my computer, and frigged around with it for days, till I got it right. Thank God I had no social life back then.

I sat down with “The Interns” today and had a serious talk with them about social media, something they (remarkably) haven’t really touched on in school. Told them everything I know about it. Got them excited about it. Gave them a bunch of links and said “Just go in there, play around with this stuff, listen to these guys, they know what they are talking about, and have fun with it. Explore it. Get curious about it. This is going to be your career.”

There is no magic tool that is going to make you an expert about the Web or about social media. All you need is a computer, a web connection and a browser…and extreme curiosity. Oh, and lots of coffee.

Oh, and by the way? If you want to figure out what all this social media stuff is about, click on some of the links you see in this post. That’s a GREAT start.

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