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Social networking: Wil Wheaton, Goodreads and more

April 25, 2009 |  3:00 pm


For a little while there, it seemed like the social networking panel was going to turn into a discussion of social networking in a post-apocalyptic world, as all the lights were off and the audience waited in the gloaming for things to begin.

But just in time, the lights came to life. And that's what happened every time Wil Wheaton spoke -- the room came to life. Moderator Andrew Nystrom from the L.A. Times asked how many people follow Wheaton on Twitter, and almost every hand in the room went up. Wheaton is a writer and actor who's smart about the Internet and social networking, and it helps that he's funny and straightforward.

The discussion moved from Twitter to Facebook to the value of connecting far-flung people with common interests. But Twitter is, to some, already feeling like less of a social-networking nirvana. "The people who ruin things show up sooner or later," Wheaton admitted, "and it's up to us to publicly humiliate them."

Like several in the audience, Wheaton is a member of Goodreads, whose founder, Otis Chandler, was seated to his right. Goodreads, which combines social networking and books, is a way for people who are done with school to continue to connect with literature in a social way. And to maintain, in some cases, their relationship with books themselves. "My point in reviewing books [while starting the site]," Chandler said, "was to remember what I thought of them."

"There's an inherent sense of legitimacy and value" to Goodreads' reviews, Wheaton agreed, because of the connection and commonality.

The newbie on the panel was Sara Wolf, an experienced dance critic who's launched a dance-oriented magazine on Facebook. Though at times I wanted to hear more of Wheaton talking about Maureen Dowd and the read-aloud features on the Kindle, it was good to have one panelist who was less of an insider and still figuring out how to navigate the online world. Wolf told a story about not knowing what to do when she was followed online by a stranger.

Maybe someday, though, "180,000 will complain because you don't follow them back," Wheaton said. "That's AWESOME."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Carolyn Kellogg