The Final Frontier: Social Networking Comes to the Maritime World

Published Jan 7, 2011 2:36 PM by The Maritime Executive

MarEx Editor Joe Keefe dips his toes (tentatively) into the water (with surprising results).

At 0530 hours yesterday, my fifth-grade son headed off on the BIGGEST field trip of his elementary school career. Yes, this soon-to-be rising sixth grader (equipped with his first roll-on deodorant stick) was off to Williamsburg, VA, in an air-conditioned luxury coach with 149 of his closest friends and chaperones, complete with video capabilities and, I am told, very nice bathrooms. During the pre-trip parents’ briefing (given in the usual format of passing along ten minutes of information distributed over 1.5 hours of excruciating dialogue), it was also disclosed that we could follow (virtually) every move of the three-day, 1,000-mile odyssey, on something called “Twitter.” The excitement fairly crackled in the crisp spring air.

For me, his trip evokes (bitter) memories of my 2nd class (that’s junior year for you non-maritime academy people) trip to New York City for RADAR school in the fall of 1978. Mass. Maritime had no RADAR simulators at the time, so off we went (56 deck cadets strong) on the annual pilgrimage to the Church Seaman’s Institute near the Battery to get our RADAR certification in advance of our license exams. I’m not saying that there was any beer on the bus or anything, but the rented, obsolete (did I mention yellow?) school bus also didn’t have bathrooms, and that traffic jam on the East River Drive nearly did me in. “Twitter” certainly wasn’t involved. All of which leads me to the point of this editorial (and you’ve been very patient).

A few months ago at Workboat, our sales executive, Brett Keil, came to me at lunch and said (with gusto), “You gotta get hooked up with this Linked In thing!” I paused, and then replied, “I don’t have time for this nonsense. I’ve got a weekly e-newsletter and a print magazine to put out. I’m pretty tied up here, in case you haven’t noticed.” He persisted. I signed up to get him out of my face. * Sigh * Yesterday, he advised me that the Maritime Executive Linked In community had almost reached 3,100 members, with many more banging persistently on the door. I am now a believer in social media or networking through social media sites. It wasn’t always like that, though.

We’ve all heard the “Facebook” stories. And, for anyone who doesn’t think so, the Internet is forever. Just ask the national caliber wrestler from Nebraska who got thrown off the team for his extracurricular activities, which are now permanently archived on the web. Okay, he caught on with Edinboro State this year, proving that – oh heck, I don’t know what it proved. But, it was with this in mind that I hesitate to link up with just anyone. When invited on Linked In, I always read the other person’s bio, and I can tell you that I do not always say “yes.” Hey, can’t you just see it now?: “Live at ELEVEN; MarEx Editor Linked with bank robber!”

Not long after I signed up with Linked In and began my gradual awakening into the world of social networking, I received another invitation to sign up for something called “Twitter.” Our former sitter, who had taken care of our kids when they were very young – a nice young woman, BTW – sent me a Twitter message: she wanted to keep up with us on Twitter. I ignored the E-mail for about a week, but finally opened it and pondered at length just what the heck Twitter was. Nevertheless, she had been very good to the kids for a couple of years so I dutifully filled out the forms. And then, suddenly, there I was: a grumpy, 50-year old editor (three months removed from surgery) smack in the middle of her Twitter world, (and, I must say) the intimidating photo of the (very large) boyfriend with the fu-manchu mustache and now, I was just one of her four “followers.” It also became apparent (heck, correct me if I am wrong here) that just about anything I put online there would be public knowledge. I think I was a member of Twitter for about three minutes.

Let’s sum everything up here: positives and negatives. My next-door neighbor has promised to capture all the Twitter traffic and send it to me (he’s a computer geek at the same bank my wife toils for) For this, I will owe him a bottle of wine. He is a tough negotiator. My son, on the other hand, is annoyed with me because his PowerPoint skills far exceed mine, and I will therefore be of limited value when he puts together the required post-trip presentation. For this, I’m thinking about permanently sending him next door because they’ll probably get along real well.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Commandant of the Coast Guard has an “iCommandant” journal and a couple of other innovative ways to communicate online. This is the guy that actually caused me to get a haircut before first interviewing him a couple of years ago. I read ADM Allen’s CV after Katrina and then saw his picture (a really short haircut, I assure you) on the Coast Guard web site and decided to dry clean my best suit, as well. At this point, if he’s cool enough to do all of this in his spare time while also running the Coast Guard, well, I guess I better get my act together, too.

I don’t pretend to be the most “hip” guy on the planet, but it is clear to me that the concept of citizen journalists, social media, near constant communication and all the rest is here to stay. As the traditional forms of media struggle in an increasingly digitized world, the ways to communicate online seem to be proliferating in an exponential way. Here at MarEx, we continually evaluate all aspects of this phenomena and yes, we join in where we think it useful to the readers and potentially profitable to the firm. We’re in business to make money like everyone else. We will also continue to publish our groundbreaking print editions that we think are redefining how to keep the maritime world informed.

Soon, we will begin podcasting (I’m just learning what that entails, too) and some other ways to keep you informed. In the meantime, day 2 of the Williamsburg trip is dawning, and I’ve got to figure out just how to get all that digitized news from the tour bus. Who says I’m not a digital guy? –MarEx.

Joseph Keefe is the Editor-in-Chief of THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE. He can be reached with comments and/or questions on this or any other articles in this e-newsletter at [email protected]. Or, you could “link up” by joining our group on Linked In by clicking http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/47685