American Semester Program on Social Media

The coolest study abroad program in all the land!



Top 4 apps for social media managers

As Social Media Managers, it’s hard to juggle the endless list of social media platforms that your business uses to advertise and engage with customers. Sometimes it can seem a bit overwhelming, but there’s no need to stress out because in this technologically advanced world there are apps to help you manage those apps!

1. Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a social media management system that takes the form of a dashboard and supports social media networks such as Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and WordPress. This makes it super easy to manage and keep track of everything on one page instead of trying to switch and check different webpages everyday–which is a complete hassle.

2. Tweetbot

Tweetbot lets you organize and interact with your Twitter stream in which ever way is more productive for you. It then lets you separate the streams into lists or channels and then tweet, respond, and directly message within the app. This app makes it an easy way to view whose followed, mentioned, retweeted, or favorited you in one convenient feed, helping you advance your Twitter skills.

3. Trello

Now managing all of these social media pages are vital but it’s of no use if you don’t remember to do it. Lucky for you, Trello is there for you. This virtual to-do list is, essentially, a life-saver. You can arrange the various “boards” and make different categories. Have a major project for your company that needs a lot of delegation? Trello will also let you assign tasks and due dates to certain people that are on your team.

4. Photo Editor by Aviary

In order to make great social media pages and keep them engaging while managing them, you have to have interesting content, and that also means having interesting pictures. This app allows you to create amazing images using the editing tools as well as making collages to piece together the perfect picture masterpiece for your social media page while helping you manage the content of your pages.




Growing your influence – the Klout way

Various tips for boosting your Klout score:



9 Easy Ways to Increase Your Klout Score

1. Build a Network of Value

The key to increasing your Klout score is similar to finding success on any social network in general: Build an engaged network of people who would be legitimately looking for you and interested in you and your content. Every step after this can only make it better.

2. Create meaningful content and a strategy

Create or include meaningful content that your network loves to share with others. Keep it simple but stick within boundaries. Provide all with links if available!

3. Engage as many as possible
Actively interact with others in a helpful and authentic way. Ask questions, answer questions and create a dialogue with your followers. This not only builds your support for them, it increase possibility for more discussion. Discussion will bring attention; will also increase your Klout!

4. Concentrate on What you do, not People with High Klout

Any behavior that falls outside the basic strategy, puts you in uncharted territory, and will eventually catch up to you. For example, specifically targeting a conversations with high Klout influencers, most likely will be annoying, not successful. Keep your focus on your network strategy, topics, and content, you’ll succeed in becoming a recognized influence.

5. Don’t be afraid to interact with a 10 or 20 Klout score

It won’t hurt your own score. In fact, it helps build their score by talking and in turn makes you more of an influencer. Remember the entire networks success will be your success.

6. Publish Content!

Anything thing you can attach your name to that’s of value to one may also be of value to millions. Remember, you don’t have to be in entertainment or elected to office to have power now. All you need to do is publish. Access to free publishing tools such as blogs, video, media, and Twitter have provided users with an opportunity to have a real place to build an audience, so take advantage of any platform you can.

7. You should be proud of your score

People with a score of 10 also have an audience. Don’t get discouraged by your score. It’s more important to just enjoy your social media experience and be proud. As we all know if you get discouraged, followers will be too if they listen to what you say.

8. Share tips for Socials

Sharing tips even if it means links to other users content still becomes a reason for all to return. If you are sharing anything and it came from you and anyone retweets, likes, comments, or shares you’re the post, it will also include you! Anything that includes you contributes to Klout.

9. Include all Social Media Klout will Allow

Klout allows you to connect other networks such as Facebook, Youtube, Foursquare, and LinkedIn networks. Klout states when you add new networks it doesn’t decrease your Klout score, so you should try to connect it too. Start a small community for all to be part of. The more you have available for connection, the more you have Klout!



Klout is a popular social scoring website that looks at your current social media accounts and your activity on them to measure your social influence. A score between 1 and 100 is assigned to you, which represents your Klout score and overall social impact online. The higher your Klout score ranks, the more you influence other people who are part of your online community.

Your Klout score measures how many people you influence, by how much you influence them and how influential those people become when they react to social media activity. In other words, your score measures your ability to drive action online. That action could be a few “Likes” you receive on a video you posted on Facebook, a retweet on Twitter or a comment left on a link to an article you posted on LinkedIn.

Why Should You Try to Increase Your Klout Score?

When you understand who you influence and how you are influencing people, you can learn how to leverage that power to grow your networks and personal brand on your favorite social media websites.

Once you understand the influential performance of your social media activity, it will become easier to figure out who you can trust and who to avoid on sites like Facebook and Twitter. You can harness the power of your social success to expand your audience, generate more business or land a desired job.

Three Main Klout Scores: An Overview

Your Klout Score Analysis is made up of three subset scores, which will average out to an overall score between 1 and 100.

True Reach: The True Reach score represents how many real people you are driving to take some form of action. Klout filters out all bots and spam accounts to give you an idea of the amount of real people you are encouraging people to respond to your updates.

Amplification: The Amplification score indicates by how much you influence real people over social media. If you receive a lot of activity from users in your network as a result of posting something for them to see, then your Amplification score will be higher than average.

Your Network: Your Network score tells you the influence of the people who are found in your True Reach. It lets you know how often influencers share and respond to your updates. Your Network scores will increase as those influencers increase their rate of sharing, replying and responding to the content you post.

How to Increase Your Klout Score

Connect your social accounts to Klout: This is the easiest part. Once you sign up with Klout, you’ll be guided through the process of connecting your Twitter and Facebook accounts first. From there, you can also connect any accounts you have with LinkedInYouTubeFoursquareInstagramTumblr, or Flickr.

Focus on posting content that adds value: Update your accounts with the most interesting pieces of content you can find. Your content may be a new article, a funny video, a great photo or an inspirational quote. Before you post it, you should be thinking about how that content adds value to your audience. If the people you influence like what you post, they will pay more attention to your updates and are more likely to take action.

Participate in conversations: Reaching out over social media can sometimes feel awkward and uncomfortable for many, especially when it involves reaching out to complete strangers. Despite those feelings, jumping into a conversation, asking a question, or contributing valuable information on a particular topic can help you get noticed. When you reach out to others in a meaningful way, people will listen.

Focus on the quality of your audience rather than the quantity: Although lots of Facebook friends, YouTube subscribers and Twitter followers look good to the unfamiliar eye, large numbers don’t truly mean anything if your audience is not engaged by your actions. Stay away from reciprocal following on Twitter or the popular “Sub4Sub” request on YouTube. Instead, use your time to communicate great content and participate in the community.

Network with big influencers: Getting the attention of a celebrity or political figure on social media to repost or respond to your content can do wonders for your Klout score. It’s not easy to get a popular figure to notice you and take some form of action on your content, but it’s also not impossible. Start by asking a question or commenting on an update from a lesser-known celebrity or public figure online. Don’t waste too much time trying to get attention from huge, internationally-known superstars, celebrities or politicians.

Pay attention to who you are connecting to online: Klout favors users who connect to lots of high-profile, quality influencers on various social media sites. In other words, your Klout score could be affected by connecting to spammers, bots and users who are not very active on social media. Generally, if the user has a Klout score that is higher than average, then that user should be worth connecting to online.

Engage your audience in newsworthy content and trendy topics: Updating your streams with content involving current events can really push the people you influence to take action. Posting about stories that are current is one of the easiest ways to spark conversation and engage others to share their thoughts and opinions on the subject.

Rate other users on Klout: When you sign in to Klout, you can give what’s called a “+K” to any user in a specific category or topic, which represents your personal stamp of approval for that user’s expertise and contribution to the online community. When you give someone +K on Klout, they may do the same for you, which can really help bring up your Klout score.



Winning at Klout is one of the most important goals for anyone who takes social media seriously. To make it easier for you, we have compiled a list of key Klout Facts that will help you win at the game of Klout and get a higher score.
#1. Klout is a Game. Much like any game, you have scores and points and can brag when you beat your friends. Similar to other games, there is no real life benefit to winning at Klout, but you can leverage your synergies with corporations that don’t know any better.
#2. Klout Likes Acronyms. Klout likes it when you use acronyms in your tweets and on social networks, because it shows that you are “in the know” about what is going on. People who use acronyms are smarter, and Klout gives them points.
#3. Klout Doesn’t Like Sports. The reality is that people talk about sports for 2 reasons. 1 – they are boring or 2 – they have nothing interesting to say. Klout knows this, so your Klout score goes down when you talk about sports.
#4. Klout Likes Snobs. This fact has been oft refuted but we are pleased to finally confirm this for you. Klout does, in fact, like snobs. It likes it when you have followers but by all means if you are dedicated to winning at Klout you must not follow them back. Show your superiority. People will be impressed. And, most importantly, Klout will reward you.
#5. Klout Likes Hashtags. It’s true. Part of Klout’s secret algorithm that our scientists have demystified for you is Klout’s preference for hashtags. Especially ones on fairly pedestrian observations including but by no means limited to #justsayin and #bro.
#6. Klout Does Not Like Data. Hold on, here’s where it gets dicey. Though it computes a score, Klout does not like data. Rather, they rely on a complex system of wizardry to read your mind and determine your influence.
#7. Klout Prefers Women. Klout understands that women have been unfairly discriminated against by the digerati. As such, they have wired their game to give women higher scores.
#8. Real Influence Can ONLY Be Measured In Social Media. This is true. Klout is The Standard of Influence and they only measure social media. If you are not on social media you have no influence. Many world leaders have no influence.
#9. Klout Likes Bacon. Talk about it often.
#10. Anti-Social People Have No Influence. Klout rewards you with points for talking at other people. You have no influence if you don’t talk to people directly (with the @ sign). It doesn’t matter how many people follow you or take action because of you.
#11. The More You Talk the More Influence You Have. Klout thinks that you are more influential the more often you post. You may logically think that the opposite is true (silly fool), but it doesn’t matter what you think. It matters what Klout thinks.
#12. Klout Likes Social Media Addiction. Klout rewards you for more posts on social networks and for joining more social networks and connecting them to the social network game of Klout. You have more influence if you are more addicted to social networks.
#13. Klout Likes it When You Like Klout. You get a higher Klout score for spending more time in the game of Klout and on their website. This just makes sense.


Twitter Analytics Tools


It’s definitely one of the greater mysteries of the social media sphere: why the heck don’t we have access to the official Twitter analytics? When they first announced it back in September 2011, the initial advice was that it would be released publicly to everyone within months after testing with “partners.” Now, almost a year later, there’s even less hope that this will ever be released to us peons. Instead, liked the coveted verified account status, it’s a privilege reserved for those spending thousands (or more) on advertising with the network.

The question is, what are you missing out on (analytics-wise) if you have opted not to spend your marketing budget on promoted trends, tweets or accounts? And what other tools are out there (free or paid) that can provide you with key metrics and data to help with your reporting? If these are the answers you seek, you’ve come to the right place. What follows is an account of the official Twitter analytics platform, as well as four of the most popular (predominantly free) Twitter analytics tools available. Learn the pros and cons of each and how they can help with your regular reporting.

Twitter Analytics (The Official One)

One would assume the official analytics tool for Twitter would be the best and most useful; however, this isn’t necessarily the case. It includes a bunch of cool metrics but there are some obvious shortfalls. For example, if you’re looking for historical data, forget it. It displays your latest tweets and the number of retweets, replies and favorites, but this is limited to just a small selection of your most recent tweets – when I was working for Qantas this didn’t even cover the entire previous week. There is no ability to back track and mine historical tweets. Very annoying.

However, you can see how many people followed you, unfollowed you and mentioned you over time in 6 hour increments. This is something that can be very useful (and not something I’ve seen included in any other tool) in order to observe what topics are attracting new people or turning them off. This is hugely useful in shaping future content.

Twitter Analytics

It also provides traffic information (i.e. how many people clicked on the links within your tweets), which can be a handy little metric, but is also obtainable through other means like or Google Analytics.

You can get some key data around your followers, including a graph of followers over time, the key interests of your followers, their location, engagement levels (how many have retweeted you), their gender and a list of accounts that your followers also follow.

Twitter Analytics

It’s a nice-to-have tool, but without historical data it’s not even the best Twitter analytics platform out there, and not worth the thousands of dollars you’d need to spend to get access to it. Unless of course a Twitter campaign is a viable marketing strategy for your business.


  • Great indication on which content is performing the best in terms of gaining retweets, followers, replies and being favorited
  • Useful for frequent reporting (e.g. weekly) in terms of community growth, traffic/clicks and content exposure
  • Great to determine more in-depth insights in terms of your followers’ interests and how engaged with your content they are


  • Very limited historical data available
  • Limited metrics and data included on followers and overall community (e.g. top users, influencers, etc.)

The Archivist

The Archivist is still in alpha testing and was built by Mix Online (courtesy of Microsoft). It’s a pretty simple tool that does not require any registration or log-in to extract data. Although, you can sign in if you wish to save archives that you can then retrieve and/or compare at a later date. Essentially you can search keywords – including hashtags and usernames and it will return a bunch of top-level data like the tweet volume over time, top users, tweets vs retweets, top words, top URLs and the sources the tweets were sent from (e.g. Tweetdeck, web browser, etc.).

The Archivist

Once again it’s quite limited in terms of historical data – my test returned just 77 tweets. I also noted that the top URLs were all presented as… and when clicked came up with an error message, so in effect that data was useless to me.

Unfortunately, there is no way to have email notifications or automatic archiving so this tool would be most useful in gaining real-time updates about a particular account, hashtag or topic – not as much for ongoing reporting.


  • Completely free to use
  • Useful for tracking particular keywords or hashtags over time (e.g. for an event or specific campaign)
  • Allows comparison of time periods (archives) – for example could compare how a specific keyword/account is performing over time


  • Top URLs are not currently clickable, so it’s impossible to tell what they actually are
  • Very limited data in terms of followers (only displays top users)
  • Does not provide any data on mentions, tweets, retweets, favorites on individual tweets related to keyword/user/hashtag
  • You cannot define a specific time period to search, and historical data is very limited


TwitterCounter has a free version but if you want to pay a small monthly fee you’ll get access to even more benefits. It’s not perfect, but it provides some handy metrics AND most importantly you can look back at historical data.

So what does it show you? Mapped on a graph you can track your followers, those you are following and your tweets over various time periods (e.g. the last hour, the last week, month, three months or six months). You unlock this function by ‘paying’ with a tweet.

On top of this you can see how you’re tracking compared to the previous day and your daily average. It will also give you a prediction of how many followers it thinks you’ll have in however many days (it’s done using a scale that you can change).


The paid version gives you further insights into your mentions and retweets as well as the tweets you personally retweeted and the mentions you made. You can delve further into this information – for example by clicking on the bars in the retweets graph it will bring up your tweets that were retweeted that day, and the users who retweeted you.

The paid versions also allow you to track a number of accounts and compare each one over time, which is perfect for tracking your competition compared against your own account. Unless they are much better than you. Then it’s just disheartening.

It’s a great tool to use for regular reporting to keep track of key metrics like followers, mentions and retweets. You also receive a weekly email that provides your total follower count, how many you’ve gained that week, the prediction for the next week and a graph mapping followers over time.


  • Prediction of how long it will take to reach a specific number of followers
  • Weekly update email on follower count
  • Great metrics provided for weekly/monthly reporting – particularly if you purchase the premium, pro stats basic or pro stats branded accounts
  • Allows you to graph metrics over different time periods – e.g. hourly, weekly, monthly, 3 monthly and 6 monthly
  • Provides historical data


  • Limited data available in free version (excludes mentions, retweets, etc.)
  • Includes a lot of irrelevant and annoying features like “featured twitter users” and various Twitter buttons, which clutters up the interface
  • Need to pay a monthly subscription to get access to the best metrics/features


While TweetStats may not have quite as many metrics/features as other tools, it sure is one of the prettiest. It will also go back through your entire Twitter history, so in terms of historical data it’s pretty darn good. What does it actually give you? Great question. TweetStats will show you the aggregate number of tweets sent each month, which can be broken down further by days of the week and even time of the day (coined “Tweet Density”).

It will also provide a list of the top users that have mentioned you, a list of the top users that you have retweeted and also the number of tweets you have sent via different interfaces (i.e. Web, Twitter for iPhone, Tweetdeck, etc.).


Aside from these tweet stats you can also look at a “Tweet Cloud” and “Follower Stats.” The Tweet Cloud will show you the most common words you’ve used in your tweet history, and it also provides a HashCloud, which – you guessed it – displays the most popular hashtags you’ve used. Something I found pretty interesting was that it also tells you your top five most used words – for me this was social, rt, facebook, thanks, media. Not a bad selection! Even better, you can click on each word in the tweet cloud and it will bring up every related tweet to that keyword. Pretty cool.


The “Follower Stats” charts the change in followers (and those you follow) over time, but it will only track this after your first visit.

TweetStats is another free tool that has no premium/paid version and does not allow you to register for email alerts or updates. It provides interesting historical data, but is not the sort of tool that would prove overly useful for frequent reporting.


  • Client-facing charts/graphs that are easy to create
  • Tweet and hash clouds that provide good insights into most common topics and allows you to retrieve all your tweets relating to a particular word/hashtag
  • Provides entire historical data


  • No ability for email updates/alerts
  • No insights into follower demographics or data
  • No insight into how your content is performing (e.g. Retweets, mentions, follows/unfollows)
  • Some advertising included within the site


SocialBro is probably the most comprehensive Twitter analytics tool out in regard to community metrics (at least that I have come across). You can use it as a desktop application or a Chrome add-on and once you’ve signed in via Twitter, prepare to be assaulted with an overwhelming amount of data and statistics.

SocialBro will display a list of your entire followers, which you can then filter via a whole stack of different options, such as time zone, language, verified users, public/private accounts, customer avatars, customer URLs, influence, the number of followers they have, how many lists they are part of, their followers/friends ratio, account age, tweets per day and chronologically. Pretty crazy.


On top of this, SocialBro allows you to check followers who you do not follow or those you follow that are not following you, along with new followers, new people you are following and recent unfollows.

And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you go to your dashboard it shows you a graph of your followers, friends (those you are following) and your overall community over time. It also includes new followers, influence stats, recent unfollows, those not following back, users that have a low follow ratio, inactive people, famous people, influential people, ‘newbies,’ very active people and bio tag clouds. And like any good dashboard, you can customize what is included on here.

You can even view “real-time analytics.” The tool displays how many active users (those who have tweeted in the past 5 minutes) are in your timeline and the combined total of their following. It graphs these active users over time (per second), displays the top languages and also the top apps and clients that are being used for the tweets. You can measure these real-time analytics from your timeline, your twitter list, another twitter list or a customized search. But wait, there’s more.

On top of this SocialBro will analyze your influence data and track it over time, provide a report analyzing the best time for you to tweet (and when your followers are online), provide an insights summary of all the major metrics conveniently presented in pie chart form, help you discover relevant twitter users, allow you to compare your metrics to those of your competitors (provided they have public accounts), make it easy to monitor a specific hashtag, allow you to analyze your lists and finally import other Twitter users’ data.

Oh, and did I mention the ability to map where your followers are? No? Well, there’s that too.


The best part? It’s completely free.

Though it sounds almost too good to be true, the only big drawback of SocialBro at this point is that it currently doesn’t provide much data on content like your tweets, mentions and retweets. Also tweeting directly from SocialBro is still rather primitive, not allowing simple things like photo or location attachments.


  • Great way to determine people to unfollow (due to being inactive, not following you, etc.)
  • Provides an influence metric and maps your influence over time
  • Determines the best time for you to tweet
  • Allows detailed comparison with other Twitter accounts (without need for a password)
  • Tells you accounts that have unfollowed you
  • Provides real-time analytics
  • Data is exportable via PDF or CSV


  • No data on tweets, retweets, favorites, traffic (clicks) or mentions
  • No facility to set up email alerts or daily email overviews


There are plenty of other twitter analytics tools out there like TwitterAnalyzer, TwentyFeet, Twitonomy, TweetReach…the list goes on. There are also plenty of paid tools you could use; however, the question is how much data do you really need about your Twitter community and tweets?

The official Twitter Analytics platform no doubt provides some really handy metrics in terms of how your most recent tweets have performed and some interesting insights into your followers, but is it worth the tens of thousands you need to pay for the privilege? An analysis of some of the top free tools out there suggests not. While no free platform seems to provide all the information you may need just yet, you can certainly obtain a wealth of useful data for just a few minutes of your time.

If you’re looking for some one-off insights, it’s worth checking out all of these tools and playing around with them for an hour or so. If you’re looking to gain regular insights and data for reporting, I would suggest a combination of TwitterCounter and SocialBro may be a good idea. For an extra $15 a month, you can get some great data on followers, tweets, retweets and mentions (not to mention compared to your competitors) through TwitterCounter, while SocialBro can provide you with more metrics about your community than you could ever need – as well as invaluable data on when to schedule your tweets.

12 Most Influential Ways To Raise Your Klout Score


In the social media world, Klout is the way to measure your social influence. Your Klout score can affect you in many ways: it determines what kind of perks you are eligible for, whether or not a brand responds to you, and even whether you get a job or not. That is why it is important to do everything you can to keep your Klout score up!

Here are 12 ways to raise your social media Klout:

1. Connect networks

The more you connect, the more accurate your score. Klout is always adding new platforms to the algorithm so you can really account for all your social media influence.

2. Get RTs

Being influential on Twitter equals tweeting things of value. What better way to show you’re valuable than by having someone else share your thoughts? More retweets means higher Klout score.

3. Leave tips

Foursquare tips are one of Klout’s best kept secrets. When you leave a tip at a location and someone has done it (or adds it to their to-do list) that shows you are influential!


It is so easy to “like” something on Facebook. Anytime someone “likes” something of yours it adds to your social influence and raises your Klout score.

5. @replies

It’s not all about retweets! Tweeting something that promotes engagement and conversation, such as an @mention, increases your social influence according to Klout.


Similar to @replies, posts that elicit engagement in the forms of a comment shows you are influential. Remember, a comment takes a lot more effort than a “like” so comments are weighed heavier!

7. +1’s

Google+ has hopped on the Klout bandwagon and a +1 on G+ is the same as a “like” on Facebook. It’s not just about being influential on Facebook and Twitter but on social media as a whole!

8. Thanks and…

If we know that @mentions help your influence, why should we ever end the conversation! When someone retweets or engages with you, you can thank them and follow up with a question. Always keep the conversation flowing!

9. Choose the right blog platform

If you’re a blogger, Klout has a home for you! You can connect your blog to your Klout profile if you pick the right one. Klout doesn’t offer connection to all platforms so hope that yours is applicable.

10. Follower/following ratio

As a general rule, you should try and have more followers than people you are following. This ratio is taken into account when calculating your Klout score.

11. Remain active

Your Klout score can change in an instant. To remain high and steadily increase you need to be consistent on your social networks.

12. Be artistic

Klout is compatible with networks such as Flickr and Instagram. Being active on these sites and getting a lot of engagement will help your Klout.

Although the exact Klout algorithm is top secret, these are proven ways to increase your Klout! While Klout is not the only way to measure your social influence, it is one of the best indicators we have so far. Go out there and be influential!

Additional recommendations found on


Pinterest, Tumblr, and the Trouble with ‘Curation’


Years ago, in my penurious and somewhat traumatic 20s, I got into the habit of collecting interior-design magazines. My parents were splitting, and my family was scattering, and one day I picked up a copy of Elle Decor at an airport and suddenly felt as though I were teleported to Narnia. I didn’t have a house or even the disposable income to purchase nonessentials that cost much more than magazines. But my family moved often when I was growing up, and my mother tried to mitigate this upheaval by reproducing our last house in each new house, while rigorously maintaining a standard of perpetual “magazine readiness.” I guess it had a lingering effect.

A few years later, I reluctantly lent my collection of magazines to a (now former) friend. He had just bought a house that he had no idea what to do with. I, on the other hand, had nothing but ideas. O.K., they weren’t strictly mine, in the sense that these ideas were acquired, arranged, styled, photographed, published and distributed by entities bearing no relation to me whatsoever. They were mine because I internalized them. I gradually convinced myself that they were me.

Of course, I didn’t realize any of this until my friend returned my magazines to me with dozens of pages torn out, having either forgotten or ignored my admittedly ridiculous request that he make photocopies instead. I felt gutted, but I was much too ashamed to admit it. How could I, without sounding crazy? It was better, ultimately, to let the friendship slide into estrangement.

The whole embarrassing situation could have been avoided if Pinterest existed then. Pinterest is a social-media Web site on which users compile collections of pictures they find on the Internet or just browse the collections of others. The site’s name combines the words “interest” and “pin,” in reference to “pin boards,” which are also known in various creative professions as inspiration boards or mood boards — basically a large board onto which appropriated images (torn from magazines!) are juxtaposed to evoke in the viewer a certain feeling, atmosphere or mood. Once the exclusive province of advertising art directors, designers and teenage girls in boarding-school dormitories, mood boards and their electronic equivalents have exploded online. Not just on Pinterest, but also in the form of dopamine-boosting street-fashion blogs and cryptically named Tumblr blogs devoted to the wordless and explanation-free juxtaposition of, say, cupcakes and teapots and shoes with shots of starched shirts and J.F.K.

This kind of visual catch-bin blog has become disconcertingly common, for reasons that a cultural theorist like Walter Benjamin would perhaps be hard pressed to explain. Who knew there was such a large, mainstream market for artfully arranged pictures of other people’s stuff? Or that “curation,” that rarefied and highly specialized skill, would all of a sudden go viral? Pinterest went online in 2010, and by the end of that year it had 10,000 unique users. By January 2012, that number had increased to 11.7 million, making it the fastest site in history to break through the 10-million unique-visitor mark, according to TechCrunch. For this, it has been valued at $1.5 billion.

I’m not a big Pinterest user (more of a lurker, really), but the over-the-top monetary valuation doesn’t entirely surprise me. Long before I heard of Pinterest, I was already spending too much time on “curated” (read: reblogged) design/fashion/image/inspiration blogs. For me, it’s sites like Apartment TherapyFfffoundPoppytalkOh Joy and dozens and dozens of obscure, exquisite, utterly pointless but oddly compelling Tumblrs. (Some, like the addictive street-fashion blog The Sartorialist, are made up of original photos, but this is more the exception than the rule.)

In fact, in the past half-decade, I’ve probably spent more time fighting the urge to satiate my visual addictions — addictions formed in the process of satiating them, no doubt — than I have actually browsing through magazines. Not because I don’t like magazines. In many ways, I like them better. But they’re too grounded in space and time, too organized and linear, too collaborative and professional to deliver the synaptic frisson available from the stream-of-consciousness image blog.

I used to think this obsession was mine alone. But now nearly everyone I know — and by that I mean everyone who spends vast, barren tundras of time at her computer — goes to Web sites like these to escape, destress, perk up, calm down, feel something, not feel something, distract themselves and (they don’t call it “lifestyle pornography” for nothing) modulate pleasure and arousal. A friend of a friend calls his addiction to sites like these “avenues for procrastination,” but I think there’s something else involved. Like other forms of pastiche — the mix tape, the playlist, the mash-up — these sites force you to engage and derive meaning or at least significance or at the very least pleasure from a random grouping of pictures. Why not dive into an alternative world full of beauty and novelty and emotion and the hard-to-put-your-finger-on feeling that there’s something more, somewhere, where you’re not chained to your laptop, half dead from monotony, frustration and boredom?

Perhaps there’s a neurological component to all this; to the sudden rise of the mood board as mood regulator, a kind of low-dose visual lithium. And have no fear, the new field of neuroaesthetics, which investigates the neural basis for aesthetic experience, is all over it. One theory, for example, holds that if we’re rewarded in choosing one type of aesthetic experience over another, we will learn to respond to the particular characteristics of that experience. V. S. Ramachandran, in his book “The Tell-Tale Brain,” likened this to a behavioral experiment: if a rat is rewarded for choosing a rectangle over a square, it will learn to respond to “rectangularity” and start to favor rectangles in general. So maybe we are like the rats, and what we’re seeking while idly yet compulsively cruising Pinterest is really just the reliably unpredictable jumble of emotions that their wistful, quirky juxtapositions evoke. Maybe that is our rectangularity.

There’s a German word for it, of course: Sehnsucht, which translates as “addictive yearning.” This is, I think, what these sites evoke: the feeling of being addicted to longing for something; specifically being addicted to the feeling that something is missing or incomplete. The point is not the thing that is being longed for, but the feeling of longing for the thing. And that feeling is necessarily ambivalent, combining both positive and negative emotions.

A paper titled “What Is It We Are Longing For?” published in The Journal of Research in Personality, breaks down these “life longings” into essential characteristics. They target aspects of our lives that “are incomplete or imperfect”; involve “overly positive, idealized, utopian imaginations of these missing aspects”; focus on “incompleteness on the one hand and fantasies about ideal, alternative realities on the other hand”; result in a “temporarily complex experience” combining “memories of the past, reflections on the imperfect present and fantasies about an idealized future” (this is called “tritime focus”); and that “make individuals reflect on and evaluate their life, comparing the status quo with ideals or successful others.”

In other words, your average Pinterest board or inspiration Tumblr basically functions as a longing machine.

Pinterest’s sudden and spectacular rise has been met with some skepticism, and it’s often talked about in that particular dismissive way reserved for things that have the temerity to seem both frivolous and feminine. Not surprisingly, some of this loathing is internalized. Someone on Pinterest once posted a slide that read: “Pinterest: Where women go to plan imaginary weddings, dress children that don’t exist and decorate homes we can’t afford.” But to focus on the “aspirational” aspect is to miss the point. People don’t post stuff because they wish they owned it, but because they think they are it, and they long to be understood, which is different.

Pinterest didn’t create this urge to use visual evocations for little pleasure jolts; in fact, its success lies precisely in being behind the curve. The site’s co-founder, Ben Silbermann, has said that in creating the site, he was just picking up on something people were already doing — i.e., collecting beautiful things and using them as a way to express who they are to the world — and making it easier for them to do it. What the company provides is a clean, well-lighted place to collect found images and share them with others. In fact, the company discourages people from posting images they have created themselves, preferring that they venture out into the wilds of the Internet looking for beautiful things to bring back to the cave.

Silbermann suggests that collecting online is a form of self-expression for people who don’t create. “If you walk around Brooklyn and ask people how they express themselves,” he said in a speech at New York University, “everyone’s a musician or an artist or a filmmaker. But most of us aren’t that interesting. Most of us are just consumers of that. And when we collect things and when we share those collections with people, that’s how we show who we are in the world.”

Not everyone buys into this, of course. Here’s The Awl’s co-editor, Choire Sicha, for instance, on the subject of rebloggers who fancy themselves curators: “As a former actual curator, of like, actual art and whatnot, I think I’m fairly well positioned to say that you folks with your blog and your Tumblr and your whatever are not actually engaged in a practice of curation. Call it what you like: aggregating? Blogging? Choosing? Copyright infringing sometimes? But it’s not actually curation, or anything like it. . . .” To which a commenter added: “My Tumblr isn’t so much curated space as it is a symptom of deeper pathologies made manifest.”

“Curation” does imply something far more deliberate than these inspiration blogs, whose very point is to put the viewer into an aesthetic reverie unencumbered by thought or analysis. These sites are not meant (as curation is) to make us more conscious, but less so. That might be O.K., but it also means they have a lot more in common with advertising than they do with curation. After all, advertising trains us to keep our desire always at the ready, nurturing that feeling that something is missing, then redirecting it toward a tangible product. In the end, all that pent-up yearning needs a place to go, and now it has that place online. But products are no longer the point. The feeling is the point. And now we can create that feeling for ourselves, then pass it around like a photo album of the life we think we were meant to have but don’t, the people we think we should be but aren’t.


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