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Learning new media: Where do you start?

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There seems to be a theme running through my new media discussions this week: Where do you start? That’s a big question and I don’t know that it’s easily answered. I started a blog and just kind of stumbled around, then got a new media job and learned by osmosis, then…well I don’t really know that my personal route was the best way to go. But it worked.

You’re going to need to find your own path when you set out to learn new media, but here are a few tips on how to sort out which path to take:

Be curious

If your only reason for learning new media is because you have to, you’re not going to get much further than how stuff works. Which is to say, you’ll learn how to Tweet, but you probably won’t ever realize the value in doing so.

Curiosity is essential to learning any new thing because it’s what causes you to tinker. My “aha” moments almost always occur when I’m using something and think, “I wonder what will happen if I do this….” This is especially important with new media because, well, it’s really, really new and there are still plenty of things to be discovered.

Try a bunch of new media tools and use the ones you like

At this point, I have no idea how many social networks I’m on. I’ll get e-mail notifications for networks I’m only 30 percent sure I ever visited in the first place. Point is, I try a lot of crap. And in most cases, that’s what it turns out to be for me: crap. But it’s free to sign up for all these networks and if one of them turns out to be the most useful thing I’ve ever encountered…why not?

Besides that, the networks I get the most use out of fluctuate fairly regularly. When I first started out, Wired Journalists was home. Then Twitter came along. Then Google Reader…. Wired Journalists has since become a place where I mostly comment, not so much blog and redirect people to. Twitter went from being an I-sort-of-use-it kind of thing to I-don’t-know-what-I’d-do-without-it (same goes for Google Reader). Experiment with things, find out how other people use them, decide what you like and move forward accordingly.

Find smart people and ask them stupid questions

One of my favorite aspects of social media is that it’s done a lot to break down that mentality of so-and-so is too important for me. Experts in any number of fields are more accessible than ever and I’ve found that in a lot of cases, they’re more than happy to talk with you. Drop a comment on one of their blog posts, @ reply them on Twitter—no question’s a stupid question as long as it’s in context to the discussion. Consider blogging about things you don’t know about—I made quite an idiot of myself early on and it served me well when people showed up to argue with me.

Don’t limit yourself to just big fish, either. It’s always cool to get a reply from one of your idols, but there are a lot of people your same age/same skill level who can be just as helpful. Find people—find Twitter accounts, blogs, social networks or whatever you can, and be present in those places (re: comment, comment, comment).

UPDATE: Fourth tip: Commit to the learning process.

Need specifics?

I haven’t rebooted my Recommended section yet, but if you want to drop a comment here or find me on a social network (pick one from the icons in the upper right of every page) I’d be happy to rattle off some options for whatever your slant in new media is (and as usual, if you’ve got suggestions of your own, drop ’em).

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