Screwdrivers are great, until you have a nail. Then you need a hammer. But when you have a screw, then go back to the screwdriver.
When I was a kid, my stepfather (a stone mason) always taught me to use a tool for the purpose for which it was designed. You don’t slather on mortar with a ruler and you don’t hammer a screw into wood.
This applies to online tools as well. Too often, we get comfortable with one sort of tool and end up wanting to use it for everything. Maybe that means we use a forum for all sorts of online communities and collaboration, or using email for document collaboration, or Twitter as a RSS publisher or reader.
A craftsman must know all of his tools, whether he’s an artisan or a knowledge worker. Understand your options and the proper uses of each. Fixate on your underlying mission or message, because that will determine the medium — not the other way around.
When our audience or collaborators perceive we’ve exceeded some sort of boundary, problems arise. This explains why most folks don’t get nearly as incensed at receiving direct mail advertisements as we do when we receive spam, because the details are different and thus so are the perceptions.
Social tools really should focus on the people first and the technology second. Know your audience, your core purposes and principles, and choose based on those things. Don’t ignore a tool because it didn’t meet past needs, but don’t use a tool now just because it worked in another situation.
I have a good friend who’s very smart who once told me he didn’t like social networking sites, but he is very interested in forum moderation, MMOG guild management, and virtual worlds. As we discussed it in greater depth, his real concerns were deeper than that, but at first he focused on the tool when really he doesn’t like certain uses.
The medium is the message, so choose a tool that fits. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So don’t look at the hammer; otherwise, you’ll miss the fact that there’s a screw in there.