Monday I started something that might take a few days to finish. I called it the human factor in social media trends. For those of you that missed it, you can find the post here, and besides the comments on there was also another great discussion going on about it here.
The object of this thought experiment is to spot a Social Media trend, drive it to the extreme and see what would happen to human behavior. Yesterday I discussed 2 trends, today I’ll try 2 more:
Trend no. 3: Information will be available anytime, anywhere, anyhow -> But the real value lies in people
Google has provided us with an effective means to find information. They are running the largest data and communication infrastructure in the world and have become the largest source of information. Social media take this information delivery process one step further and allow us to interact with information on almost any social object. Everything is RSS-ified providing an automatic delivery of information to a specific place or person. We now have aggregation sites that aggregate the information sites that aggregate information. There is so much information at hand and so many ways it can be delivered to us that many are debating heavily on the noise effect it creates. While this is mainly a Tech Elite’s problem, it is true that it has never been easier for anyone to get access to information.
We query Google for information millions of times a day. And with each query, and each indexing action of a new site, the information stored at Google servers increases. Up to a point where for example automatic translations of text from one language to another becomes possible, without having any knowledge of either language. Where linguists spent years of research building translation algorithms, Google simply uses brute force. It has so much data available that it can simply map one language to another. It’s incredible when you stop and think about that for a while. Chris Anderson of Wired proposed that having access to such enormous amounts of information might change the way science now operates. While he takes this line of reasoning way too far in my opinion, the translation example does show there lies great power in handling huge amounts of data.
To me it seems that having instant access to information makes the information itself less important. We don’t need to remember things, we can simply query it. The information itself becomes less valuable because the transaction costs to obtain it have dropped to zero.
Instead, having instant access to information will drive a need for knowledge. A deeper understanding of the inner workings. And where is this knowledge to be found? It won’t be found at Google, or any of the aggregation sites known today. I doubt knowledge can be indexed or queried automatically. Microsoft disagrees, and they just bought Powerset to move into that direction. It can only be found in people. I suspect that having a unique expertise, experience, or a deep knowledge, will become a very valuable asset in this future of instant access. We can see the importance of knowledge already. Just look at the incredible numbers of new “web 2.0″ startups that start every day. Most of them based upon an idea, a piece of information or technology, convinced that this will lead to a successful business. But few actually make it and become successful. Not because they didn’t have access to the necessary information. But mostly because they lack the knowledge and experience needed to become a successful business. That is why you should start a new venture with people first. It’s the people that make a business successful.
Why is this observation relevant? It is relevant because we haven’t found an effective way to access people with knowledge or expertise yet. Sure there is stuff like LinkedIn, or aggregation sites like Friendfeed. But these services can’t really answer the question “who is an expert in the field of…”. And that might just become one of the most important questions in the near future.
Trend no 4: Public interaction using social media is exciting now -> But higly localised immersed interaction will be more important
The most important value of Social Media isn’t the media itself. It isn’t the content, the channel, the technology. What makes social media valuable is that it allows us to interact. Interaction is by far the most valuable driver for any online service. Friendfeed isn’t an interesting service because it aggregates content from specific people to one place. Friendfeed is interesting because it allows its users to interact over that content.
This value of interaction drives all major social networks such as Facebook and Myspace to lower their walls and allow interaction across their networks. That’s why Google comes with OpenSocial. Every object on the web is to be “socialised”, allowing anyone to interact with or over it. The trend isn’t that we are getting more social networks. The trend is that everything becomes social, making the web one big social object. A place where interaction can take place whenever we feel like it. And it is a public interaction. The bigger the better.
This ability to interact anywhere will increase the participation of Internet users for sure. The early adopters are going wild over it, some interacting on a 24×7 basis, but it will attract mainstream users as well. Blogging is just one step into that direction, people will get used to Twitter-like services being added to any service they join. One giant conversation taking place 24×7. You can plunge in whenever you feel like it. But when we have the ability to join in on this public conversation, I believe that the novelty and value of this public conversation will decrease. It won’t disappear, instead it will become one of our possible ways of interacting with other people. Just imagine 100 people joining in a conversation, now 1000 or 1 mln. The scale of that makes the entire experience lose value very quickly.
But with our increased need to get access to knowledge (AKA people) I also believe that the public conversation will be partially replaced by much smaller, highly localised communities of people. In other words, I believe the noise that is created by this huge social media conversation will be resolved by scaling the conversation down.
Communities connected by location, interest, expertise, immersed into the physical world that surrounds them. We will see the same behavior there as we see now in the public, but the real value for the individual user will be obtained from these smaller communities. It will lead to less information and more knowledge. And this trend or effect will be driven by the most personal interaction device we have, the mobile phone.
I’ll stop again as the post is getting long enough already . But I hope you like these little thought experiments. Don’t see them as predictions of the future. I would rather see them as a help to understand the present. And as usual, I’m really interested to hear your opinion on these observations. Does anything I say here make any sense? Do you recognise any of it in your on-line experiences now?