Maybe we should consider to rename this ‘social media’ era into the ego broadcasting era. That thought struck my mind when reading a WSJ post entitled ‘How Facebook ruins friendships’. The author discusses her fatigue with friends that send her nonsense status updates:
Like many people, I’m experiencing Facebook Fatigue. I’m tired of loved ones—you know who you are—who claim they are too busy to pick up the phone, or even write a decent email, yet spend hours on social-media sites, uploading photos of their children or parties, forwarding inane quizzes, posting quirky, sometimes nonsensical one-liners or tweeting their latest whereabouts. (“Anyone know a good restaurant in Berlin?”)
She goes on with a number of other observations, but what strikes me about the article are some of the comments that readers disagreeing provided:
[Ditto - If you're annoyed by the stream coming from your friend, hide it. The tools are there for you to use the offering as you like. No need for a national call to change the world and how it's citizens interact with social media. Seriously.]
[I couldn't agree more. She could have tweaked her privacy settings in about three minutes and solved all the stuff she's ranting about in this column.]
I’ve seen this type of reaction a lot. Go into Twitter or Friendfeed and complain that you find the service less valuable because of the amount of noise involved, and tons of people will not address your basic feeling about the service, but instead will provide a million ways to slice and dice the streams to your needs.
The problem in my opinion isn’t a setting. We (the participants) share so much crap about ourselves and the things that we find relevant in a context where it is fairly useless, that no algorithm can possibly distinguish the signal from the noise. My problem with ‘status updates’ and shares in general is that when they are automated or non-intentional they become irrelevant. This stream of non-sense is fueled by the ‘coolness’ of social media. Every self-respecting social media site now offers at the very least 10 different ways of publishing and sharing your status updates to all relevant sites and networks. We are told where people are and what they are doing, often without them even telling us this in person.
The underlying thought is that status updates are helping us to interact. This is true of course. If anything social media has brought us interaction. But in our eagerness to centralize something (conversation) which cannot/shouldn’t be captured in one place we create an overkill of status update streams jumping off in all directions, hoping that at some point it all comes together again.
Besides their basic value offering services like Disqus (sorry Fred Wilson ;-) ), Backtype, Brightkite, Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed etc.etc., all provide options to publish your stuff outside the context that it was relevant in, or reel it back into yet another place. And that makes the noise go up and the signal go down.
This puts the pressure on the receiver of this mess (that would be you and me). I need to use complicated settings to scale down the conversation, find the signal in the noise. I need to choose my friends carefully, subscribe to one feed and delete the other. I have to ignore 90% of what passes by in order to find that 10% that’s really relevant to me. It’s all my own doing off course.
I don’t think so. It’s yours. The day you decided to become a broadcaster instead of a friend you took the wrong turn. The day you decided it would be cool to share everything about the most important thing in life (you) was the day that all the noise became a relevant factor. You are not responsible for people subscribing to your broadcasts, but you are responsible for the crap that you send around. Why become a slave of the status update and the retweet? Why broadcast, when you can actually interact? Why automate the things you do in life when a well intended personal message provides 10x the value.Why not think before you act?
I think it’s the reason why well known technology evangelists like Robert Scoble and Fred Wilson are reducing the nr of people they actually follow on services like Twitter. Being followed is a broadcast thing, it is good for your ego. Following the right people provides meaning, it increases the signal within the noise. (on a side note, Scoble is often accused of creating noise which I think is ridiculous given the role he plays in the industry. I bet his private/personal stream aimed at real friends would look quite different from his public one. (Update: TechCrunch just posted: Twitter’s golden ratio (that no one likes to talk about), ties in nicely with this post)
The status update and retweet are mostly a publishers tool. They have little to do with interaction or friendship. A status update or retweet become twice as valuable when you have intent. Add an explanation why you are retweeting, aim a status update at your audience, instead of yourself. Imagine the nr of servers out there needed to store all that noise. You can probably reduce the planet’s carbon waste by 10% by turning of the servers that store and send out copies of copies of copies of status updates. It’s one of the reasons I believe the noise we are creating will be handled by scaling down the conversation.
We can invent real-time search, intelligent (trust, content, friend) filters, and whatever technology we want. But there is one universal law that will always apply. Crap in is crap out. And by writing this post, I just may have added some crap to that big pile too.