If anything web 2.0 technology has provided us the capabilities to have a continuous 24×7 public conversation on the web. There are blogs, communication services like Twitter, content services like YouTube, search services to help us find the things we need, profile services like Facebook or any other social network, and now aggregation and “noise” filtering services like Friendfeed and The Filter. Social media, or the ability to interact over any kind of media, provides the participants a never ending conversation space. It’s addictive, there is so much being produced, being shared, being launched, talked about that it forces our Internet backbone down on it’s knees and slowly into cardiac arrest. And we haven’t seen the end of it yet. There is an incredible sized population in Africa and Asia that isn’t on the web yet, but they will at some point.
I was thinking about this last night after I had written a post in which I argued that social media is timely. There isn’t a need to be participating 24×7 because there will always be something that’s important when you join in. I see this enormous conversation as a river of information passing by and me taking a plunge whenever I feel like it.
But the early adopters feel there is a real problem with this non-stop social media conversation . It’s the noise problem (Try a search on “noise” here for example). How can we find the things that are really important from that huge pile of information floating around. That is partially why we have aggregation and filtering services. Each of them, using one algorithm or another, tries to compile a tiny subset of the universe and present that to its users. The question that remains is whether or not the right tiny space is presented.
What all these technologies essentially do for us is remove all kinds of physical boundaries like time, distance and space. These constraints prevented us in the physical world to meet 1 Mln people at a time, getting to know people from any place in the world, have anyone that wants to, no matter where or when they are, listen to the things we say. Web technology removed those boundaries, essentially turning this digital world into a giant market square where we can meet.
While I’m writing this, Scott O’Raw just published a post which ties in really good with this one. In his post Scott talks about this very same conversation and worries about people like Robert Scoble trying to become a talkshow host. Robert is very often at the center of conversations (well in the tech world anyway), and that helps him deal with the massive amounts of information. It also makes the brand Scobleizer more sticky. Scott agitates against these shock and awl tactics just for the sake of getting attention. The article is well worth a read, so go over there and give it a shot.
And while all of these conversations seem rather attractive right now I wonder what will happen when not 10 Mln or a100 mln users but 1 Bln users are participating. Or 3 Bln. The entire population in this planet. Everything connected into one uber-social graph. Everyone talking to everyone on the largest virtual market square know to man. The entire digital universe becoming a social media heaven.
I believe we might just get lost in this universe. The conversation simply becomes too large for anyone to even remotely grasp its complexity. Right now we are all creating our own public appearance, getting enough Google or any other kind of juice so that we can actually be found and listened to. Just take a look at a relative small conversation Robert Scoble started just now over on Friendfeed. Imagine not 100-200 people talking and not really listening, but instead 1Mln or 5 Mln doing that. The conversation would lose it’s importance immediately. If the entire planet is out there, connected, wouldn’t that make us all anonymous again? I think so. I believe that once people have had a few experiences with the excitement of being part of this public conversation, they will settle down again. Humans aren’t capable of dealing with such complexity, and computer algorithms, filtering tactics, friend referrals, don’t really reduce the complexity, it just flattens out the conversation until we all hear the same things.
There are two reasons why I suspect that this global social media conversation will be less important in a next evolution of the web. The first reason is that in order to reduce complexity people will eventually fall back on smaller, more personal, more localized communities. The conversations taking place in such communities will be more immersed within the actual physical world the users live in. That doesn’t imply there won’t be a public conversation. I’m suggesting the smaller communities will prove to be much more valuable than large scale ones.
The second reason is that the most important access device that will be used for the web in the coming years is by its nature a very personal device. It’s your mobile phone, quickly turning into a hand held web browser with communication features. One of the characteristics of this device is that it tends to suck you in, leaving you unaware of your surroundings (probably why so many car accidents happen while people are using a mobile phone while driving). It effectively shuts down a few of our senses such as hearing and seeing (except for a tunnel vision). While the monitors on our computers will become larger, TV screen like, the mobile device will remain small and will draw all attention to it’s screen. As a result of this sucking in and the device’s graphical capabilities it is my believe that we simply can’t deal with the complexity of a conversation on a scale of millions. Instead, we will be using that device more effectively with those that we know, friends that we care about and trust. In other words, in much smaller communities. And with that descaling the noise problem will be reduced to a much smaller proportion.
We don’t really need noise filters, the sheer complexity of the social media conversation will resolve itself because we won’t find enough value to continue to participate in such immense structures. We will end up scaling down in smaller but more valuable communities. You can try it out today already. Just stop following people for the sake of it or the numbers. Try to select carefully and notice how the noise level drops to a point where quality and personal interactions take over the enormously crowded marketplace we are all visiting today 😉