Why noise will be tackled by scaling down the social media conversation

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 πŸ˜‰


About vanelsas

See my about page, https://vanelsas.wordpress.com/about/ ;-)
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26 Responses to Why noise will be tackled by scaling down the social media conversation

  1. Scott O'Raw says:

    Hi Alex,

    Excellent post (as usual, damn you πŸ˜‰ ). Thanks for the mention.

    I totally agree that following people for the sake of it is an exercise in futility. Brand Scobleizer will, no doubt, thunder along regardless of what you or I say, however.

  2. ryan says:

    Wrote a response on my blog. If not a response, something inspired by the above. http://tillingthesoil.wordpress.com/2008/06/04/my-2-cents-on-the-whole-thing/
    Thanks for your thoughts

  3. Solacetech says:

    Good Post! Social Media is a new road/path and at this point it’s difficult predicting what direction it’s heading in. Thanx for the insight…

  4. @Scott thanks (I think πŸ˜‰ )

    I’m guessing that there are even limits to what someone like Robert can handle, let me ask him.

    Solacetech Ryan, thx, will take a look.

  5. There is already a conversation going on here, in case you don’t want to miss it (although you could chose not to participate as I suggested in my post πŸ˜‰ )


  6. Pingback: …but don’t get lost in there « Aurelius Maximus

  7. Warren says:

    The noise factor is not really new. A number of years ago a lot of social interaction occurred on newsgroups or IRC. Many of the larger popular groups split into smaller groups due to the noise factor. It was easier to chat with a few known friends rather than try to pick their comments from the main stream.

  8. gregory says:

    it is not noise …. the noise is your thoughts about it …. pay attention to the self who sees all of this stuff, instead of the stuff, and the noise subsides. you will miss nothing, all essential information for your career and your learning will automatically arrive, this is what the mind does when you’re not agitated by useless thoughts. it is the perfect filter, already built in, free. you just have to be willing to let go of your agitation about what you are calling noise.

    pretty simple, maybe that is why you don’t see it

  9. @warren agree. The same thing will happen with social media and networks too, even if they are all aiming at conquering the entire world.

    @Gregory that is pretty difficult to accomplish. It probably needs a lot of training to be able to do that. For most people, there is just way too much to participate in πŸ˜‰

  10. gregory says:

    alexander, it is a lot easier than the alternative πŸ™‚

  11. the talk show host is a good metaphor for what we seem to be aiming towards – for some set of things you really don’t want to surf to find the new news, you just want to tune in and have it streamed at you.

  12. Gregory, just to be sure, I am not bothered a bit by the noise right now. The reason for it is that I choose only to participate when I feel like it. I leave the conversation and rest assure it continues without me. Right now I still follow everyone that is willing to follow me. Maybe in the future when I can’t use the ZEN method you described any longer, I’ll scale my social network down as I described πŸ˜‰

  13. gregory says:

    you don’t have to scale anything down, that is a misconception currently making its way through the web’o’sphere as the “attention overload” meme …

    yes, a zen guy or a yogi would immediately understand what i am saying, they have studied attention forever, but even we work-a-day wage slaves can get this if we understand one basic principle …. we are not our thoughts, we are the observer of our thoughts

    (gosh knows thought-leaders don’t want to hear that πŸ™‚ )

    just see the river, and not all the things floating by on it, is maybe the simple way for me to leave it

    enjoy the day, thanks for your time, gregory

  14. first thanks for the link to Scott’s blog which I have now subscribed to. As for the excellent post I find it has tied in with a few things I have been thinking about and will end up being posted about at some point πŸ™‚

  15. @Steven great, I’ll be looking forward to that πŸ˜‰

  16. Pingback: A Definition of Noise « I’m Not Actually a Geek

  17. Mark Dykeman says:

    Alexander, I’m reading and enjoying your posts of late although I haven’t been commenting much.

    Your last paragraph sums it up very well.

  18. @Mark I was missing your interaction already, glad to have you back, and happy to hear you still enjoy reading these thoughts πŸ˜‰

  19. Pingback: WinExtra » Scoble – a one channel radio station of white noise

  20. Since I tweeted about it, I think that people who see FF as a better filter than Twitter don’t know how to manage their follows. E.g. your policy to follow anyone who follows you — that’s a potential noise magnet.

  21. Paula very true. I can deal with it for now, but I might scale down once I can’t any more. For now there is value for me because it helps me discover new stuff. But there are limits to this approach πŸ˜‰

  22. Pingback: notes, thoughts, ideas and responses » How Early Adopters Pull The Web

  23. pinastro says:

    Hmm…I have some reservations over this blog ..but really can’t say anything right now…

    I am following your blogposts quite regulary …Will comment on whether “Social Media Conversation” should be scaled down or not later.

  24. Pingback: Scoble – a one channel radio station of white noise β€” Shooting at Bubbles

  25. Pingback: Ask not what social media can do for you… » Walker Media

  26. Pingback: The magic is gone « Alexander van Elsas’s Weblog on new media & technologies and their effect on social behavior

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