The human factor in Social Media trends

Sometimes when I am really relaxed (this always seems to happen on a weekend 😉 ) I sit back and imagine about possible consequences of things that seem important now. If you follow social media news a bit like I do it seems that there are a few trends becoming increasingly important. But what if we would try to imagine what would happen with human behavior if we drive this trend to the extreme. In other words, let’s forget about technology for a moment, what about the human factor? I like these little thought experiments. It isn’t that they predict any kind of future, it’s more that they help me form an opinion about the present.

So let’s do this exercise on a few things I’ve been thinking about this weekend. As my posts tend to get too long, I will break it up in several. So more to come the next few days 😉

Trend no. 1: Everything will connect with everything, walled gardens will be torn down -> But we will still need a destination

First we had social networks. Large, closed sites where people go to in order to interact with friends. Now social networks are forced to open up. Google’s OpenSocial and Friendconnect, MySpace, Facebook, they are all taking their first steps into data portability. It isn’t because they want to, or because the technology has arrived. It’s because we are now beginning to understand that users don’t like to be contained in parts of the web.

Services pop up everywhere that allow the user to interact with or over any object it seems. Every site or service becomes social. As a result of this, walled gardens will be torn down. I read an article that Doc Searl has written in 2003 (!) already about the web. He and David Weinberger then called it “The world of Ends”. I like that metaphor, but Doc Searl updated it a bit later in 2006. He builds on the concept of a Giant Zero, a 3 Dimensional hollow sphere, first described by Craig Burton (in 1999 wow). An excellent post, worth wile a good read. It describes the web more or less as I imagine it, no walls, open, a utility.

The question that comes to mind is the following. If everything becomes socially connected, if there are no more walled gardens, if we can interact anywhere we want, would there still be a need for a destination? Can we live an on-line life without an anchor point? Surfing the web without some on-line place that we can call home?

I am a fan of the User-Centric web, that is a web that evolves around its users. A web where not the destination or the network is important, but the user. It sounds like a destination-less web. But the more I think about that, the more I believe that even within the User-Centric web, people will still have a need for a central place.

A place where they can start and end their journey. A safe harbor that provides the comfort and shelter of the known. That place will become our most important destination. It will be “home” on the web. Even if we can interact with anyone, anything, anytime, or anywhere we want, we will still feel the urge to return to that place that will be ours. It won’t be a Facebook-like Walled Garden destination. But it will be a Facebook-like place that is owned by the user himself. It would be interesting to try and describe this “home” but that would be the topic of another post and most likely the business model of some new venture 😉

Trend no. 2: “Always on” will have a huge social impact -> But it will lead to a need to disconnect

Technology allows us to be “always on”. To be part of a never ending conversation. Simply plug in, anywhere, and you can join in. Friends are spread out across every timezone, so there always are people available to interact with. Technology becomes smaller so we can take our connection device with us, wherever we go. Connection technology provide us a network that spans the entire globe. Wifi, UMTS, HSDPA, WiMax,no matter where you are there is always a way to get on-line.

Services are playing with this concept already. Many web 2.0 services are providing us with life streams, traveling plans, shopping behavior, localisation technology, interaction platforms. Even if you are not on-line, at least the people that follow you know exactly what you are doing. This technology feeds an urge for us to share what we are doing, and to follow what others are doing. It is never ending. I find myself sometimes fire up Twitter or Friendfeed or whatever service late in the evening, just out of curiosity. What are people up too right now?

But there is a downside to this as well. The more time we spend on-line, the less time there is for the physical world. This behavior of “always on” will have significant impact on physical relations. We may find inspiration, fun, pleasure, profession on the web, it is the relations in the physical world that matter in the end. Family, friends, co-workers, we will need to find a balance between the “always on” and the off world.

If we take this “always on” to the extreme, then I believe that it will be accompanied by an increasing need to disconnect  or hide. With our desire to be in an constant on-line interaction we will build up a need to disconnect. To get away from that all. To spent time outside the web and not care about what on-line friends are doing. And with this desire to disconnect we might see a hide function appear in life streams. Instead of broadcasting every step we take, we might want to interrupt that flow on purpose.

I believe that when everything becomes a life stream, the impact of that life stream might become less. Life just isn’t all that interesting. There are moments of glory, and there are moments when nothing really happens. And once we see that same pattern appear on-line life streaming won’t be such a big deal anymore. Right now we get all excited being able to connect on-line and discuss everything we want. Once this has become the norm, then its value will decrease, we will not be “always on” for the sake of it. Instead, we will chose our moments more carefully. I described this in a previous post called “Piercing through the myth that always on and instant access are important”. It’s all about finding a balance between the on- and offline world we live in.

I’ll stop now, there are a few more trends that I would like to discuss here. But the post is long enough for now. What do you think? Does anything I say here make any sense. Do you recognise any of it in your on-line experiences now? Does thinking like this help us understand the present better? Let me know your thoughts on this.


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28 Responses to The human factor in Social Media trends

  1. atul says:

    For me iGoogle / FriendFeed/ gmail account are my destinations. In the past, the destinations were yahoo.mail. I would guess destinations will always be user centric and will move if a new app provides a better experience than the one in the past.

  2. Louis Gray says:

    The whole concept of “lifestreaming” is not really accurate. I’m not streaming my life when I use aggregation services. All I’m doing is having them track my behavior on some sites that friends and peers may find interesting.

    Lifestreaming things like meals, bodily functions, and the mundane are completely not interesting.

    But the idea of “always on” doesn’t mean “broadcast everything”. I like being always on. It’s not just being on, it’s being connected and engaged.

  3. Louis, what interests me in the “always on” thing isn’t just the streaming part. It is also interesting to think what will happen if your kids grow up, and there comes a clash between “always on” and events happening in real life. i suspect that when more people are reaching a state of “always on” there will be more interferences with physical life. It would be interesting to see what happens then. My feeling is that people will disconnect on purpose, to make a clear distinction again between on and off

  4. When the novelty wears off, we’ll see the similar types of human behaviors as we have now.
    Take tourists for example, one type cuts themselves from the world they left behind and maybe takes occasional pics, another type wants to video-graph most of the time. The same thing will happen with social media usage, because we as humans will not change, just the tools are different.

  5. Great post! It is all about communication not a concept in a vacuum.

    And when you had enough, unplug.

  6. marchino says:

    Rather than a lifestream I think it’s better to speak about a consciuosness stream, our life remain here, this side of the screen, where I can shake a hand and drink a glass of wine, though I have to take note that social media flow improves our quality of life.

  7. @Sachendra, that’s a bit what I am thinking. But I do think human behavior is a bit affected by the new uses of technology. So it will be more ” balancing out”
    @Marchino, how about “action” stream? I guess a lot of this stuff is about the actions we take, the state we are in on-line?
    @igor, it’s simple to say but seems hard to do for most that are hooked to ” always on” 😉

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  9. eng1ne says:

    When I read this last night, I thought I wasn’t seeing something that you were trying to communicate.. perhaps I was too tired to see where you were going with it.

    But today, I realize, it’s me. As in the old forest-for-the-trees adage, I am too close. I’ve been always-on for years now. I was an early adopter of the Sidekick cell phone, and (with small exceptions) constant email, SMS, phone and internet access for close to 5 years now.

    So for point #2, I’ve been there. I’m not sure if I need it, to be honest. Not *everything*. I use SMS more than voice on my cell phone, and have basically stopped using the web browser on my phone completely. At this point, I would demand more services in a more compelling UI (read: iPhone) or less.. say a cheap cell that has good battery life and SMS.

    For point #1: I do agree with this. I sure hope the growing complexity of social networks and the ‘social web’ is knitting together into something more cohesive. Something that gives me access to the services I need, without knowing beforehand that I need them. Something that does not slow down as more people start using it. Something that leverages the information already out there and adds a semantic layer, to help me find what I want, be it a person, a pizza, a definition, or a trend without having to reconform to a completely new interface.

    What I need is LCARS for the internet.

  10. Hi Alexander – when I was reading your post, I was absolutley amazed, because what you are talking about is (if I understand it right) absolutely the same as I did this weekend 🙂

    Regarding Trend1:

    I ended up with the assumption that the whole data portability development will lead us to a point where (social) networking will become a standard service of the internet – like email or ftp for example – and that MySpace, Facebook and Co. will only be providers for this networking technology, like Hotmail and Gmail are providers for Email today.

    And of course – you not necessarily need them any more – I guess that’s what you have ment with “home”?

    Regarding Trend2

    I have also pointed out, that there will be a lot of changes regarding how we use the internet, because it will be much more everywhere we need it than before and due to the fact, that we have this – let’s call “networking service” I will have my social network and my data always with me.

    And that again will have a big impact … read the full post here – would love to get your feedback on it:

  11. markdykeman says:

    Trend 1 – wouldn’t your home on the Web naturally be the place where your master data resides?

    Trend 2 – agree

  12. @Mark, thx for your response. Let me point out that I’m not so concerned if I’m right, it is merely a thought exercise to help me understand the present 😉 But in response to your question. Your data currently resides with Facebook (figuratively speaking), do you want them to provide you with a home, or would you like a more user-centric home? Wrt to the second trend. It is interesting to explore the disconnect thing. How would it work, or in other words, how would we find balance?

  13. Sandip says:

    I think the internet invariably mirrors human needs – in the 90’s email was a revolution as it helped people communicate better. In the new millennium, we have a distributed user centric web which mirrors the higher need to share feelings, get information etc. So what is the ultimate aim of the web? Is there any such thing at all?

    The new web will be intelligent and will seek to reduce human intervention for mundane activities ala RSS for updates today. So in the coming years we will see more intelligent equivalents of web activities and motifs.

    However, as far as the usability of the web goes…I dont think there is a “destination” – innovation will always venture till times immemorial. So ‘Ultimate connectivity’ is a term that will continue to evolve.

  14. Sarah says:

    You are one of my favorite social media philosophers and this post was truly excellent. 🙂

    As far as the need for disconnect, I think we’re already beginning to see the start of this trend as people are talking about noise and information overload. Too much of a good thing is still…too much.

    I love social media, but I love the “real world” too. Real human interaction is not achieved behind a keyboard, so as great as social media is…and it is great…I feel strongly that people need to find balance in their life when it comes to this. Take time away from the computer. Go for a walk, ride your bike, swim in the ocean, play with your dog, read a book, play a game, fall in love, have coffee with a friend and just talk. These things are important too, and you don’t need to tweet them to make the worthwhile.

    I think I’m one of the few people in the tech blogosphere that feels this way, but that’s OK. To each their own, right?

  15. @Sebastian My brain has turned off, I will look at your post tomorrow ok 😉

    @Sandip, right now most web 2.0 business models force denstination thinking. Facebook would be an excellent example, but most have the same destination thinking.

    @Sarah thank you, you just made my day 😉 Remember, you aren’t alone in this.There are a whole bunch of people struggling with finding this balance, and there will be many more once “always on” gets commoditized .

  16. marchino says:

    I wouldn’t speak about action, when I’m online, or better, I just speak -write, I’d say- about action. If I write a twit: “I’m smoking a great havana cigar”, you could try to imagine my sensation, but you never feel it like you were with me. I mean that I can transmit something of my life throught the net but not the life itself.

  17. markdykeman says:

    @Alexander – again on Trend 1 – yes, your point is well taken about the impact of Facebook being the “walled garden” home of your data on the Web. However, as much as I like the idea of a user-centric home, the only way that I ever see that happening is my having my own hosted Website where I exercise the vast majority of the control, which is similar to a hosted WordPress blog install, as an example. Most people just wouldn’t go to the trouble. In a way, user-centric web sounds like a hybrid of Web 1.0 (e.g. Geocites and other “personal websites”) and Web 2.0 (e.g. hosted WordPress).

  18. gregory says:

    it is all just thoughts

    it is all just the mind in action

    always on existed before tech, it was, and is, called the mind

    you make too much of nothing

    or maybe if you understood nothing, what is an empty mind, you coudl understand the tech better

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  22. At some point all the lifestreaming will have to become more maybe not really private but discriminating. This is something that people tried for some time with elaborate access permissions – but the interface is still a barriere here – you don’t want to explicitely set access permissions on every streamed event. But at some point I think we’ll have some (maybe AI enhanced) ‘buttlers’ that would infere the access persmissions from the context with enough precision to be useful.

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