The human factor in social media (revisited)


Trying to understand the now

Last year I wrote 3 (rather long) thought experiments I pretentiously called ‘The human factor in Social media’. You can find part 1, part 2, and part 3 here. I was reading them back recently and thought about what came true of them so far. They weren’t meant to be future predictions, the thought experiment then was to understand the ‘now’.

Let’s see if we can make up the balance now.

1. Everything will connect with everything, walled gardens will be torn down -> But we will still need a destination

Is there an end thinkable to the growth of ‘walled gardens’? I argued then that at some point these walls will be torn down and the service would become a utility instead of a destination.

OpenID is taking off now, allowing you to log into services without creating yet another identity. Twitter gets more traffic from clients than from its main web site. Facebook is fiercely fighting to become the ‘de facto’ social platform.

However, Google is the only company that got this from the start. See for example their stealth social network. A Google account is something you can take along to almost anywhere. And now with Android exploding, Google will take your “home” into the mobile web. Google doesn’t lock you in, and by doing that they become more and more valuable to us. It’s the main reason why I think Android will eventually overtake the iPhone. Entrapment is a long-term failing strategy.

2. “Always on” will have a huge social impact -> But it will lead to a need to disconnect

I noticed last year that there was an imbalance between ‘on’ and ‘off’. I personally have felt the need to slow down and spent less time emerged in social networks and with the ‘biggest Internet invention’ the status update. The magic is gone.

I’ve seen more people doing that, but in essence I feel now that we haven’t reached a tipping point yet. More and more time is spend on short bursts of communications (often in the form of sending, instead of receiving), less time is spend on depth interactions. We seem to have forgotten that the basis for any good interaction is the ability to listen.

3. Information will be available anytime, anywhere, anyhow -> But the real value lies in people

This is a very actual problem we are facing now. the noise that we now have access to is immense. Following quantity has overtaken quality. Publishing quantity has overtaken sharing intentionally. Finding the right people or knowledge is a hard problem to solve. Friendfeed tried it with friend recommendations and failed. Twitter is overtaken by its addiction to growth instead of quality.

Instead of choosing the obvious solution the tech industry is already looking  for tech solutions (reputation, trust based algorithms). It’s a nice exercise but not as effective as the most obvious solution. Just scale down the nr of people you follow or interact with. There are tons of examples available of people stating that their Twitter experience and value increased considerably when they stopped auto following people, and started following people they had met in real-life. We can decide for ourselves who is important and who is not. You don’t really need a smart algorithm for that.

4. Public interaction using social media is exciting now -> But highly localized immersed interaction will be more important

Do I need to say FourSquare, Yelp, Loopt? The trend is obvious. There is much more value to be gained from highly localized networks and interactions. I said then:

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.

5. Social media makes us all public figures -> This will lead to an accompanying need for privacy

This is a tricky one. It is something I feel strongly about. It’s not that everything needs to be private. I just want people to be in control of their own privacy. It’s a conversation that keeps popping up. We need a single place where we can store our identity online and from that decide what parts of it can be made available to other people or services.

Current practice shows that privacy is loosing ground quickly. Over 300M users on Facebook show that they either don’t understand or care about their privacy. Privacy is translated to the small domain of user – user interactions. I want it to cover service provider – user interactions as well. You can set your privacy to maximum on Facebook, but you can’t find a switch that protects you, your friends, your interactions from Facebook itself. You and your data are commercially exploited and no one knows or cares enough to do something about it. I have to be realistic about this and realize this is not a problem for most people.

What do you think about all of this? Does it make any sense? Let me know.


About vanelsas

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4 Responses to The human factor in social media (revisited)

  1. DarkNet says:

    Good post, certainly lays out the current cyber zeitgeist. I’m especially interested in what you said about attempting to use more technology to solve problems that have been caused by technology (#3). I wonder if there will come a point where no new gains can be made simply by uploading new software updates to a server. At some point, it’s going to require some real footwork and some actual overhead to continue to deliver new solutions. In the world of search, Google realized that even the most sophisticated algorithms couldn’t deliver data that just doesn’t exist, so they sent people to hit the road (Streetview) and start scanning books. I wonder what the equivalent would be for the world of social media. What kind of “real world” headway could be made to improve the social experience? Will we ever see a true cultural upheaval again, or will we continue to be glued to the utterly uninspiring world of Web 2.0? Will people use mobile devices to expose themselves to new and completely unpredictable encounters in the real world, or to practice even greater adherence to the ultra-safe, ultra-predictable world of their online social network? So we’re all connected. Now where do we go from here? What do we DO with all this connectivity?

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