Opportunities Begin with Problems
When considering from where the next big media spike will occur one simply needs to look for a big glaring problem. For it is where problems are created that new opportunities emerge. It seems clear to me now that it is the growing paradox of social networking that will spawn the next genius multi-$ billion giant. So what is the paradox? Simply, as social networks increase in size, they decrease in value.
Consider that recently there’s been dramatic change in the way we interact with friends and networks online. It used to be that we had just a few of our friends on a service — conveniently allowing us to connect and see what their activities were. Then we became enamored with sites that made us feel like there were people out there who were like us and allowed us to share common experiences. Then it happened.
Facebook and Twitter began to grow at a gargantuan rate. Facebook actually facilitated a new cultural norm: “friend”ing everyone we knew. Now we had tons of our friends with us everywhere we went. Now one would think that this ability to share so much with friends in an online space and their ability to share in return would have led to a richer experience, but in reality that is not what has happened.
What remains is the harsh reality: We’re not really paying attention to the friends we’re connected to.
Look closer at Twitter. In the beginning it was a great venue for early users to talk tech. It really wasn’t that long ago when there were few enough people on twitter that you could actually read every tweet in your stream. But the network has become more dense. We are finding more and more people we know and have begun following hundreds, even thousands of people. As a result reading all those tweets is now impossible.
This isn’t just a guess or opinion either. It is such a reality that entire companies have sprung up entirely based on the premise that you have too many friends and followers to really pay attention to what is going on.
Flipboard, among others, organizes the “best” of your friends posts and tweets in an effort to present the content to you in a more valuable way. Companies like this and even Facebook’s news feed intelligence, are specifically designed to help us deal with the disconnect that has occurred as a result of our connectedness by sorting through the river of information that these monstrous networks have created for us.
And that friends, is the social network paradox that we’re pretending doesn’t exist: as the size of the network increases, our ability to be social decreases.
This is why new, smaller communities get a lot of buzz very quickly. When a smaller group of people are using tools like 4Square, we can keep track of our friends more easily. It is at that smaller scale that the knowing of the information combined with a more certain and finite number of people and knowing that ALL of them saw the information that there is value. This is precisely what made Twitter so appealing early on. “Only your crew” was in the loop. But, once the number of connection increase over the Dunbar number of 150 – the magic is lost. Above that number, everything just becomes a comment – no real conversations.
So once again, what began as a community of cutting edge social trailblazers has turned into nothing more than a meaningless party of 4square checkins and too many hashtags. Thus, social connection DOES NOT flow over these networks — they have been reduced to feeders of information.
Communities have sprung up to help those of us who recognize this void become connected in meaningful ways again, but in some cases, even these grow out of control.
What we NEED is a system of control. A series of warnings and triggered events that help us keep our # of connections limited. Similarly a whole new slew of tools could emerge to serve those of us who truly want to be able to successfully market in social spaces. Rather than targeting huge groups and networks and trying to yell even louder in an already over crowed room, we could begin to identify groups and communities that are actually having meaningful, relevant dialogue with which we can have a voice and be able to contribute and actually share experience.
As of this posting I am following 122,632 people and have 133,726 people following me collectively over the twitter accounts I control for the purposes of automotive Facebook Marketing. I have 681 “friends” on Facebook and collectively, across all the Facebook pages I admin have 176,809 “Likes” (Fans). Perhaps it’s time to trim some fat…