2/6/20081

Take time out – gain perspective.Comments

PerspectiveHaving not blogged or been involved in any significant way with social media for a week it's been interesting to note the way my attitudes have changed, not just while away on holiday but also before that. It has been surprising to see how much can change in such a short time.

I'm no sure if it's connected to all of the Twitter downtime but my online behaviour has altered recently and my usage on the service has reduced significantly. When you're on holiday, however, you really notice that you use a service like Twitter as it was originally intended to operate; you find yourself just giving quick status updates rather than trying to use it as a full communication tool - 140 character limitations and all.

Once you strip away desktop clients and the like and are just using a mobile phone then you can't conduct meaningful conversations in that kind of environment with limited updates and a small screen. It has been interesting to watch how my behaviour has altered and, now that I am at this point, I can't see myself going back to using Twitter as a full messaging system.

The level of the banality on such a service - even when you are choosing your 'friends' carefully - is also driving me away to the point where I will most likely not be using Twitter to interact but just to give status updates including new post notifications - they are after all just something else you are sharing saying "this is what I've been up to".

What is spam?

The nature of what we refer to as spam as the service has evolved has altered and you will be criticised or even unfollowed if all you do is post blog notifications. Because people are now using Twitter differently to how is was envisaged it is almost unacceptable to just give status messages - I can't help but feel that this is wrong.

As Alexander says, Social Media is about interaction and I now intend to focus my time on tools which allow me to do this more comprehensively; the best of the bunch currently being FriendFeed.

It has also been interesting to observe my opinions to the 'conversation'. I was only away for a few days - and tried to keep an eye on things using FFtogo - but it seemed as though very little was actually happening whereas I would normally feel like a normal day on FriendFeed could get pretty busy. The only real discussion that caught my attention was around the "FriendFeed Likes Compatibility Index" - using commonalities between FriendFeed likes as a way to identify other users that you may be interested in following.

Now, I'm sure that the few days weren't as quiet as they seemed but that it is more likely to be due to distancing myself from the conversation. Because the direct participation is limited it could well be that this lack of participation triggers a sense that things just aren't as important as they would be were you immersed in the conversation. Involvement in something gives a feeling of investment in, and to a degree ownership of, a discussion.

Drift

The further you drift away from the conversation the harder it is to become enthusiastic about the direction it takes and this is the curse of social media: it is addictive in the sense that you need to keep an involvement in order to maintain an overview and monitor the breadth of conversation rather than trying to control it in one location. Conversations will occur wherever there are people - this is not going to change so people just have to get used to it. This distribution of the discussion is what's really important; you are exposing a potentially greater audience to the conversation and allowing it to take twists that otherwise it wouldn't take.

There will always be a gulf between those who see social media as a throw-away time killer that you can just dip in to and those who dive headlong in to the murky waters of the social media circus. Those who advocate services like Facebook are just in it for fun - they establish a 'friend' list, post on each others walls, play a few games and just provide basic status updates.

Facebook and its ilk, however, does not lend itself to more meaningful conversation. We need systems where conversations can spin out from a central point and take on a life of their own. We need systems with a greater level of interaction between members rather than with the site. We need systems where we can take ideas and communicate them effectively.

What we must always remember, however, is that the conversation will go on without you regardless of who you are. People will still have ideas and discussion will still develop around those ideas. If even Robert Scoble disappeared off the face of the planet for a week Twitter wouldn't stop, FriendFeed wouldn't stop - who you are is irrelevant. It may be argued that the exposure of any given conversation may be limited due to Scoble's thousands of followers not getting to see it and this may be the case but how many of those followers actually get involved in the conversations?

Yes, we appear to have an echo chamber but this is an unintentional circumstance and not entirely the fault of those involved. With FriendFeed likes exposing items to a wider audience via the friend of a friend system the scope exists for a far greater number to get involved but the percentage of those that do is small. Out of Scoble's thousands of followers you only ever see the same names cropping up as getting involved in the conversation and the same names dominate the FriendZone charts of FriendFeed users. This is not because of any elitist exclusion policy but because of a lack of involvement by others outside of the usual suspects.

Why is this?

Do some feel intimated and not able to participate? Are conversation threads seen as private members' clubs with a strict door policy? Or is it just that there is only a finite number of individuals who actually want to be involved?

The problems that Twitter has been experiencing and the subsequent rush to Plurk show that a significant number of social media users are only after the quick connections that these types of services offer rather than wanting to become embroiled in deep conversation. Even when FriendFeed numbers increased significantly in recent times it is most likely that those joining did so due to disillusionment with Twitter rather than out of a desire to use the service and consequently will be predominately inactive.

The social media path we travel is determined by our goals - what we want to get out of the services we use; those services will, themselves, also be determined by our needs which is why there is always room for different types of network.

Over to you

What is your path and how often do you re-assess your social media goals?

Image by Natalia Osiatynska.

Take time out – gain perspective.