Who are our audience and what do we owe them?

AudienceToday I wanted to touch on another hot topic doing the rounds but look at it from a slightly different angle and that is the idea of a 'Social Contract' between users (or friends) on social networking services.

I mentioned before that while there was no contract between the blogger and the reader there is, perhaps, an implied promise as to what your blog will contain - that's the reason your reader subscribed in the first place after all. Does the same principle extend to the connections we make in social media circles?

Birds of a feather

As a general rule we make connections with those of similar interests to ourselves whether it be to further the discussion about a particular subject or just to have some common ground in order to avoid the awkward silence. It is natural, therefore, for us to expect items of a specific type to crop up in our 'friends' streams but, with the breadth of services aggregated by sites such as Twitter, we must also be prepared to see items that may not necessarily interest us.

You will often get comments on blogs relating to personal posts saying that it is nice to see the person behind the words; the truth is that relationships have as a goal the aim to get to know the other person, find out who they are and what makes them tick - this has the added benefit of helping to understand why someone may write in a certain way or have a particular opinion. It has been asked "how personal is too much" but this can only be determined in each case by the individuals concerned.


FriendFeed has the 'Hide' feature which helps us filter out the things we aren't interested in (I now filter out all Last.fm items) but it probably doesn't go far enough. Hutch Carpenter calls for full semantic filtering and I think it is only a matter of time before we head in this direction but the question being asked is not should we filter what we consume but whether we should have to filter what we produce and take our audience in to account. There are cases for both sides of this argument but I feel it is down to the individual to make their own decision on the information they share in 'social' circles.

I use FriendFeed as an example here as that is where most of the debate is centered and it must be remembered that hiding has different options. It is common for users to hide items of a particular type that have no likes or comments - the implication being that for someone to make the effort to 'flag' it in either of these ways that it is considered of interest. An item may be 'liked' as a way to mark it for your own reference but by doing so you may also be forcing items into the stream of others; perhaps FriendFeed needs a favouriting system for your own benefit rather than just replying on likes and comments.

Who is our audience?

Robert Seidman made a comment on FriendFeed that we "look at the world through a very, very different lens than most people who use the Internet" and as such, are the discussions we have relevant or the points we make true for most people. This leads us to ask who our intended audience is.

As early adopters we do have a specific view based on our point of reference and we communicate this accordingly. Our current peers will be ideally placed to understand our opinions but this again fuels the argument that we are living in an isolated bubble - the echo chamber. Are we becoming too self absorbed or is it a natural process for the early adopters to keep moving on and discussing the way ahead rather than focusing on educating others to the present.

As can be seen in the many conversations recently, any social media enthusiast is hopeful that social media services - or at least the concept of social media - will go mainstream (be that 33%, 50% of internet users or whatever metric you want to apply) so the discussion turns to the future of the social web. Once this occurs then the current conversations will become a lot more relevant to a greater number of people so should we hold ourselves back in the short term or prepare for what's ahead?

Where does our value lie?

Ryan of Tilling the Soil commented on "Evolution of the social web" saying that the post (and those related to it on other blogs) had lead him to contemplate about how we actually add value to these conversations. He says that we need to rethink not just what we communicate but how we do it so that the social web does not become a "system full of noise" with everyone just shouting their opinions at each other. He's probably right. In the first of series of posts he says

"I think that many of us have lived for so long just talking without a specific purpose in mind that it is an easy rut to fall into. If we take the time to be intentional in our communication, the conversations that take place will be significantly richer and have the potential to impact far more people."

We are growing to used too shouting to be heard over the noise which is why I suggested that for anything meaningful to be achieved there would be the need to take elements of the conversation away from the public eye. Doing this will enable us to communicate more effectively and allow us to give what we truly owe: our properly considered opinion and our honesty.

What do you think?

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Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog