Are we killing the things we love the most?

The discussion surrounding Mondays post took on a life of its own with some well crafted responses but I am also seeing a trend that could only be likened to growing pains.

While what we currently call 'social media' is still in its infancy we are reaching the point where innovation is giving way to a pile 'em high mentality: duplicate services with little differentiation, or simply throwing more functionality at existing services and hoping it sticks. It is little wonder that individual services are not getting the uptake that advocates expect, or even demand.

"The nazis did propaganda!" (Eddie Izzard)

We are bombarded with opinion, we are told what services we should like and why but the truth is, that outside of a specific subset of internet users, there is little appeal for the functionality offered by any given social networking service.

A number of good points have been made with regards to the concerns that many of the services currently in existence have been designed to cater for the needs of early adopters - that 1% of the internet population that are the thought leaders, the content creators, the "tech elites" who constantly demand more from what they use. Herein lies the problem.

The complaints that services such as FriendFeed are too complicated are perfectly valid for a lot of people. FriendFeed is obviously geared towards the early adopter, those already on a multitude of other services and are looking to pull it all together in to one melting pot with comments. Joe Public doesn't work, think or behave like this - many just want a simple messaging system which is why Twitter clicks and FriendFeed doesn't. Service designers and early adopters need to rethink how things are done in order for social media to really appeal to a wider audience.

The problem with duplication of information is only an issue to when you expose yourself to an environment where it will occur, where multiple users will be sharing data via multiple avenues - the average user will just concentrate on one place with 'their' community of friends (more normally real friends) - in a single environment everyone is more aware of what the other members of their network post so there is no need for them all to share the same thing. Perhaps this loses out on the possibilities of multiple conversations among different groups but the average user doesn't want to go that deep as it is more about just keeping in touch and having fun rather than using social networking as a serious discussion tool.

Ne'er the twain

We need a change of mindset to understand how others will use the services we champion or to just accept that fact that different services will attract different people and ne'er the twain shall meet. A service has to identify its target audience and then fully understand it, providing those features that the specific audience demands rather than trying to convince those outside of that demographic that it is the tool for them irrespective of their actual needs.

Where we see value and potential others may just see clutter, noise and complexity. Where others see ease of use we may just see something too simplistic that doesn't allow us to do what we want.

Even with a target audience in mind the creators of a service set things up and announce their offspring to the world but, like all parents have to stand back and watch their 'child' grow up. The growth of social media services are largely dictated by the way they are used not just the functionality they offer; put a completely different set of people on FriendFeed than the the usual suspects who are there at present and you would see the service used in a different way and take a different route in its development, just as Twitter started out as a place for simple status updates but morphed in to a full messaging system because of the demands of its users.

What is acceptable?

A social networking service differs from our real world society in that it is more governed by the people for the people as opposed to having a central body 'in charge' but just like any society different generations (read waves of users) change the rules in that society and morality even more so. There will always be a shift with regards to what is acceptable at any given point - the internet is no exception, especially as we continue to use it in ways that don't fit any current trends or patterns. Just as society itself has to adjust to changes over time so must how we view our actions and behaviour in any given environment. How far do we, or should we even, try to hold back the incoming tide and restrict the tools we use?

And to the post title

The popularity of Twitter has been its downfall. A combination of ease of use and an open, useful API have placed unprecedented strain on a system that has been playing catch-up with the demands of its users for most of its life. Robert Scoble asked "FriendFeed is NOT taking off ... why?" and I would argue that it is following a similar pattern to Twitter. It is changing from the original idea that spawned it. The About page says:

FriendFeed enables you to keep up-to-date on the web pages, photos, videos and music that your friends and family are sharing. It offers a unique way to discover and discuss information among friends.

This may convey what FriendFeed is at its core level but the users have pushed the service beyond such a simple definition and, as such, the concept behind it is much harder to grasp just as the service becomes more complex than most people would need.

In conclusion

It is natural for things to grow and evolve but by continually demanding more, ever complex options we will alienate the late adopter. We will enter a cycle where new services emerge to cater for the new audience but these too will grow as it is not in their interests to stay static. We make a service undesirable for many by liking it too much and wanting it to expand.

The concept of social media may become a mainstream idea but any given application will only ever have a limited appeal.

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  1. Colin Walker says: #
    Just read that before seeing this comment Ryan.

    Your comments there are spot on and the whole communicating with integrity series has been a joy to read. I know I am personally trying to move away from "technology for the sake of it" and be more interested in what it can actually do for us and how it affects our behaviour but I think the 'movement' as a whole is going to take a while to come round.

    As I said in the post: it's all still in its relative infancy and we are like a child with a new toy. Once the novelty factor wears off and things become more ubiquitous then we can move on to really making the distinction between what we can do with it all rather than what it does.

    I hope I'm starting to head in the right direction.
  2. Marco says: #
    I love this. I am so fascinated by what is taking place right now, particularly on FriendFeed and Twitter. Posts like these are great contrasts to FriendFeed's natural activity and other posts calling for increases in 'noise' - I very much see a Ying and Yang struggle taking place right now which is exactly how it should be.

    I don't believe for a second that services like FriendFeed or Twitter will garner mass adoption in their current forms - the points that you, Alexander and others have been making do a great job of laying out the reasons why.

    That said I think that the core concepts and capabilities of these new apps demand the kind of rigorous use and testing they are receiving. Everyone is right in my opinion - if you feel like using FriendFeed 24/7 - go for it! If you feel like its gotten to be too much, by all means, take a break. Together all of these actions will continue to develop our understanding of how these apps can be tweaked to benefit the rest of the world.

    Great stuff - please keep thinking and writing!
  3. madpotter says: #
    I was talking to a developer this AM who isn't on FriendFeed and has barely heard of Robert Scoble. She just started using Twitter a month ago or so. Her interest and mine are in 2 things: the conversation and ease of use. My interest, as a user/early adopter is in facilitating a meaningful conversation with a growing number of smart, thoughtful people who will then be in relationship with more and more so that we might actually have a planet to give to our grandchildren. Yes, I believe technology will save the world. My friend, the developer, is interested in a glitch free widget she can install in her/our town's local todo-tonight/this week thingy she created. SO... as Seth Godin said recently, it isn't so much about the grand opening as it is about how a thing develops over time, often a decade. (he did say 4 years online) ;-)

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