Curation is more popular than ever but it is increasingly difficult to find a good signal in the noise. Could a notification system, such as on Google+, be used to "push" content to interested people rather than having them "pull" it to them?
Against a backdrop of warnings that overall public engagement on Google+ is dropping, specific groups with common interests are forming with increasingly regular interaction between the individuals within those groups. Obviously these are not formal groups as this facility does not exist but a collection of like-minded contributors.
On one hand we have reports detailing minimal public activity but, on the other, Google claiming that most activity is in private Circles so there is not an issue. With Google being unwilling to share any data to back this up we are unable to verify the position but certain users will tell you that they receive far more engagement on Google Plus than on other networks.
We are no strangers to receiving notifications from social networks - we are mentioned in tweets and status updates, we are tagged in photos and receive digest emails - but with Google+ we have the ability to notify others about a post even if they are completely unconnected to it. We can "push" that content to them.
The practice of notifying others in this way is on the rise. As well as sharing items to Circles (so that they are simply visible) the poster is explicitly sending notifications to either the members of a Circle or, indeed, individual users. Most frequently this will happen in the context of the "groups" mentioned above but this need not necessarily be the case.
Notifications, however, appear to be creating a division between users on Plus with some questioning why they have been notified or, flat out, requesting they be removed from notification lists. Is the process informative? Is it disruptive? Is it tantamount to spam? Should it be the exception rather than the rule or are heading towards a new dynamic?
Should notifications be opt in or is it okay to let people know of (seemingly) relevant posts? Etiquette generally dictates that we do not notify those we don't "know" but is there a scenario where this could change?
There is an obvious fear that we will be overrun with unsolicited posts but if we don't already know someone then any first contact via a social network is unsolicited; connecting with someone you don't know is viewed based on the context of that connection.
Could we introduce context to make unsolicited notifications acceptable?
Pushing the news
We have curated content “pushed” to us all the time – social services gather “best of” collections and send them out to us. Even Twitter has now started sending these out, putting the expertise of the Summify team to good use.
So, what’s different about the idea of Push Curation?
Virtually everything we are currently sent or pushed is in response to something we have subscribed to (topics for LinkedIn Today) or people we have followed. With push curation we could potentially be sent things by anyone whether we follow them or not – push curation could instead rely on a fleshed out interest graph.
Gideon Rosenblatt suggested that the engagement problem on Google+ could be “fixed” by introducing functionality to better facilitate that engagement, or icebreakers – ways to connect with individuals beyond our normal social circles. One of those suggestions was the need for us to be able to flag our interests on our profile so that others can find and connect with like-minded individuals.
Advertising our core areas of interest could also enable curators to target the right people with the right content and remove the need for users to track down those with similar interests.
A new wave?
While notifications are currently a controversial matter could we potentially be looking at a new wave of curation? Traditionally we follow curators that we find based on the content they curate - we determine relevance and follow accordingly.
Could this decision be taken out of our hands with others interpreting relevance based on our interests and interactions? Are we entering a phase where content can be reliably pushed to us by curators rather than us having to pull it in?
Saved searches can currently be used to monitor our interest graph but there is no system of notification associated with them so, could the actions of others avoid the need for us to check? Curators could potentially notify “interest groups” instead of individuals. By advertising our interests we could also advertise our willingness to have curated content pushed to us.
The biggest and most obvious concern regarding notifications is that of noise, or spam. We already have complaints that some individuals are over-sharing so how could we avoid problems?
Notifications resulting from push curation would need to confirm to the rules we set for who can send us notifications; do we from them from anyone or just extended circles etc? Ideally, even if we advertise our interests, we would be able to accept or prevent notifications on a per topic basis.
Perhaps we could set a limit on the number of notifications we can receive per day either by topic or as an overall figure and, conversely, what if we set a limit on the number of posts broadcasters can share (per topic or overall) which would make them think about what they are sharing and to whom.
While notifications could be gathered in to a daily digest this is counter to the idea behind them; we would lose the immediacy of the platform but, perhaps, it could be worth having as an option. This would also give the opportunity to group related items in much the same way as Twitter’s new emails or common stories in our Facebook streams.
With great power…
Being able to broadcast posts to huge numbers based on their advertised interests is immensely powerful so would need to be used responsibly. Abusing the process could ruin a person’s reputation as a curator and a participant on social networks.
Just as with blocking elsewhere we could block a broadcaster and, if enough block requests are received, they could be prevented from broadcasting in future due to a pattern of behaviour on the account. We could also be given the option to ignore notifications from that individual but leave the topic open – ignoring someone would also not impact that broadcaster’s ability to send.
Does Google really need heavy engagement? Does it rely on the social network aspect? Or, as asked in "What is Google+?" does Google merely need the lowest possible engagement in order to join the dots on the interest graph?
Instead of passively waiting for the graph to be populated by people hitting +1 across the web why not provide the tools for better engagement. Allowing users to advertise, connect and broadcast by topic would flesh out the social graph far quicker and in greater depth but, if not managed properly, at what cost?
Image by Steve Snodgrass