The disconnect between interests and people

Over the years I've written about what I call the "implied social contract" between creators and their followers - whether a creator feels obligated to provide more of what prompted people to follow them or disregard this and do whatever they want.

Sometimes they are the same, a creator will work within a theme meaning their output is consistent. On other occasions someone might create a one-off that resonates, goes viral and amasses followers only to return to their "normal" work and leave those new followers disappointed.

It can be a hard choice and can sway the creator.

Nitin turns this on its head, looks at it from the perspective of the follower and asks "why do we follow people around?" Why do we hit that button? Why do we suddenly align ourselves with complete strangers and follow them from network to network, blog to newsletter?

As he says, we take a risk "liking someone’s current content, and expecting their future content to be the same, or better, or interesting enough." It's the other side of the implied social contract.

Using our mutual friend Chris Lovie-Tyler as a case in point, Nitin explains how he found something interesting then when back to see if this was typical, consistent, and ended up reading all of Chris' posts. Hitting subscribe was an easy decision, just as it was for me.

Personally, I almost never follow someone on the basis of one thing, one post, or one tweet when I was still on Twitter. I try to establish prior art before committing.

Social networks, however, make it too easy to hit the button. The prominent display of metrics such as likes and follower counts might act as social proof for the creator but they are enticements for any potential follower. They scream popularity and that you'd be stupid to miss out.

"So it’s comfortable, easy, accepted to see something interesting and just hit follow. We’ll worry about the content later." - Nitin

These concerns, however, stem from the reason we follow someone and highlight the disconnect between a people-centric network and an interest network. The two aren't compatible.

For years, people have called for ways to filter their networks, just view the posts from those they follow that relate to specific topics - aspects of the person. It highlights the problem that social networks are structured as people-centric yet used as interest networks.

In a true interest network we would not follow people, we would follow topics and ideas. Yet this is not how our networks are constructed and we like to build relationships around those ideas.

We can build lists but these are, again, people based. We can conduct searches or look at hashtags but these are secondary functions and cannot be followed. So we create interest based groups to narrow our focus, some of which can be incredibly useful and a vital part of people's lives. Groups, however, are still people based, they rely on people joining rather than being an holistic view of that topic across the wider network.

I think this disconnect is partly what fuelled my change in focus, my move from seeing those I follow as a series of "social units" in a feed to recognising them as people. Rather than wishing I could filter their posts to only those on specific subjects I look to embrace the whole person behind the posts.

Their reasons, their interests, their struggles and successes.

I think it's a healthier approach.

  1. “Rather than wishing I could filter their posts to only those on specific subjects I look to embrace the whole person behind the posts… Their reasons, their interests, their struggles and successes.”

    I really like this, Colin. I think if more people did this it would humanise the Net a lot more. While the filtering/customisation/personalisation features offered by social networks and search engines can be helpful, I’m more and more convinced that they also have a very dark side.

    1. Colin Walker says: #
      Filters and customisation certainly can be useful but they can trap us in echo chambers and epistemic bubbles.
      1. Exactly. They allow us to piece together some kind of ‘perfect’ puzzle and avoid all the uncomfortable, messy, contrary, or seemingly irrelevant bits that make up the whole picture or person—or real life.

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