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Is social media becoming a social mess?

social media white noise

Ever feel like you are suddenly standing in a pool of quicksand and there is nothing that you can do to get out of it?

Lately this is how social media has felt like. From both as a blogger and as a consumer. Services that are suppose to make things easier only seem to be muddying the waters. Distractions become almost the norm as we flit from one service to another and then try and pull them altogether with some sort of aggregator.

There is this underlying pressure to be a part of conversations, to create new conversations. It wasn’t so hard when all we had to do was remember what blogs we might have left comments on. Now though our blog comments are being spread all over with services like Disqus or IntenseDebate; which are then pulled in – or not pulled into – aggregrators like FriendFeed or Strands.

Where do we go now to be a part of conversations or to start new ones. We have Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, blogs or again the aggregators with their inline comments. We are becoming a quagmire of conversations into which now we have Google and Facebook throwing their immense weight.

All this is suppose to be under the guise of data portability but all I am seeing is a mish-mash of disjointed conversations. Am I talking to you on a blog or on Facebook or on FriendFeed? Or how about Twitter or the Strands or – well you pick the spot because I am sure there is aconversation going there as well.

The further we go along this road of ubiquitous conversations it all feels like it is becoming more like white noise. We all seem to be turning into nothing more than talking points in some-one else’s marketing or brand promotion. We comment on one site and the next thing we know those comments could end up on Facebook. It could end up on some Google Friend Wall or sitting in some aggregator. We are getting lost in our own conversation jungle.

From the blogger’s point of view it is a mass confusion of what services to we use? We stare nervously at new join forms wondering if we should maybe join some other service instead of this one. Which one is going to be better to promote our brand on? which one is going to have more reach? Which one will be the winner and what happens if I invest my time in the wrong one?

From the consumer side it becomes a question of how many of these services do I need to join so I don’t miss anything? How many conversations can I be a part of at any one time? How many browser tabs can I really monitor so that I don’t miss anything?

It is beginning to feel like we are just having conversations for converstaion sake – to make some noise – to fill up that immense space of the Internet with noise. It is all becoming a matter of hyper-conversation. Conversations on as many services as possible with as many people as possible. We are drowning in conversations but is anybody really talking?

Conversations seem to have become disjointed words being spread far and wide. There doesn’t seem to be any bottom to touch our feet to as we swim through this sea of conversations. A sea that is only getting bigger as each day goes by and we are getting further from the shore.

I wonder if at some point this whole world of hyper-conversations won’t begin to collapse in on itself. I know that technology and the Internet is changing how we percieve and deal with our world. I know that it is changing us as human beings and I’m okay with that – in fact I think it is great thing. But we are not processors living the life of Moore’s Law. We do have finite edges of tolerance to what our minds can absorb and logically deal with.

This isn’t about turning back time or putting the genie back in the bottle; because that is impossible and really – I wouldn’t want to. I just wonder if during this process of shaping new landscapes we aren’t getting caught up in a trap. Do we really need to be everywhere having conversations? Do we really need to be the unwitting shills for other peoples brands and marketing jive?

Do we really need to get ourselves trapped in the quicksand of hyper-conversations?

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30 Responses to “Is social media becoming a social mess?”

  1. Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins

    I don't think most people are overwhelmed like we who do this stuff for a living are.

    Most people have their haunts, and they don't venture far from them. FriendFeed junkies, Facebookers, MySpace addicts. I can definitely identify with your sense of disarray since i sit up on the perch with you, seeing the lack of cohesion and continued splintering of attention and conversation, though.

  2. StevenHodson

    Ya I realize that both as early adopters and bloggers we probably face this more than anyone else. What I wonder though is as people following us join in more an more if this will affect them as well or will things have settled down by then. Or is hyper-conversations now going to be a normal function of our lives?

  3. StevenHodson

    Yes I realize that Mukund; although I think the number would be higher than 10%. As well I'm not sure if it is a case of “becoming the scoble of blogging” as you put it. Mainly because the impression being given that to be a part of social media you need to use as many of the services as possible. Not saying that is right – just a feeling I have and yes I could be very wrong .. I accept that :)

  4. Dave Johnston

    The answer to all your questions is “No.”

    Do less. Join less. Pick one or two services and enjoy them. Filter your world down to what you truly enjoy and the people you get the most from. Better yet, make some friends offline and go grab a lunch and just enjoy the moment.

    The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. Highly recommended.

  5. timbrauhn

    Type your comment here.They make fun of “Tweeter” and ask me which mundane bits I'm blogging about. I'll be the first to admit, I am a bit of a junkie. I follow lots of news. But then again, I'm working on a graduate degree in international studies. It makes sense.

    There are times, like during the Mumbai attacks, when I feel hyper-connected to the “conversation.” I had friends calling me for analysis, I was blogging, tweeting, and everything else. It felt grand. It felt like I was a part of something. Other times, though, I float above things. Conversations take place and I sit by and watch. Oftentimes I feel as if I have nothing “good” or “useful” to add. And I am perfectly alright with that.

    These millions of opportunities of us to plug in are tempting, but I feel that for as disorganized and disconnected everything is, we can still parse through it intelligently. We have to – we only have so much time. The web is a mess as it is. We are wading through a swamp of these hyper-conversations and random bits of data (relevant or not) without a map, but we are finding a way through so that those behind us will have an easier time of it.

    Besides, in the “swampy mess” of social media, we can always reach out a digital arm and grab the hand of one of our fellow travelers. That is where the value is.

  6. RC Lations

    Mark – I would say your comment is one that could be adapted to any new form of technology. Lets take the internet ten years ago – who was using it then? And what has it become now?

    If 'hyper-conversation' is something that people can see a return on their time investment from, they will make time for it.

  7. Chris Brogan

    Know what I think? I think there's human and there's systems. As humans, it's too much to follow. As systems, pushing hyper content out to all these places is a powerful opportunity. Every link counts. Every piece of searchable content matters.

    One day, I was going to delete my Facebook account. I still don't really use it much. I don't care for the type of interaction there. Or rather, I feel too isolated still. I prefer Twitter (you all know that). But then one day, Steve Rubel from Edelman sent me a message on Facebook: “I don't know how I didn't see your blog before, but I just saw a new post in my Facebook stream.” Aw crap. I had to stay there.

    So, in the human world, I use these various services so that I can “answer the social media phone,” as Marcel Lebrun from says. For the mechanized world, I leave my little outposts out there, looking for new love.

    Make any sense?

  8. Ross Kimbarovsky

    I agree that things are starting to look like mush and the conversations are becoming less about the conversation and more about having others see that you're having a conversation. My personal view – many people are drawn not only to the excitement of conversing with many people, but also to the excitement of having lots of followers and being known and recognized. Those are all good things – and some deserve the recognition and the followers. But for most, it's become a game and is less about substance than it is about numbers. And that's a real problem because there are far more people who care about numbers than those who care about substance. The noise will continue to increase and it will be more and more difficult to follow real conversations. I don't have a solution to propose. I certainly understand @chrisbrogan and the reason he wouldn't delete his Facebook account – that account doesn't contribute to the noise. It's really not about how many accounts we have and our presence on the many social networks. It's more about our reasons for being there. If it's merely to build followers and that's the end goal – we become shills and easily compromise our own values and standards. So – I say that conversations are a great thing if they are about the conversations, and not about making sure others see you're having them. Sadly, looking at Twitter as an example, I am finding fewer and fewer conversations for the sake of conversation.

  9. operatorc

    I see all this new internet technology as sprawled out fibers of a perpetually stranded together wire.The base of this wire is the internet itself, and as you move forward along the wire you start to find a chaotic fringe.

    The toward the base you find the average user, which can never be accurately defined, who is acclimated to the use of email, reading of internet sites and even blogs (now). He or she also probably has a Facebook or MySpace page, and even uses instant messaging applications. These technologies were once on the fringe, and now they are mainstream because they're easily accesible, compatible, and, of course, useful.

    As you move along the wire, toward the fringe, you'll find an inversely amount of users embracing newer technology, searching for the next greatest thing, or becoming the next social media elitist (I don't use that term pejoratively).

    My point here is that while the fringe seems like a mess, the technology will all come together nice and snugly as time goes on. Applications that are deemed irrelevant or less useful will disappear, while the rest will meet aggregation and standardization.

  10. elliottng

    My problem with social media is that it is heavily focused on itself. Tweeting about Twitter. Blogging about blogging. You know what this reminds me of? The house of cards that our friends in Washington and Wall Street have created. Mortgages sliced and diced and resold many times. RMBS based on unsound lending. CDOs based on RMBS. Buying CDSs to insure the CDOs. Selling CDSs to make money out of thin air.

    This is exactly what the social media community is doing. Reverberating from one tool to the other. Reaggregating onto aggregator services. Blog post -> Discus -> FriendFeed -> Twitter -> Facebook -> noise without end.

    Go ahead and keep talking about Twitter DMs vs. Email, and MicroPR vs. Rafe's PRrants, and Friendfeed live feed vs. Twitter, etc etc etc.

    But lets refocus our tools on helping people prepare for economic meltdown and using these tools for some real economic benefit.

  11. StevenHodson

    don't get me wrong Doc I don't see social media as a threat. I do believe it could hold a great future for us. I just worry that it is too much too soon – we seem to be spending more time scurrying around than developing any real understanding of the tools we use to be a part of this social media wave.

    I am excited as well but it is tempered with a sense of realism as to just how much a human being can handle when it comes to a flood of information we are currently trying to deal with.

  12. StevenHodson

    wow .. I just want to thank everyone who left comments. this has to be one of the best discussions I've been in for quite a while – thanks

  13. timbrauhn

    This IS good stuff. As a researcher, I like OperatorC's visual of a crazy-big wire – makes it easy to look at it in my skull.

    Robyn is also spot-on about the “craziness” of these new things. We're all in a rush to do everything at once, but we will eventually settle into new digital social habits. Maybe Twitter will peter out, replaced by something more intuitive and conducive to the old-style conversations that Mr. Hodson is talking about. Mr Brogan, too, points out that, for now, i.e. until we can get the net in our heads, there is still a clear cleavage between human and system. The system will settle itself with human help.

    Elliottng is partly-right about the self-referential (or self-reverent?) nature of social media, but again, we're still trying to work all these things out. Comparing it to the current finance mess is pretty interesting, too, but unlike derivatives markets, the housing bubble, and the dot-com boom, social media CAN'T go bust. Yeah, if Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were erased tomorrow, we would be set back. It would be tough. But we'd bounce back – we'd make new tools, or remake the old ones the way they should have been made in the first place.

  14. StevenHodson

    I agree with you that “social media” in of itself can't go bust whereas the tools we use to interact with it can – witness Pownce. Social media is the platform (IMO) that will let us possibly improve life conditions for a broader cross section of our society but we are still a long way off from that happening. I worry that we are getting too caught up in the how's of interacting on this new platform instead of understanding the ways in which it can bring about true change.

  15. timbrauhn

    Keen point. How and what are important because they enable us to see the structure. It's the “WHY” that we should be concentrating upon. I think that figuring out why people are using these tools is a difficult task as well. There are many strategies out there for using social media – solidifying them into a unitary “why” could be difficult. I think that to combat the messiness that you mention, we should work on wrangling these strategies into something cohesive.

  16. Richard Becker

    Sure, there are people who are having conversations for the sake of conversation, especially because the value system remains heavily skewed toward quantity.

    People celebrate the number of Tweets or posts or comments they made as some odd measure of success (and then go on to advise other people to comment at least 10 times a day to attack traffic, another quantity based measure). Those aren't conversations, not really.

    I frequently ask people to consider the physical equivalent of what they do online and see if it measures up. Do you go to a luncheon and quickly work the room with mini-conversations for the sake of being seen? Or do slowly nurture a few relationships at a time. As Brogan points out: there are systems and there is being human.

    Over time, we can hope that the systems take a back seat to being human. But that day depends largely on those who play at being human while really working a system.

    All my best,

  17. StevenHodson

    excellent comment Richard – thanks. It also got me thinking about something else which makes this additionally valuable as a conversation. Sorry Robert but that doesn't happen the same way on FriendFeed :)

  18. The Internet Prophet

    This will all be taken care of in about 1 month. I'm working on something to fix this commenting problem.

  19. Cynthia

    As a “professional” blogger, I rely on social media to get readers. I might not have that many hits per day yet, but I probably wouldn't come close if social media didn't exist.

  20. Deeter

    Love all the metaphors in the post!

    The social media waters only seem muddy right now… Yes, there is an abundance of conversation in social media but I think we can see “pools” of clarity developing as each little social media segment finds a leader. For example, it seems that, for now anyway, WordPress has won blogging, Facebook owns social networking and Twitter has microblogging all but wrapped up. As these leaders step forward they begin to define and clarify the way we use the services, the way we connect & converse and things become a little less murky.

    In my opinion the confusion comes from the endless stream of me-too startups who almost always say: ” Our product is just like (industry leader) only better, you gotta try it!” — knowing that VCs & early adopters prospecting social media opportunities will think twice unless someone claims to have a fan-flipping-tastic twist on a market leader. Sometimes, trying these new under-achieving, poorly organized social media services can be like wading through mud.

    In the end, the truly innovative… the new market makers… sift through the mess and create tools that we did not know we needed, or that we didn't know we couldn't live without. These guys/gals see opportunity in the seemingly endless and meaningless conversations and -pardon the expression- change our lives.

  21. Richard Stacy

    Yes – its a mess – but that is the point of social media. As soon as it stops being messy it dies and becomes institutionalised. However there are two things missing which would make it easier to manage the mess – a simple tool to manage the life of a social media citizen from one place (what I call the mythical One Place – See ) and also the evolution of more sophisticated horizontal connections within the social information pool – so collectively the thing becomes more intelligent. (1.0 = download web, 2.0 = upload web, 3.0 = sideways web) In the meantime don't worry – celebrate the chaos.

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