This was written in April 2011 and a publication had interest in publishing it, but it didn't fit their editorial cycle so it sat. I have annotated this with an endnote to bring it current.
A funny thing happened on the way to the next big thing, the big thing was little. Many people are looking to build the next Facebook or Twitter, but those that are gaining traction and actually being used don’t focus on collection and aggregation of the masses, they focus on the small groups of people who know each other and really aren’t connecting or interacting in or for the public eye.
At SXSW this past year, 2011, the next big thing wasn't one thing, it was many things. It was these same smaller group interaction platforms that let people who know each other already interact. The funny thing is this really shouldn't be a surprise to anybody who has actually been following or connecting to the mainstream in the crowd using Facebook or any other large service. Most people are are connected to a small group friends or other label for the people they share information, status, and possibly location with. When Facebook took its service beyond the walls of the university and let any old Joe and Jane in many of the students had fear and cut back their usage of the service. They wanted a service to have more regular communication and more private interactions with out of the eye of the hoards. This isn't because they are doing things they are ashamed of or would cause them consternation if others found out, it is because that is how most people in mainstream interact and consider normal. Many of these students kept their Facebook accounts and use them occasionally, but this is not their social home, this is not where they check the pulse of the group of people they want to connect with.
When you consider how this plays out you see it really clearly inside organizations that have openly social communication and collaboration platforms up and running. Much of the interaction is often not out in the open, but in the more focussed less travelled (or even semi-closed) groups and forums. These are the comfortable spaces with permeable walls. But, this is often where much of the sharing and interacting happens in organizations.
For many who drank the Kool Aide of people want to be openly social, this is an odd trend. But, it isn't really a trend it is the norm and for most of time going back this has been the norm. There is something to Robin Dunbar's postulation of “theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships”, which is commonly known as “The Dunbar Number” and is approximately 150 (with bounds of 100 to 230 as reasonable lower and upper reaches for most people). But, for small very close knit groupings of friends you often see from a a few teens in groups up to 40 to 50. But, about 40 to 75 the dynamics shift and is repeatedly comes up when talking to people in digital services with the number of people where the service shifted from being fun and easy to use to being more work.
At SXSW this year the proffering of small social services, many for smart mobile devices only, like Beluga, Ditto, GroupMe, etc. were the talk of the event in Twitter and from the remote conversations I was picking up on. The question was, “which service are you on?” for those you deemed viable enough to connect with outside of the masses in Facebook and Twitter. These services are where people look for who wants to meet up for dinner, where is the good place to hang, or most importantly “where are my peeps?”
This past week I caught Chris Heathcote's presentation on “Invisible Communities” from February 2011 at Lift Conference. Chris talks about all of the unseen communities on the internet and web, which have nearly always been there and keep growing. These are the web forums where the “good” information is shared. These are the handled application based services, some with web presence, but very few are searchable or open to the public. Chris' talk echoed most everything I hear when I talk to the famed “millennials” in organizations who are claimed to be “openly social” and heavy users of these huge web social tools, but when I sit with them in organizations regarding social tools inside the organization (they are included as they are supposed to be the heavy users and the ones that really know this stuff well), but dang if I have ever run across one that has claimed this. Very few use Facebook or Twitter (the “Twitter is for old people” (over 25) is commonly stated) and they all state some different small social tool where they keep in touch with their good friends with.
Doc Searls wrote a real gem of a post, “The Sense of Bewronging”. Doc's post is about the need for personalization and putting things in context that “I” care about, or as talked about here in this site the Come to Me Web and Personal InfoCloud. A post that triggered Doc was a presentation and post by Louis Gray “The Third Wave of the Web Will Be Uniquely Personal”. Both of these posts talk about aggregating all that we have inbound and as well share out (our digital exhaust) so to filter and hone what it is we care about so to serve it up more to our actual interests and with out information overload.
Many of us have been aggregating our own information for quite a while in various tools and services, or on just pulling and archiving feeds. Phil Gyford talks about a new kind of front page, Steven Berlin Johnson talks about the need for a Commonplace Book, Drummond Reed discusses the Personal Data Store, Jon Udell has his Hosted Lifebits, and Kim Cameron says my Personal InfoCloud “I think a framework like the one he proposes - based on attraction - is probably an early harbinger of the identity big bang.”
Why Does this Matter?
All of this matters because for as much as we use ThinkUp, My6sense, Momento app, Summify, etc. for our aggregation of personal exhaust data and to filter to ease our attention focus as well as use and most importantly reuse what flows through this at some point. In using these services most are focussing on the big social stops like Facebook and Twitter, just like malls have big box stores, but most people are not going to the mall for the big box they are hitting the smaller stores or skipping the mall altogether for more personal customer service and supporting businesses of people whom they know. If the social aggregation and information filtering tools are keeping their focus on the mall’s big boxes of social web, they are missing where many people are actually spending their valued attention. Having a wonderful service like ThinkUp to provide a history of what I have shared and was shared with me (or the more impersonal fact, shared to many and my friend hooks, nabbed a digital copy of that sucker) so that I can search and pull things together later is missing some key valued elements.
While it is worth the time these services are spending (all pulling the same big sites and services and missing the less broadly known services) on the big box social web services, so we can pay a bit less attention on them but for some digests and pay attention to our more valued services. But, what looses out is the use and reuse of across all those services. You have a friend share a book she just finished she thinks you and your group would like, but shared it in your tight friend space you won’t have easy recall from a central place. A real personal aggregation and attention management tool needs to capture all streams we consider to have value. Being able to build a Granular Social Network that really works and that keeps our attention from being over taxed is where much of this really should head. We have been stating what this third wave of the web should be for a long time as a personal web, we now have the tools start getting there, but we need to ensure our focus fits our needs and our actual interactions.
Yes, for those of you that have made it this far and have been waiting to state all this is walling ourselves off from the rest of the world, well I think this aggregation, archiving, and filtering to keep our attention from hitting overload is needed so we can take a much broader look at what is outside our bounds. If we enable keeping what is valuable in front of us we can explore and interact even more.
Some things have changed a little bit in the past year, but largely not much has changed. Facebook has its Timeline, which has thin value for being able to scan the real volume of our activities and then be able to aggregate and reuse that information in more usable and valuable (for one's self and others) format. It is an interesting visualization, but the value of making deeper sense just isn't there and understanding things never seems to fit in Facebook's plans.