Social Media Signposts

A couple of notable signposts I recently passed on the social media highway. The first, a twitter post from a new tweetFriend yesterday:

Question for everyone: How do you go about “catching up” on Twitter when you’ve been away for a couple of hours?

The second, a link from another tweetFriend to twitTangle:

We allow you to rate and tag your friends and then filter your timeline to help you easily find the tweets that are most important to you!

Official Inkstain Daughter Nora, who is a social media professional (Really! I am not making that up!) has long offered a particularly thoughtful argument about the trajectory of social media. You jump on it with a bunch of friends because it’s fun. It gets clogged up with a network of connections that becomes too dense to manage, for a variety of reasons. You jump off and head to a new social media goober.

Thus my own social media networks are rooted in the old email lists and IRC from my free software days. When Orkut arrived, we all jumped on and hung out for a bit. And left. The early days of climate blogging offered a similarly small and uncluttered community that was fun. I don’t spend much time there any more.

RSS offers another self-assembled way to manage this situation, with weaker links and fewer social obligations. Facebook and LinkedIn haven’t much worked for me. And now Twitter (and Identica), which I love but fear are quickly acquiring the same sort of baggage.

This has something to do (which I haven’t thought through very carefully yet) with network effects and tipping points. There seem to be a pair of thresholds. Once you get above the first, with enough nodes on the graph for the network to become useful, it’s fun. But at some point it rises above a second, where there are too many nodes to manage. With some technologies, paring nodes is socially hard (this is Nora’s argument) so you just jump to a new social networking platform. But part of the problem for me is that there are simply too many interesting people, which makes it personally painful to me to do the necessary paring to make the social network manageable.

One of the interesting corollaries of this is that I’ve got a handful of nodes that have migrated with me (I’ve migrated with them?) through a variety of these media. Nora’s experience is similar.

Meatspace enforces this problem using basic physics. There are only so many people who can fit in the room with you. Perhaps that ultimately is the best solution. Off to work, to an office full of people.


  1. Meatspace again?

    I am reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “The River Cottage Meat Book”, which are very interesting and along the lines of this blog.

    As to contact management, my work on neural function tells how the brain normally handles this problem. The answer is long but possibly useful. It has been very useful to me.

    Let me know if you want to know more.
    Merry Christmas.

  2. In the field of information theory, the number of relationships you have is not a function of the number of contacts. Relationships go both ways and also among the other people on the network which you see if you are “following” them.

    The formula N(N-1) illustrastes this point. If you have six people on your Twitter list, the number of relationships is 6(6-1) or 30 pathways of information all moving data to and from your node on the network.

    Here is where the non-linear nature of network connections becomes apparent.

    Now, if you have 60 people on your Twitter list, you would think that a 10 fold increase in the number of contacts would yield a simple 10 fold increase in message traffic. It doesn’t do that. Instead, the formula yields 60(60-1) or 3,540 commuication pathways.

    If everyone “tweets” just 5 times a day, that yields 17,700 data packets every 24 hours that contact your node on the network and for a list of just 60 people. In a five-day work week, that adds up to nearly 90,000 data packets.

    The reason is your node on the Twitter network sees all the data moving among all the other nodes which you are following and it becomes overwhelming.

    Ultimately, Twitter forces you to make social choices about who you will “follow” v. who you will exchange information with via other higher priority pathways such as email, phone, or face-to-face in real life contact.

    I’ve adopted a different use for Twitter which is to deploy it as a teletype on my blog. My Tweets are designed to send high priority, rich content bulletins. The tweets appear in alist of 10 at at time with the oldest rolling off the blog as the newest is published. The Tweet log acts as a nice tickler file for follow up on topics to cover in the industry.

    Because of the volume problem noted above, I think Twitter is good as a entertainment medium for exchange of personal trivia among people who know each other well, or as a teletype. Certainly, there may be other high value uses.

  3. Pingback: jfleck at inkstain » Social Media Signposts | thesocialmediasecrets

Comments are closed.