A few months ago, I got a Facebook "friend request" from someone I had gone to high school with and hadn't been in touch with since. I accepted, and soon discovered an ambitious few from my school were busy trying to track down and connect through Facebook everyone from my school they could locate. It's actually been a fun experience learning who had ended up where and what they are doing now. Finally, I understood the appeal of Facebook.
Am I really that dense? Well yes and no. I was introduced to Facebook years ago by business acquaintances who sent me friend requests so that I could see what Facebook was all about. I accepted, and consequently whenever I go into Facebook I am presented with the intimate life details of people I barely know professionally, and not at all socially. I continue to find this disconcerting, and it has warped my view of Facebook for a long time.
I've had a somewhat parallel experience with Twitter. To me, Twitter is a great, expedited way to share news and thoughts with those of like interests. When my tweets include a link, I always try to provide some context, if not opinion, regarding the link. I don't use hash tags, because the notion of "viral taxonomies " offends my sense of order. That's my view of Twitter's place in the world: an easy way to send items of interest to the interested.
I am very selective in who I follow on Twitter. I want to follow smart people who will share their insights and alert me to news and articles I might otherwise miss. I do get some of that, but the majority of what I see on Twitter can only be called digital narcissism. Details on one's meals, mood and hourly location updates predominate. Add to this sports scores and endless, mindless re-tweeting of breaking news as if everyone has suddenly decided they want to be the Associated Press. Does everyone really have that much free time?
Social media has grown so quickly that operating rules and conventions were never established. This anarchic state may in fact have contributed to the rapid growth of social media, but in this case at least, freedom and creativity have come at the expense of utility.
Internet visionary Patrick Spain told me years before Facebook was a household name that the blurring of our professional and personal lives would have great implications for the information business. It's a powerful insight, and one such implication that seems clear to me is that the collision of these two worlds has created a tremendous amount of clutter and noise. This leads me to two immediate thoughts: perhaps there should be business and personal versions of Facebook and Twitter, and certainly there are opportunities in curating this content to separate the wheat from the chaff. Surely there are other opportunities as well, and that will be among the topics we'll discuss at DataContent 2011.We hope you'll join in, and you can still sign up at significant early bird savings.