Here is a fascinating video that demonstrates the two big problems with social media – time and complexity. Loic is demonstrating what it takes to be a social media citizen – and if being a social media citizen means being Loic – we can forget engagement with social media ever being a mass activity. This is because being Loic requires a lot of time and a lot of geekiness – and there is no way we can expect Average Citizen to do the things Loic does in the way he currently does them. Take a look.
This video and the post that sparked it has driven a lot of chatter over the last few weeks about decentralised and fragmented conversation. People like Loic have been saying “I want it back on my blog”. Others, like Stowe Boyd have been saying “too late – its gone”. Others, perhaps more relevantly, have been talking about methods of giving visibility to conversation and comment threads.
However, for me, all these perspectives miss the main point largely because they represent the needs of social media geeks, rather than the potential needs of true social media citizens. Loic is primarily a publisher – he makes lots of interesting stuff which creates a lot of attention, and he therefore wants a pretty frame he can put round all of this. He talks about simplicity and one place to go to – but it is largely one place you can go to see the digital Loic, rather than a place he can use to Be the digital Loic. Likewise, many of the other new tools (such as Friend Feed) are all about aggregating content – essentially about creating display spaces where prolific producers can show-off their output.
A social media citizen won’t primarily need or want a display space. They won’t need to have one place where their del.icio.us links can be viewed alongside their flickr photostream and their Tweets etc etc. However, what they will need is management place where they can do four things:
- publish stuff (be it an email, a blog post a tweet or whatever other channel or platform emerges)
- receive all content that is addressed to them (from wherever it comes)
- follow content that interests them
- manage their portfolio of social networks.
Maybe I just don’t know enough about what is going on, but It doesn’t seem to me that we are getting anywhere close to making one of these things – perhaps because the market is being geek driven at the moment – and these people like working it all out for themselves (or showing-off all their stuff). Insofar as there is innovation, it is happening in only one segment, rather than addressing the whole spectrum of the activities of a social media citizen.
Here is the screen shot of the thing I (as a non-geek wannabe social media citizen) want.
OK – it looks like netvibes – but it does far more than netvibes does. OK – it may look simple but it would be very difficult to make (compatibility, data portability issues etc etc). I know – but until we have something with this simplicity we are not going to get everyone into the game. And, of course – it will have to work from a mobile platform as well as a desktop.
There is, of course, a chicken and egg thing going on here. You need to be quite deep with social media before you want one of these things. A tool such as this is therefore unlikely to create the demand required to bring it into existance and create the forced or otherwise collaboration and integration that would allow it to succeed. Social media geeks, who represent the current market, won’t really get that turned on by it because it will make things too easy and boring. Each new bright shiny thing would simply get eaten by it. They would just become commodities, add-on bits of functionality, and there wouldn’t really be those glorious first few weeks of play. Also it won’t really help them create their show-off spaces.
So where will the demand come from? Probably its going to come out of the workplace – in the same way that familiarisation with previous techy stuff such as email started off in the workplace. The big thing that is taking-off now is the construction of bespoke social networks within organisations – as this recent Forrester report shows. These are both enterprise wide, and grassroots / project or workgroup driven. As people become familiar driving these sort of networks, they will start to build them into their personal and leisure activities. And then, when they find they are members of several of them, they will want to have one place where they can coordinate all their activity from – and also roll-up existing functions such as email and subscription.
Who knows how and when this thing will emerge. But until it does – social media is never going to become truly absorbed into the fabric of life and stop being social media (in a silo or series of silos) and simply become media, or whatever it will be appropriate to call it.
Here is something else I have written that is relevant to this – in terms of charting the future digital landscape.