We’re in an era on the web I think of as “hyper social.”
In their current form, social networks extend our ability to “maintain” relationships. A social network is essentially a digital filing cabinet that you fill with your relationships.
In theory, the cabinet should help you stay thoughtfully organized and get the most out of your relationships. In practice, however, the cabinet really becomes a messy destination for social news that you only visit when looking for distraction.
These hyper social networks have peaked and are on their way out. Here are a few reasons why.
Who Are These People?
Networks like Twitter and Facebook are built with the intention of extending our natural social networks to literally superhuman capacity. 900 friends? I mean c’mon. Not to be morbid, but some of my Facebook friends could literally die and I wouldn’t hear about it (let alone be invited to the funeral).
Right now we’re in an age of social networks where numbers win. Your follower and friend count are the numbers by which you’re measured and evaluated on social media. The more people you have in your network, the better you’re doing.
We’ve been trying the relationship volume out on these social networks and we’ve been turning it up to 11. These networks are simply too large to extend meaningful human interaction or maintain interpersonal relevance (especially on a one to one basis).
Feeds Get Noisy
The central mechanic and experience of these networks, the feed, becomes worse as the network connections increase. This is a huge problem. As more friends enter your new feed the strength and relevance of relationships decreases. The experience should be getting better the more you use it.
If you want to maintain a relevant and useful feed on current social networks you have to manually edit your relationships. I have to go through my 900 Facebook friends and decide who’s relevant to me. Not only is this against the point of the service (to extend your network) but it’s simply no fun. I won’t take the time to do it.
Relationships Get Stale
As your relationships age so does the network in which you’re storing them. Every connection is from a given time in your life but weighted equally*. As you fall out of touch with some of your college friends, you accordingly fall out of interest with your newsfeed because it’s a representation of them.
*I’m sure Facebook incorporates a relationship’s age in their newsfeed algorithm, but with a finite amount of content it’s still limited in its flexibility.
The whole point of Facebook is to provide a way to keep track of people who you feel are socially relevant in your life. Unfortunately, when time passes and isn’t properly accounted for, the model starts breaking.
Core vs Circumstantial Relationships
Think about the last 20 friends you’ve text messaged. Think about the last 20 friends you’ve grabbed a coffee or beer with. Think of the people you’ve skyped or called (non-professionally) in the last 6 months. I’d say this is your current social network.
Would this group be the same if I asked you the same question a year ago? How about 4 years ago?
In all likelihood the group would be different. I would bet by around 20% per year. It’s an estimate but if even close to true, then your true social network changes significantly every five years.
I’d argue that your true social network is made up of two groups: the core and the circumstantial. The core is in your life in perpetuity (family, true close friends) while the circumstantial changes throughout your life (work friends, school friends, location-based friends, hobby-based friends).
Facebook is almost 10 years old now. They’ve consistently mixed the core relationships with the circumstantial and it’s starting to hurt the experience.
The Next Social Framework Will Be Dynamic
The next great social network will provide its users with an experience that values friendships and relationships dynamically.
In fact, I’d contend that the friend and follower models can be elegantly replaced by a frequency and engagement model. Based on current smartphone technology, social networks can and should leverage location, time, frequency of interaction, and behavioral similarities.
Fundamentally, the power of social networks lies in that they unlock or extend profoundly human social behaviors. If we had social networks in the time of the first humans, Pinterest would be the cave where you keep things, Twitter would be gossip, and Facebook would be your village.
What none of these networks capture is the human nature of personal growth and movement. A fundamental characteristic of humans is our ability to change. Relationships are not exempt from our ability to change. In fact, they may be the first casualties of a changed lifestyle. The next great social network will have an ability to change with us and not lose a step.
Newspapers are being put out of business partially due to the speed with which news travels on the web — notably on Twitter and Facebook. Newspapers forgot that they’re in the news business and not the paper business.
Similarly, I don’t think Facebook and Twitter in their current form can keep up with the speed of our changing relationships and interests. The question is whether they’ll remember that they’re in the relationships business before it’s too late.
Looks like a discussion popped up on Hacker News.
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firstname.lastname@example.org // @willydennis