The Problem with Today’s Social Networks

by williamldennis

Traditionally, if someone at a party spent all their time talking about themselves, they would be considered an asshole.

But with current social networks,that’s exactly the state of affairs. Everyone is broadcasting what they’re doing or thinking. Everyone is the asshole at the party.

And it makes for a shitty party.

We’ve all become guilty of sending out our own mini press releases to our friends. But it’s not our fault. It’s the way social networks are structured.

They’re flawed and I think we can do better.

Where did social go wrong?

The whole reason social networks are powerful and exist is because humans are naturally social. It’s our evolutionary disposition.

So social networks seem like a great thing. They should be satisfying our itch, our need for socializing. While entertaining and well-intentioned products, they are far from replicating the feeling you get after catching up with friends over coffee.

They lack the social exchange necessary to maintain actual relationships. Real life relationships are based on a somewhat equitable, 2-sided trade.

Let’s look at a relationship:

Bob and Susan meet for coffee.

Susan: “Hey Bob. How are you? What’s the latest?”

Bob discusses the new fondu maker he refurbished. Susan mentions she loves fondu. Bob invites her over for dinner next week.

Bob: “So that’s what’s up with me. How are you? Are you still seeing that guy Greg?”

She says Greg was allergic to her cat and it didn’t work out. She loves her new apartment though.

There you have it. A social interaction. A conversation. An exchange. An activity, though while simple, preserves relationships.

As products, current social networks are only offering one part of the necessary social interaction — the part where you say “I’m good, thanks.”

They fill the other half with a text box.

Facebook is the ultimate example.

Facebook, exemplified by the ever-present update box, has made us all the asshole at the party. The hope of course, is that our friends will interact with our post so we don’t feel like the asshole at the party.

The problem is that we’re terrified no one is listening. Or maybe worse, that no one cares.

So we’ve all become broadcasters.

When staring at the status box, the very lifeblood of services like twitter and facebook, the question is:

Is my life worthy of sharing? Will my post get a response? Do people give a shit about me and what I have to say? Am I wasting my friends’ time?

It’s a somewhat unfortunate realization when you realize nobody other than the Facebook status box is actually asking you how you are. Accordingly, you have to self-define the moments in your life you think others want to know about. The way you hedge this risk is to make your post as goddamn-interesting as possible.

Vacation pics? Fuck yeah.

Selfie with a celebrity? Jackpot.

Beautiful view with a cappuccino in the foreground? Facebook gold!

The content we post to social networks can’t be humble. It can’t be truly honest or vulnerable. It sure as hell better not be boring. The entertainment of our friends — and our validation — depends on it.

Facebook has become that moment on the first day of class when everyone has to stand up, say where they’re from and say one interesting thing about themselves. It’s fine if you don’t know the people in your class, but you know your friends better than that. It’s a watering down, rosy-colored glasses version.

That’s great for getting life updates. That sucks for maintaing true relationships.

For my good friends, I want to know how their girlfriend is, how their shitty job is still shitty, how their family is doing, and what they think of Breaking Bad. I’m not particularly interested in seeing them smiling on vacation — it’s simply not part of what defines our relationship. It’s social noise.

I want to interact with my friends, not consume their “content.”

We’re all broadcasting. But who’s listening?

What social can be.

Current social networks are built around the broadcast model. They’re built to have users say “Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s what I think.”

That’s only half of a human relationship. It’s not truly social. It sure doesn’t advance relationships. At best, it puts them in cruise control.

A huge opportunity lies in products built around a more equitable social interaction. Imagine a social network where you as a user can ask the question: “What are you doing?” to a specific friend or group of friends.

That interaction — the exchange itself — is what drives relationships.

The next big social network will be built on an idea more fundamental and natural than broadcast. An idea more central to human relationships. It will embrace a social mechanic above and beyond the follower/following model.

It’s time we built a better party.

If you’re interested in trying a fun, exciting new way to interact with friends, sign up for our private beta of Hollerback. I don’t think you’re going to have seen anything like it.

Let me know if I can be helpful: