November 11, 2009

Skepticism Over Current State of Social Web at Defrag

At the Defrag conference in Denver this morning, there was an acknowledgement that social elements are infiltrating practically every aspect of businesses and interpersonal engagement online, but unlike other events, which have seen a practical hugfest over the latest apps or services, the morning's speakers expressed a great deal of frustration over trying to find real benefits and utility to all the activity that is happening online. Speakers suggested today's tools have a stark lack of context, that businesses are too obsessed with having a complete data set and aren't focused enough on the actability on that data, and that many developers are focused on designing apps that simply don't drive benefits.

Eric Marcoullier, CEO of GNIP, was most direct in his comments, saying that "the business world doesn't give a (crap) about your lifestream app," saying that designing yet another application that sorts all your content online is essentially a list of lists - a list of "my stuff" or "my friends' stuff", which is cute, but not necessarily valuable in decision making.

GNIP is best known for offering managing data collection as a service. The company has seen some ups and downs over the last 18 months, culminating in a significant layoff in September that saw the company reduce staff - cutting seven heads from the dozen on their roster. But since the move, Marcoullier said the last few weeks have been "stellar" in terms of productivity, even as his clients aren't necessarily looking for the answers to data - just more data.

He asked, "Is there an opportunity to drive business decisions and revenue for your company?", saying "Data is useless without effort. When you get data, it is a lot of work to do something useful with it, yet market research companies are obsessed with completeness of data."

Similarly, T.A. McCann, CTO of Gist, said that leading social services, like LinkedIn, have curated millions of nodes, tracking millions of relationships. But for most, it hasn't yet been clear how these connections can be leveraged to drive real daily utility - beyond suggesting new connections and companies that should be known due to shared interests.

Much of these shared interests have been displayed in social streams including Twitter and Facebook, which despite their meteoric rise in visibility, are still struggling to provide more than a simple flow of updates and links.

Tim Young of SocialCast complained, "What I find on Twitter is link vomit, or link carpet bombing and swarming about events. During the day, I get all these links, and the issue is I click the link and there isn't a lot of context. Why did they share this and how did it get here?"

Tim called for a new solution to be built that would save traces and paths of content to help communicate new findings to derive value - something made ever more difficult when the most common real time search repository, Twitter search, is now hosting a database that can track as few as only two days.

And despite many people's claims that finding this data ever more quickly is going to make us more productive as a species, Stowe Boyd dumped on that, saying "the myth of increased productivity is a failed world view," adding, "people will trade personal productivity for connectedness, and they will accept an interrupt to help somebody in their social connections."

That's not to say all is dark. Eric of GNIP promised he was still a huge fan of social media, and Stowe pontificated that the rise of the social Web may already be "the most valuable artifact ever created". But from a raft of useless lifestreaming applications and a gap between link visibility and link utility, the speakers seem to agree that we have a long way to go from today's promises to tomorrow's solutions.