February 13, 2010

Filter, Unfollow Or Get Out of the Way

Go Ahead and Filter Me Out of Your In Box.

The recent launch of Google Buzz has once again surfaced an undercurrent in the social Web - where a small number of active accounts can gain the lion's share of activity, either through their own interactions, or those of an active follower base. Whether earned through years of consistent activity on their blogs or parallel networks, or having volume thrust upon them through celebrity or suggested user lists and bundling, there are brand name individuals who command a greater share no matter where they go, and if you choose to follow them, your stream runs the chance of being overwhelmed.

Buzz, evolutionary but not revolutionary, has not yet made it simple to follow very active accounts, such as those from Robert Scoble, Jason Calacanis, Pete Cashmore or me, as updates on our threads bounce to the in box by default - almost as a penalty for anybody who has chosen to engage, or who may have seen their ID added to a thread through the service's @Reply feature.

A Common Complaint. But A Wrong One.

Busy accounts can be a nuisance on practically any network, whether that's Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter, Buzz or any other. But in services where active feeds are resurfaced or pushed to the top, such as FriendFeed and Buzz, the impact is not actually from the originator of the content, but from their community. Comments on active feeds push the items back to the in box, or back to the top of the feed, and if you are following some of the more prominent accounts, you'll no doubt see the same names at the top.

Engagement is Not the Problem. It's Bad Filtering.

That said, if this is getting in your way, and you are seething with rage at these social media power users, you're not using the tools well. Practically every network gives you tools to solve the problem.

1. On Twitter, you only have to see the updates from those you follow - with the exception of items retweeted by those you follow, from their connections, which you can opt out of on an individual basis. If an individual is too noisy, you can unfollow them at any time. Some innovative applications, including Brizzly, let you even "mute" a user for a short time so you can have them disappear during particularly busy times.

2. On Facebook, you can hide an individual's updates from your News Feed if they are too talkative. You can also hide all updates from specific applications (like Farmville or Mafia Wars) if you never want to see those updates. And yes, de-friending or blocking is available.

3. On FriendFeed, you can hide individual posts, block individual services (like Twitter or Disqus), block specific service updates by user, or, most successfully, you can put noisy people in their own lists, to sequester them from the rest of your feed. If worse comes to worse, again, you can always unfollow them, or block them outright.

4. With Buzz, you don't yet have the option to hide specific service updates or updates by user. But you can mute any thread just my using the "m" key, and as Buzz is integrated with GMail, you can use the same kind of filters available to any other e-mail. For example, I have set up a rule to move all Buzz entries into a mail box I call "social", taking them out of the in box.

Buzz Never Hits My In Box On My Mac

If you want to quiet the impact of busy users, like Tom Foremski did by unfollowing Robert Scoble and me in Buzz, you can use GMail filters to your advantage - taking them to a dedicated folder and out of your in box.

For example, set up a filter where the Subject is "Buzz from Louis Gray", "Skip the Inbox (Archive It)" and "Apply the Label" of "Noisy", or whatever you like.. Then do the same for Robert and Pete and Chris Pirillo, Jason Calacanis, or anybody else who is swamping your Buzz experience.

Should we be blaming the noisy folks?

Like I mentioned last night, in sharing my social media data flow, I know there are people who have chosen to stop seeing my updates because of their frequency. But I don't plan to change my activity because of a new way it is interpreted and displayed by a new social network.

Part of the reason I am among the more active and visible people on Buzz is because over the last few years, I have promoted and cultivated the use of Google Reader and having active conversations there. I took the time to connect to and talk with more than 1,000 people in my shared items, and Buzz has taken advantage of that social network, moving it to a new place. Where others have not optimized for sharing, they are starting with less of a community.

1,300+ People Can Comment On My Shared Reader Items

But because of this, the community is also very comfortable talking on my feeds, as they are with other engaged folks. It is the ensuing conversations that bump them to the top, not the frequency that I share. I have been sharing 20-30 items a day in Google Reader every day for years, and it is filling Buzz the same way it has filled Reader and Facebook and FriendFeed.

If it's too much for you, use the tools that are there. Mute. Filter. Unfollow. Block. But there will always be discrepancies between the average users and those most active. Go ahead and make mine more active.