March 27, 2010

A Big 2010 Trend: Disaggregation and Social Network Focus

For years, I've been sharing and distributing my content in such a way that if you followed me on just one network, you could essentially see all my updates in one place. While the most obvious example of that has been FriendFeed, for the last three years, I also mirrored my activity to other places, including Facebook - and Google Buzz has set up that opportunity to do so again. But what I am finding is that people in each network are more than likely following me in multiple places, and many are getting frustrated by non-native updates. The truth is that people don't always want to follow everything a person does online. They want to follow pieces of what they do in specialized places, and even where filters exist, I am seeing many people reduce inbound streams or focus them for the individual community. This specialization has even led to my running multiple Twitter accounts to give people that option, but not force it, and I know I am not the only one.

In the two plus years I have used Twitter, I have been quite careful not to overuse the product. I've kept my volume on my account to a comparatively low level, when contrasted with its more aggressive users. My main feed is primarily my blog posts, links to interesting stories around the Web, and real-time responses to people on tech. I don't use it so much for real-time status updates, but do so on occasion. At the same time, I have been more aggressive in my use of tools like Google Reader. To broadcast all the items I share in Google Reader to this main feed would be overkill. But for those people who want to consume this feed on Twitter, I created the separate @lgstream account. Separate, but equal.

Separate Content, Separate Twitter Streams

As one man's noise is another man's signal, I've also recently turned on a third parallel Twitter account (@lgloco), which is a mirror for my mundane Foursquare updates. Thus far, I've resisted Foursquare as I once resisted Twitter, but am at least experimenting with the app - all without muddying my main feed. Those who want to opt in to my comings and goings can do so there, as an opt-in process, rather than opt-out. (More on Foursquare's use for a married guy with kids who doesn't venture out much later...)

But this is just one service. Where the most visible issues with noise arise are when people like me try to use services as aggregators, when they're probably best suited not to be.

A New Approach to Facebook

For example, take Facebook. Thus far, I've assumed Facebook to be full of the same tech-sipping geeks I've associated with in FriendFeed and other places - so I gave them the full firehose. But as I could shrug off people like my mom hiding my own feed as it was dominating their stream, I received additional feedback that my "Facebook experience" was less than optimal. The FriendFeed shares lacked imagery and became a series of undistinguishable headlines and links. So, I've turned that off, and will be working to make that experience better - through a small number of shares via my6sense on the iPhone, as well as using Facebook better where its strengths lie - with photos and engagement. This decision also comes as many people complain about Facebook's news feed being dominated by repurposed Twitter updates (most of which they have already seen).

Similarly, the world of Google Buzz presents again the opportunity to aggregate content all in one place. But I have seen a similar backlash against people who pass their Twitter updates through the service. This is partially due to a lag between Twitter and Buzz, which sends updates through in clumps well after they were posted, and also due to the same problem as from Facebook - disjointed conversations that began somewhere else and don't belong.

(See Also: Kurt Starnes' great post: Going Native In The Age Of Aggregation)

Buzz Works Best When You Don't Pull From Microblogging Sites

I chose not to pull in updates to Buzz from Twitter and FriendFeed when I started using the service, and anecdotally, I have seen the most activity in Buzz on items started there.

Just because a tool can aggregate doesn't mean that it should. In a world where practically all of us are using multiple social services, many of us are following the same people two, three, five or even ten times, across different networks. Seeing the same updates in every place is off-topic and tiring. I like the idea of participating wherever comments erupt, but also of giving people the option to find pieces of my updates in the right places.

I separated out my different streams on Twitter to give people who want the content the option to do so, at their choice. I'm thinning out my Facebook to optimize there, and, while I will continue to pull Reader and blog posts to Buzz, I do not think I'm going to cram every service I can find down Google's newest tool.

We live in a world with a very easy potential to be overcome with noise, and I don't want to be responsible for more than my share. So go ahead and follow my @louisgray account on Twitter. Or my @lgstream or @lgloco. You can connect with me on Facebook, FriendFeed or Buzz as well, just know that each place should be giving you a different experience - aimed for that audience.

Disclosure: my6sense is a client of Paladin Advisors Group, where I am Managing Editor of New Media.