Image courtesy of iStockphoto/OtmarW
I’ve always been observing the tech industry for new trends, and lately I think I noticed something on the social network and search area. The challenges we are facing as a professional in this crazy informational age is how to deal with the ever increasing overwhelming data and information surround us all the time. Most of us, especially those working in IT industry, has a sickness I would call it ‘Information Fatigue’. Everyday, we have 10 blogs to visit, 100 emails to reply, 1000 tweets to read, thousands updates on Facebook to catch up to. The information ‘density’ within each piece is not helping also. Tweets that have shortened links or pictures, emails with all the 10 pages back and forth reply history, website with so many ads and distractions crammed together. Our limited focus and energy becomes so pale before this waterfall of information. It’s like we’re fed with unlimited food, junk or good, dessert or ramen, steak or salad, day in and day out. We can never get real healthy this way, only more obsess, mentally. The information flows through our brain everyday is out of control.
Eventually, we’ll need to totally rethink how we generate information, distribute information and filter information. In this regard, our social network and social media industry really need to wake up on this. We all know the feeling when we check our Facebook and found out all the mundane day-to-day details of our ‘remotely remembered’ high school classmates. And worse even when we found out that thirty minutes have already passed. What a waste of life and energy! But that happens all the time, from Facebook to Twitter, from Instagram to Youtube. Nothing has been done to improve this so far. Imagine if Facebook can learn my taste when it comes to updates, I can ‘Like’ a friend’s updates, which will increase his updates ranking so it will appear more on my wall in the future. Or I can ‘Ignore’ it, so I will never see those kind of little details anymore. The social network should do a smarter job to learn my taste, and offer more relevant information to me, while filter out the noise. By reducing the noise level of Facebook, it will actually increase its appealing to most people. I’ve talked to a lot of my friends and colleagues on why they seldom get on their Facebook, and the No.1 answer is :’It’s full of crap in their, all the updates of my friends that I don’t care, not something I’m interested or enjoy reading. It’s a waste of time.’ This is a dangerous signal to Facebook, cause less engaged subscriber means less quality information on Facebook, will could cause even less people using it, a destructive downward spiral.
Take Twitter as another example, a standard tweeter user will tweet several tweets everyday, retweets some of his likes, and favorites some others. But Twitter has no system whatsoever to learn what I like and dislike, what will get me excited and retweet, etc. Put it in a simpler way, Twitter don’t know me. It’s like an information feeding machine, without any effort to filter out the noise and promote something according to me taste. In a word, these social media/social networks care too much about running ads and promoting goods, but care much less about profiling and learning its subscriber, which in turn making it harder for them to do targeted ads (ironically).
Image via FastCompany
There are some that does a better job. The popular personalized magazine app ‘Zite‘ is a good example. It has become my main information consuming place lately. What Zite does differently is it starts off by letting you choose some topics and key words that represent your interest. Then it will go out and fetch the news, blogs, articles, tweets that you might interest and present them to you. While you’re reading, you can choose to ‘vote up’ or ‘vote down’, which will increase or decrease the chance next time these kinds of information appear. Basically they profile you, and gets better overtime. The result is amazingly good. Instead of reading my tweets every 5 minutes, or check my Google Reader, I just fire up Zite once or twice per day and read all the relevant information and I’d be happy. They can still do better though. For example, they can remember when is your last time used Zite and when you launch it, it will present you all the worth reading articles from last time you read to now, so you know you won’t miss anything. (Now they always present you the most up-to-date content. )
Some may argue that due to the social ‘intrust’ between users and social networks companies, users are not willing to share their interest and let their private info been exposed much. Well, it doesn’t have to be this way. What the user really hates is not been profiled. What really make user mad is these company grabbing all the user’s private data, but instead of providing valuable suggestions and filtered information, they sold those information to advertisers. If these social media and social networks companies care more about user’s information and give user more value on meaningful suggestions and better quality information flow, I believe users are willing to tell them more about themselves. They would even pay for it, as long as they see value in it.
So to sum it up, if social network companies focuses more on knowing their users better , then providing valuable suggestions and helping user reduce the noise level, it will be a win-win to everybody. Users will have a higher quality of information flow, get ideas and suggestions that relevant to their needs and taste. Social network companies will make better use of their ‘raw social data’ and get more engaging subscribers (that willing to share more about themselves). And even advertises will have an easier time targeting their audience because of the better profiling from social networks. The advertisement fatigue is a desperation on both the advertiser’s side and consumer’s side. Advertiser is desperate because they don’t know who are interested, so they have to bombard the public with ads. The user’s desperation is they know what they want, but no one wants to listen and they’ll have to suffer all these irrelevant commercials. All these can be easily solved by a bit more caring and data mining technology. Come on Facebooks and Twitters, do something!