Metcalfe’s law posits that a network’s value is proportional to the square of the number of nodes on the network. Yet the law of social content consumption is this: growth of a community service is not correlated with how good the community is. Why?
The larger a network (like your network of friends on Facebook) becomes, the more information it produces, and the harder someone (either you or your agent) have to work to filter that information. Status updates, bio changes, blog posts, pics...how do you figure out what to pay attention to? Is there a new dimension of social intelligence which focuses on filtering your own network?
Following everyone you know on Twitter isn’t a good way of filtering information. Following SOME people and using other tools to filter Twitter become necessary in order to watch the topics you care about.
This does not change the truth that it has always been hard is to use your own network to get information, but it's hard to simultaneously extol the virtues and warn about coping with the info overload of a social media service; most of the hype focuses on the former. Barack Obama has evidently won the battle to keep his BlackBerry- he must need this network very badly. Many folks I know think Facebook isn’t useful for them anymore because they have too many friends on the service- the news feed becomes diluted. Insert any service here.
I think we will find that only the techno-elite will be real supercharged users- or at least people who spend 10+ hours a day at a computer without having to devote attention from their Twitter/friendfeed/etc stream.
With print publications, because the editorial there performs that task. With social media, we need tpo pick with more granularity:
- Get an initial set of whom to follow
- Determine which are good filters
- Add some limited filters of your own
Subscribing to a feed from a someone you know is a good way to access their filtering capability. So we want lots of those. But unfortunately, not everyone is as good a filter of his own thoughts or their reading list; a lot of individual tweets aren’t useful. While Twitter is an attention aggregator it also means that I might not get as much out of it when I’m not paying attention; folks are getting hip to how to push social capital around and attract the attention of other followers at intervals.
Until we can get some reliable AI on top of all of this, perceived value (benefit >cost) will rely on a user’s willingness to make an investment of time and effort. I’m not saying that never pays off-and I say this as someone who has gotten a lot of value out of Twitter- its days are limited not because Twitter is bad but because we don’t have a tool yet to replace the work we as users put in.