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Our Crude Social Media

Have you ever wished there was a mute button on Twitter? Or a way to focus on your real life social network in Facebook?

What about a way to port your profile and social capital from one social network platform to another? How about the ability to selectively share something into multiple social networks in a contextually relevant way? I would like to suggest the extent to which we want/need these kinds of improvements speaks to the fundamental crudeness of our current social media tools and platforms.

Our Crude Social Media

Don’t get me wrong—I agree along with everyone else that the last few years have been truly seminal in terms of how we are able to socialize in the digital channel. Facebook and Twitter APIs have made a universal social graph possible, mobile technology has made access and connectivity to this graph ubiquitous and intensely personal, etc. What I’m saying is that the next few years have the potential to be every bit as revolutionary.

I believe that some of the fundamental challenges that underly current social network platforms will become more and more salient and lead to lots of (potentially disruptive) innovation in 2011 and 2012. What kinds of fundamental challenges? The kind that make it hard for tools like Facebook and Twitter to map onto how we’re actually wired to socialize.

The discussion is already well underway. For example, it has been noted that social expression has traditionally been private by default, public through effort. The social affordances of platforms like Facebook practically reverse that equation. It may be that this is a distortion of how we truly want to—and will be able to in the future—use social media to express ourselves and connect with others. A little while ago, Google’s Paul Adams pointed out that much of how Facebook works is based on the untrue assumption that all connections are homogeneous “friends.” An outworking of this fact is a lot of noise in our news feeds. Or take Twitter. It is based on the assumption that we actually want to hear regularly from people we follow. But this may not be true all the time: for example, there may be a range of social pressures that factor into our decision to follow someone. Thus, the need for something like a mute button. On a much more technical level, issues relating to universal access and potability are being discussed in depth.

I definitely don’t want to underestimate how far we’ve come, or technology’s ability to transform how we communicate and socialize; but I’m excited to see how users will adapt, and innovators will seize on opportunities to recreate our current social media landscape in the next few years.

David Gillis More posts by David Gillis