Damn. I did it again: it’s not even noon yet and, just like the car talk brothers always say, I just wasted another perfectly good hour. Except, this time, I spent it tweaking my buddy list on Twitter and answering a deluge of invitations from folks on various social networks.
As an entrepreneur deep in the trenches of the evolving web (take that, web x.0 versioning zealots!) I should love that stuff: I started our company in that space precisely because I want to make the web a more social, participatory place. And at first glance, it seems we’re finally getting there, with the Internets chattier than ever. There are more and more fantastic options available to publish all sorts of content, from concise status updates to events to full-length blog posts to podcasts to video. And tools to share the goods with friends are mushrooming as well. What’s not to love, right?
Well, something about the pattern emerging right now bugs me. As a whole, I fear the social web ecosystem is currently amplifying the pain rather than actually helping users communicate and interact better. I read an interview with Aaron Swartz a few weeks back, where he mentioned that early Reddit users wrote about spending too much time on the addictive site. Like Aaron, I am not sure this is a good thing. I am hooked on Twitter, for instance, but I hate loving it.
Why? Because as someone not merely out there to kill time, but rather looking for valuable information nuggets, I don’t feel empowered; quite to the contrary, I feel played: since when does it count as progress that I have to manually sift through everybody’s mundane whereabouts just so I don’t miss the rare piece of signal in the noise? Sure, I want to know where the party’s at, but there has to be a better way to find out than following 1,234 users just to catch the few valuable announcements between countless quips about cappuccino runs and BART delay.
Twitter (or Jaiku, for that matter) isn’t a worse offender than others, mind you: I am frantically trying to keep up with numerous meeting trackers and calendars, from Outlook to Google to Yahoo to 30boxes to upcoming, not to mention old school evite. And should I update my profile and connections on Facebook today and on LinkedIn tomorrow, or the other way around? If I also have to watch the life-casting of my 50 closest friends, I might just as well give up on work right now.
My point: massive production overload, lack of any potent filtering. It may be fine for a while, or for die-hard exhibitionists and voyeurs, but I feel like we’re letting users down severely when it comes to having the stuff that matters to them bubble up to the top of their attention.
To answer Mike’s diatribe about the Valley getting rotten because of too much cash, too many parties, I’d say that in terms of innovation, we’re barely getting started: in my view, the point’s not only giving users yet another megaphone, but facilitating interaction, collaboration, online or even (let’s dream a little) in first life. While the promise of a web more participatory is what fires me up, I think we need to seriously ramp up the consumption side of things. And search in its current state is not the answer; it simply isn’t keeping up right now. Yes, I keep tabs on who’s writing about my company with blog search, but what is the Technorati tag for personalized “cool stuff, cool events, or cool people”? What’s really hot, in my view, is a chance to build and deliver that kind of filtering value for users, beyond gimmicks and raw entertainment plays just adding to the noise. What do you think?