Sunday, March 15, 2009

When the conversation gets too big

Is there such a thing as a "big conversation"? I think the answer is "Twitter" -- a conversation with a lot of talking, some listening and a falling signal to noise ratio.

A common objection I hear to Twitter is along the lines of: "what's so interesting about knowing when people are putting their kids to bed or eating dinner". And yes, there is a lot of fairly meaningless or trivial chatter in the Tweetsphere. Yet, the bigger challenge for the social utilities and microblogging sites like Facebook and Twitter is not handling the trivia, it's about how to keep the conversations from getting "too big" and hence too noisy and ultimately irrelevant or useless due to its sheer volume and lack of context.

CNET posted At SXSW, attendees confront Twitter saturation on Sunday and the New York Times Bits blog made similar points here: Social Media Overload Allows Web Apps to Shine. They both raise the question of whether the utility of microblogging, tagging and following breaks down at scale.

What is the value of sifting through tweet, after tweet after retweet from people that you don't or barely know? Information? Entertainment? Awareness? Probably all of the above. The question dujour is when the flow of information starts loosing its value due to its unfiltered volume.

I've been spending more time reading Tweets in the last few months than I spend looking at my Facebook feed. Why? Presumably because I find value in the experience. In fact I do. This shift in behavior is probably the reason why Facebook adopted a more Twitter-like user interface last week.

But the questions being raised about Twitter and the new Facebook interface is mostly about how we manage the overwhelming input. My question is different. I want to know where the "conversations" happen? You know **real** conversations with people interacting and actually listening to each other. Where can I discuss the things I discover in a format that makes sense. Where can I ask for advice and input from people I know?

The tweet spout is an interesting experiment. For the experiment to become a permanent fixture in my life I need to be able to engage in personal conversations with the people I trust and respect. And those conversations have to be separate from the ever growing public Facebook and Twitter flows, or else it just becomes too noisy, too impersonal and "too big".

1 comment:

barak said...

this is a great summary of the problem hans-peter. i have personally been struggling with this question myself .. and was actually about to give up.. lately though i've changed my habit. i've stopped visiting and been using tweetdeck as a twitter client.. and i've found a few of it's features helpful. one, in particular, is the ability to create a column of tweets about a certain topic.. (e.g. "advertising" is one i follow) it's not a perfect filter.. but it allows for easy tracking (and joining in at times) of/on a subject vs. a group of people. it's not really any different really from being in a chatroom re a topic.. but i've found it gives some useful shape to my twitter experience.. and i'm "meeting" some really interesting people in the process -