Choose your friends carefully: the move to Social Network Curation in 201114/01/2011 11:17 by Richard Preedy
Our online social networks are a key source of information and increasingly influence what we read, share and buy. However, if we do not filter out the mundane we risk missing the information that is most important to us and becoming a victim of information overload.
It occurred to me the other day that I have too many friends. By this, I don’t mean the family, friends and colleagues I socialise with throughout the week and, you know, actually spend my leisure time with face to face. More, the numerous people sitting on my Facebook account I haven’t spoken to for nigh-on five years, (the occasional shallow digital platitude aside), but who seem intent on breathlessly updating their minute movements on the notice board whenever I (increasingly infrequently) log-in. Back in 2006 when the Facebook really took off, there was something ego-boostingly satisfying about racing to my first 100 friends, but now I find it a little tiring. Do I really need them all?
The wealth of recent articles questioning the value of such surface friendships suggests others are feeling the same.[i] Neil Tennant (of Pet Shop Boys fame) nicely summed up this antipathy: “It’s a sickly strain of fake friendship, a place where you keep in touch with friends you don’t really want to see.”[ii]
However, while I appreciate that as a male, about to turn the wrong side of 30, regular “Facebooking” maybe isn’t really for me[iii], at the same time I don’t necessarily want to take the drastic step of culling all my social network ties via websites such as the Suicide Machine: http://suicidemachine.org/
Which is where “Social Curation”- widely identified as one of the key trends for 2011 – comes in. Twitter in many ways kick-started the practice, in that users only read updates from the people they are actually interested in, rather than receiving a deluge of self-important babble from people they went to primary school with. Indeed, following the right selection of people on Twitter can bring a fascinating cross-section of news, entertainment and personal tit-bits, for as journalist David Hepworth noted: “Much of the Twitter experience calls to mind sitting with a room full of friends all reading newspapers, the silence occasionally breached by a snort and a supposedly pithy comment.”[iv]
Since the middle of last year a number of websites, such as ‘paper.li’, ‘Small Rivers’, ‘PostPost’ and the ‘Flipboard’ app on the ipad, have been taking this principle a step further, by collating selected information from Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as posts from other blogs and online sources and presenting them back to users via an easy to digest interface.[v] As such, they essentially provide users with something akin to a free, bespoke online magazine, regularly updated with distilled information on a selected topic of interest. No filler and definitely no “Happy Birthday mate, have a good one” from some guy you once spoke to in the pub. Paper.li in particular has been a big hit, recently securing over $2m of investment[vi].
While curation may not take over from Social Networking as we know it, it’s likely we will see a shift in this direction, if only to confront today’s information overload. As an example, a recent survey by GfK NOP asked the extent to which consumers would like to receive their news/updates delivered by curation sites, as opposed to reading traditional online newspapers and magazines.[vii] Whilst understandably only a small proportion took the extreme position of wanting all their online news delivered through means of social curation sites (2%), and a fifth (21%) wanted to continue receiving news through traditional means, a high proportion were interested in both, with 42% marking themselves on points 4-6 on the scale (i.e. suggesting they would consider an even mix of the two.). As is the way with trends like these, when looking at the overall averages it is smartphone users and the young (16-24 year olds) who are leading the way
This potential reduction in the number of “digital friends” we have also has implications for companies regarding the field of social commerce. A study amongst college students suggested that only c.6% of Facebook contacts constituted “real” friends and it was this group who were likely to affect purchasing behaviour.[viii] If internet users therefore start distilling their friends down to this reduced set, use of social curation sites will represent an excellent opportunity for companies to target influential consumers.
However, as an end-note and word of warning, if one was to rely too heavily on hand-picked news and views, we would run the risk of casting our nets too narrowly and becoming overtly inward looking. Which I guess again highlights the need to choose your ‘friends’ carefully…
[i] The Guardian article by Aditya Chakrabortty from earlier this week is an excellent example: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/friendship-facebook-aditya-chakrabortty
[ii] Interview in “The Word”, Issue 95, January 2011
[iii] A November 2010 GfK survey, amongst a representative sample of UK internet users (n=983) indicated that while 83% of 16-24 year olds use Facebook at least a month, this drops by age to 72% of 25 – 34, 58% of 35 – 44, 51% of 45 – 54 and 39% of 55+. 61% of females use Facebook at least once a month, compared to 50% of males
[iv] Quotation taken from “It’s Facebook’s world but reputations were made and marred on Twitter. Who Won?” by David Hepworth, in “The Word”, Issue 95, January 2011
[vii] Survey amongst a representative sample of 773 internet users, conducted December 2010. Respondents were presented with a 10 point scale and asked the extent to which they would like their news delivered/selected by traditional means through news agencies or delivered solely by recommendations via social networks?
[viii] See, “Commerce gets social” in Wired magazine, Feb 2011 issue
The excellent image is provided by http://www.flickr.com/photos/dylanroscover/