goldkin: i has book (goldkin bookly)
Lately, the loud nature of social networks has made me pine for forums again. It's not that social networks are necessarily problematic. But, when compared to the better organizational hygiene of other media, they're sort of this loud, obnoxious younger cousin more prone to kicking his metaphorical feet in the air and throwing a temper tantrum than having a nice, quiet conversation at the dinner table.

I believe this behavior is a side effect of the lower impedance to posting on networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. These networks try their best to stand out of the way of the content, and while that's greatly appreciated, it comes at the expense of organization and durability.

Before I continue, a definition. In the context of this post, a social network is defined as any multi-user conversation engine where the primary organizational model is people. You follow someone, you don't follow someone, and other than reshares from your extended network and a few other knobs (ie, the "volume" slider in Google+), that defines what you see in your stream. By this definition, both LJ and DW are social networks.

This model works surprisingly well. Because specific people are more prone to certain subjects, ideas, tact, and insightfulness than others, being able to eke out a social circle instead of injecting yourself into an existing one is greatly beneficial. Instead of having to appease the prima donnas, trolls, and obnoxiously popular people that often overrun existing fora, you can instead choose to follow or not follow whomever you'd like, to your preferences. Conversation continues, but with the advantage of including only whom you'd like to, reducing noise and faction-driven-politics significantly.

The trouble is, the model still isn't quite right. When this jump was made to people instead of hierarchical organization by community or topic, a lot of useful metadata, contextual information, and definition was lost. There's now this implicit assumption that people read every post, that topic or title definition is unnecessary, and that fewer posts are skimmed or presented overall. To this end, networks like Twitter only reliably provide maybe a day or two worth of scrollback, Google+ organizes its content in a manner that ages posts off extremely quickly, and all three of the above-named primary social networks (Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) expect people to slog through the document summary or full text every time to figure out what the heck is being discussed.

This leads to a lack of idiomaticity -- messages are snapped off so quickly that the mind isn't given a convenient package for recall as in an idiom -- and this causes it to be more expensive for each reader than earlier models. Without expending a large amount of resources generating (and then reconciling) a summary for oneself and others, the information is simply and frustratingly lost, leaving one with a sense of not having done anything productive, despite the time invested having potentially been both useful and insightful for the reader.

But, perhaps most egregiously, context is explicitly discouraged. Because of the low-impedance model for posting and high costs of searching for topics of interest, any attempts to share more than a short summary of a topic or a single link seems unnecessary and wasteful. Because of this rapid-fire expectation, ideas are less enmeshed, content is less durable, and high levels of duplication make discussion feel fractured and disjoint when it should feel smooth, natural, and interconnected.


There are a few good ways to fix this situation. They are:

  1. Where applicable, bring back and encourage idiomatic topic or subject lines.

    Not only will it make posts easier to read, it'll provide a useful data pointer for people trying to discuss or find posts outside of the system (ie, when searching in Google). "Did you read X's latest post" or "did you read that post on Y" is insufficient, because these descriptions aren't uniquely identifiable in time. Likewise, "did you see post 5ab3rf9xbky on Google+" doesn't exactly work.

    As a bonus, put these topics in the URL, like WordPress does it, so people know what they're looking at before the jump through the link. I cannot voice my frustration enough at Twitter's use of t.co, or of link shorteners that fail to let people use a description as a link.


  2. Encourage inclusion of context, by adding a sidebar to similar discussions and related topics.

    StackOverflow does this by providing collated links and potentially related articles to the right of every question, and it significantly improves conversation durability and reduces repetition. It also makes posters feel better about the uniqueness of what they're about to send to all of their peers, because the search for similar topics or entries to reshare has already been done for them.


  3. Promote terseness in reading.

    Don't make me read my entire stream to pick out that one dinner date a friend of mine is running on Friday. Instead, let me collapse everything by subject line or by the type of post and go from there.

    Google+ has the closest to what I want here, with its included calendaring feature. Honing this down to sorting or flagging topics of interest, similar to Google Reader's "Sort by Magic" and Gmail's importance flagging, is where I'd like things to go, here.


I know all of this sounds snobbish, but with the increased expectation that people pay attention to social media, a better organizational model would do well to make these systems less lossy and more durable for all involved. These suggestions are by no means the complete picture of how social networks should look one, five, or ten years out, but they're features that would significantly improve the current experience.

Administrative note: I had this post in the queue for about a day before a discussion on Twitter and a new feature to Google+ forced me to rethink things a bit. These were fortuitous -- both jived well with my thoughts on this topic -- but this may reflect some slightly outdated information.

October 2015

S M T W T F S
    12 3
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Page Summary

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 24th, 2017 05:59 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios