Josh Catone’s piece, Visualizing Social Media Fatigue, on ReadWriteWeb added fuel to a fire I’ve been stoking for some time now. Problem is, I’m too tired to write about it. Just looking at the map he references makes me want to take a nap.
It’s no stunning revelation of course; we’ve all been begging for relief from information overload for some time now. (I remember referring to the social explosion last year as a “massively multi-headed monster.”) But the tools being created to alleviate the problem aren’t really solving it – and are creating problems of their own. I suppose it’s an inevitable result when a market struggles with something, particularly in technology: a certain number of fits and starts are necessary on the way to a seamless solution.
In recent weeks I’ve found myself signing up for several profile aggregators, or life streams as some call them, in the vain hope that one will solve all my social graph headaches. It’s not working. Instead of logging on to multiple social sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr, I now find myself logging on to multiple aggregator sites like Plaxo Pulse, Friendfeed and PageOnce. Each offers different ways of aggregating all manner of sites, and each has its own friend list. The constant input of status updates, blog posts and profile changes from all my friends on each different service is sometimes interesting but most often maddening. And don’t get me started on Twitter.
I love the social Web. I love the status updates on Facebook and the business networking on LinkedIn and the mountains of feeds that inform me on Google Reader. But I’m not the norm. I spend all day online and get paid to wade around in the social graph. I have an abundance of time to devote to corralling this information. The rest of the world does not. My suburban mom friends can barely make time for a Scrabulous game on Facebook. If we truly want to proliferate a social Web among the masses, we absolutely must make it simpler. Everyday consumers won’t have the time or patience to plant – and keep track of – their graph on multiple sites.
So enough with the whining, what’s a tech sector to do? I don’t think these companies are headed in the wrong direction, necessarily. The basic idea is sound; it’s the execution that is lacking. Broad initiatives like data portability are intriguing but still in the early stages and seemingly a long way from real-world validation.
While we want to be careful about putting too much power in the hands of one company, I think the safe bet for the moment is to construct our social graphs around one dedicated, already existing site. The aggregator services need to give us the tools to plug in to preferred networks rather than out. Plaxo Pulse has a promising interface – why not enable it to supplement my Facebook news feed? Or if you spend more time on MySpace, plug your Friendfeed in there. I’m not just talking about tiny app boxes on your profile page either; I added the LinkedIn app to Facebook months ago and haven’t viewed it since.
We’re now faced with two choices: re-direct feed streams into one existing service until we figure out data portability or, god help us, aggregate the aggregators. At some point, we’re going to aggregate ourselves right into absurdity.