It’s called Social for a reason

November 29, 2009 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment

You buy a refrigerator for its ability to keep your food, not for its specific aptitude at temperature control.

All the discussion about the purpose and future of the popular social media sites makes me believe that most people – especially non-users – just don’t understand.

I found this discussion among some of social media’s biggest and brightest from a panel discussion at the Said Business School in Oxford (yeah, that Oxford) on the subject of “What’s the Next Big Thing?”

Can you find who or what you need in the crowd?

Peter Theil (PayPal co-founder and social network investor) talked about “digital technology maturity” and then began a discussion about the history of communication technology. “We went from the development of telecommunication to the internet,” said Theil, “and from the internet to social networking. Maybe there is no innovation left any more, and we have to look for it in a completely different direction.”

As the discussion trended toward the digitally social, Biz Stone, Twitter founder, seemingly excused himself from the discussion, claiming Twitter is not a social network but an information network. Ram Shriram, of Google fame, wanted to turn the discussion to mobile networking as the future, talking about the massive growth and innovation opportunities through the huge populations of users in China and India, in particular.

Oh, to be present at this discussion among the technology’s brightest stars. But it seems like a lot of talk about the refrigerating power of refrigerators, when the real power of social networking is in the connections it makes possible. Of course, those inside the industry need to talk about the specifics of the products and the technologies themselves. And the immediacy of technology lets us listen in and comment, often in “real time.”

But without discussing the end uses and real benefits of social networking sites, this self-serving discussion simply has tech bubble written all over it. Fortunately, as reported by Mercedes Bunz, blogger for the Guardian UK, the panel did get to the value of the social tech craze. Oxford lecturer Dr. Kate Blackmon, helped get to the true reward of social media, saying the future was not about crowd sourcing but crowd filtering.

I’ve been saying similar for several months, though never from an Oxford-hosted dais. The future – and thankfully the present – of social networking is in its unique capacity to help anyone filter through huge crowds to find the discussions, information and people they want and need to find. Most importantly, the people. Refrigerators refrigerate so you can drink milk tomorrow and the next day. Facebook helps you find old friends so you can make new and valuable connections. LinkedIn has gathered more than 50 million professionals so they can establish new relationships, and improve each other’s businesses. Twitter exists so people can rapidly communicate and share information – not simply to let people type in 140 or less character chats.

I live in southern California. I need a filter, not just for the air, but to help me sort through the huge crowds of people so I can locate a good bicycling group, track down an affordable bottle of Barolo, or improve my business opportunities. I work in social networking, and I need a filter to help me find the news, the discussions, and the people who can help me work efficiently.

I hope the discussions on social networking’s future consider the real impact, not just the refrigeration capabilities.

How do you currently use social networking tools? And how can they evolve to help you maximize their value?

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Entry filed under: Communications, journalism, Social Media. Tags: , , , , , , .

I Think Therefore I Thank I can’t wait until Tuesday night

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