When you look at all of the social media out there, what is its original intent? What was it designed to facilitate, and what is the thing that it has ended up distorting? Connection – between humans, in an analogue environment meant to replicate the way in which we interact in the real world.
The thing is the failures of the digital world do little but make the failures of the real world more explicit. How is an algorithm any different to the shorthand thinking we employ to decide whether someone is worth spending our time on.
Triage is something that results from living in a busy world where the demand is that you engage with all the noise, and because you fail to do so, and focus on the signal, it is parsed as a failure. But a smaller number of connections that are meaningful is better than a slew of connections that are shallow. You have to prioritize – you can’t know every person in the world … you never could. Just because the potential to access everyone’s inbox is there, and most of the people who use the internet are on Facebook, does that mean that you should want to, or need to, connect with them all?
Mass media obviously drives its content through channels that are supposed to wash over as many people as possible – social media’s original intent was not to operate in this way, but as soon as it became driven by business and its broadcast potential was discovered, it ceased to be a purely personal medium, and became mass media pouring through a screen that was camouflaged to look like it was a personal filter. It hasn’t been a personal filter for a while.
Myspace was qualitatively different when it first became popular – everyone had Tom as their first friend; you could decorate the page like it was your bedroom; and the engagements you had were significant and felt real. Why? There was less mediation between the people operating in that notional space. It unfortunately followed the same direction a lot of these unique online communities followed – someone spotted the money potential in them and tried to sell it to someone who did not realize that what they intended to do was going to cut open the golden goose. Rupert Murdoch destroyed Myspace – the changes he brought about, and the shift in focus that resulted in his investment was the real thing that left Myspace open to the deathblow that Facebook dealt it.
Facebook now seems to be going through a similar crisis, but it is one that the person who has been the driving force behind the site has acknowledged publicly and vowed to change. How he is going to manage to put an ecosystem back in a box that it has outgrown is one to ponder. It is not every company that grow to such a huge size and still remain on the cutting edge – alternatives generally spring up to replace the functions that these larger companies shed as they become to big to remain in touch with what the grassroots users want from them.
Yahoo succeeded for a long time, but got to a point where even the voracious consumption of smaller entities couldn’t provide it with enough energy to survive in the form it had distorted itself into. Smaller leaner entities exploited its weaknesses and moved in on its territory. When money enters in to the degree that it has with something like Facebook, in the way that it did with Myspace – there are demands that are placed upon it that may run counter to the original intentions. You need investors who see that there is a value in maintaining the original structures and functions that drew people in in the first place, and who don’t trample over the ethos in an effort to squeeze every drop of money from the set-up that they can.
Some investors are investing in an idea – others come in, and what they see is a thing with a finite span that they need to milk for as long as they can, and which they need to leave in the dust as soon as it looks like the edifice is going to topple.
Only connect comes from E.M, Forster – a man who died before the internet was even an idea, but it is something that, as a concept, is integral to the human experience, and really encapsulates what it is that these communities we are building are trying to do. Facebook wants this – Google wants this – whatever social media platform you want to name desires this, and any companies on the internet want this.
The problem comes in when you have such a large number of people that are plugged in to the system, and the desire becomes to connect with them all and to disguise that as a personal interaction. It is something that expresses itself in the notion of making the personal universal, which is the aim of writing. or films, or music. How is this done though? Not through algorithms or automated systems – that is for sure. Understanding how mechanisms such as SEO work, and how Pay Per Click works are fantastically useful in getting your communication in front of more people – but engagements are not the same as relationships, and there is a lot more work to be done to actually turn that initial interest into something that merits the term connection. A connection can honestly only be forged on a one to one basis – and maybe this will seem like you are going the long way round to help “everyone”, but one person at a time is, in truth, the only way to actually do what you want to do.
Every person on a march, at a rally, at a voting booth, made an individual decision to be there – despite what some may say, people aren’t cattle to be driven from point A to point B. Your sales funnel? If you provide a disengaged generalized message to a loosely designated demographic it will only travel so far, but if you sit down and craft a message to the individuals you want to communicate with it will result in what you are truly trying to get: a connection. Your funnel – full of connections, is a real thing. Full of cattle being driven there who you have not truly connected with? It’s worth something, sure – but you want connections, not just a full funnel. Do not mistake the metrics, or the painting daubed on the wall of the filter, for anything other than signs pointing towards the real objective: to only connect.