August 7, 2008
There are lots of amazingly talented people online. Being able to establish contact with these people is what first drew me to services such as Twitter. Given my background in location based services, I have therefore recently migrated across to sites such as Brightkite which extend the Twitter model by adding a layer of geographic relevance. I can now not only converse online with local people that share similar interests but also selectively meet them in the flesh (the local vs. global village). The process for establishing such relationships and extracting value from the volume of communications, however, still has much room for improvement.
Not surprisingly, fellow Brightkiters and Twitterers are just like you and I. Some of them have higher online profiles and some have tantalisingly captivating day jobs, however, most of the time we say similar things. We haven’t yet evolved our communication etiquette to a point where we no longer feel the need to express the little idiosynchrasies of our daily lives as we may normally do with our families and co-workers. The result is a universe of noise that is so overwhelmingly diverse and expanding that it is hard to locate the right people or discussions in the first place (proverbial needle in a haystack).
I don’t really care for seeing the meal you digested before the big event. This behaviour must stop!!
So how do we still benefit from the simplicity and immediacy of real-time services such as these but ensure we are able to efficiently locate the people and information we are seeking?
It’s simply called focus.
It seems obvious but how many open social (pardon the pun) networks like Twtter, Friendfeed, Brightkite etc. apply any form of control to encourage focused discussions or allow participants to be linked into some form of logical group by association, therefore allowing me to find and follow them a little easier? Currently all of these start-up companies have a need to build the largest online user base (mass-market) possible which means it may not in their best interest to risk fragmenting their community structure.
Twitter’s recent acquisition of summize.com demonstrates that people see value in being able to identify interesting people and their discussions from within the amorphous Twitterverse. Brightkite is attempting to do similar by being able to search for conversations based upon keywords. Recent informal use of #hashtags to label messages, e.g. #supernova08, is a step in the right direction but it is the user base creating these as opposed to the services leading their adoption. All of these, however, appear to be band-aid approaches. To do the job properly you need to frame a discussion before it begins.
Current search functions on services like Brightkite are primitive and they don’t make grouping discussions into topics easy (or arguably possible) at all.
What then could be a winning formula?
I’d suggest a hybrid of Brightkite, LinkedIN and our good old friend the threaded-discussion forum. The Brightkite social network brings the immediacy and location-relevance that engages people online in the first instance. Arguably it’s a version 2.0 of a now tired looking Twitter. LinkedIN-style features would move the focus to building “groups” and having people interested in similar things joining up (with suggestions presented to me based upon where I live and others in my network) as opposed to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Threaded discussions would then provide focus to the group discussions so that we can avoid being subjected to viewing the inputs of your next amenity output. It would also allow services to recommend other groups and people based upon the threads I contribute to.
If anyone would like to receive an invite to try out Brightkite in order to see the potential and to compare the complementary functions in LinkedIN, send me a message and I will pass one on.