Advertisements

Follow Everything by a Select Few, Select Content by Everyone

Item #1: Fred Wilson tweet:

@timoreilly i want to follow less people and more keywords in my twitter timeline. can’t wait for summize to get integrated into twitter

Item #2: Adam Lasnik FriendFeed post:

I switched over to reading mostly a ‘subgroup’ (“Favorites”) on FF, and was missing the serendipity of new voices. One way I’ve remedied that is to do searches on some of my favorite things (“a cappella”, “lindy hop”, etc.) and see who and what comes up.

Item #3: Steve Gillmor blog post:

A small number of Follows combined with Track produces a high degree of coverage on a daily basis.

The three items above share a common theme…limit the number of people you follow. At first, this sounds obvious. Isn’t that what people normally would do? Well no, it’s not. In social networks, there’s a dynamic whereby people tend to return the favor when someone follows them. This build up your follows over time.  As Louis Gray noted in a recent post:

While you might be following thousands of people and making new “friends” on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, FriendFeed and all the other networks, you would likely hesitate before sending them an open invitation to your home.

“Thousands of people” I’m doing it: following 1,000+ people on FriendFeed, 600+ on Twitter. For seeing a broad range of information and opinion sources, it’s great to track so many people.

But there is a big downside. Much of what I see doesn’t interest me. The greater the number of people you follow, the more content you will see that falls outside your areas of interest. Putting this into attention terms, for any given minute you spend on a site, what is the probability you will see something that interests you?

It’s an odd phenomenon. I actually like that I’m following a lot of people, because it increases the number of instances where something that interests me will go by on my screen. But it affects the rate at which something interesting goes by. As you follow people that stretch outside your core interests, their streams do have a higher percentage of stuff that you don’t care about. And the overall probability of seeing content that interests you declines.

I want to differentiate this idea from Dunbar’s number, which describes limits on people’s ability to maintain inter-personal relationships. I’m not talking inter-personal relationships. I’m talking information foraging.

What Are You Trying to Get from Your Social Media

I enjoy following people that stream content outside my normal range of interests, such as Anna Haro on FriendFeed. It’s important to step outside the things that regularly occupy you, if you want to grow.

But the three items above show there is another rationale for people to participate in social media. Rather than seek content outside their interests, they want a concentrated dose. Personally, I’m finding I need this professionally. The Enterprise 2.0 space (my field) is fluid, and undergoing the stress of the global recession. Tracking the news, ideas, perspectives, trends and relationships is critical. For example, the microblogging trend (e.g. Yammer) is new and I’m interested in seeing how that plays out.

If you can see the point of that social media use case, you can understand the value of this idea:

Follow everything by a select few, select content by everyone

As I noted in my last blog post, I’m tracking everything for a select group of Enterprise 2.0 people, and keywords/tags for everyone.

In terms of the three items with which I started this post, Fred Wilson describes this approach. Adam Lasnik isn’t too far away. His manual searches for “a cappella”, “lindy hop”, etc. could be turned into persistent searches to find new content and people. Steve Gillmor is a little more of the social media whale philosophy, where he only wants to follow a specific set of users and then interact with the @replies on Twitter. But even Steve could add keyword tracking via a FriendFeed Room as a way to improve his daily “coverage”.

Will This Trend Grow?

I’m a fan of this use case. It fits my needs professionally. It’s almost like I have my 9-to-5 social media, and then my nighttime social media.

I suspect this use case will make more and more sense as social media expands its mainstream footprint. Information workers are the ones who will be most interested. The hardest part is figuring out which keyword/tags to follow, what sites to track and what mechanism to use for this tracking. I’d argue FriendFeed with its Rooms and Lists is perfect for this, but certainly there are other ways.

One final thought. If this trend takes hold out in the wider market, I can see people practicing a little SEO on their content. Get those hash tags in your tweets to make sure Fred Wilson will see your content (if he ever reveals what he tracks).

For kicks, I’m curious what you think of this idea. Please take a second to answer the poll below. If you’re reading this via RSS, click out to participate in the poll.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Follow+Everything+by+a+Select+Few%2C+Select+Content+by+Everyone%22&who=everyone

Advertisements