Is social media in danger of becoming more about the social than the media?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how social media had an increased propensity towards group think due (unintentionally) to it's design. This got me thinking, how could the design of social media sites change in order to minimize this risk?

So what if I throw a little love at my friends?

It's no big deal. Except if everybody is voting for their friends and not for the content then the quality of content will diminish. It's inevitable. And there is no way to escape it. It's the false positive effect.

In statistics, the false positive is the error of rejecting a null hypothesis when it is actually true. In life, this happens all the time. Legitimate emails get caught in your spam filter, an irrelevant page is returned in your search result, or much more serious, a court finds a defendant guilty of a crime that he didn't commit.

"Sure you look good in those jeans" ...

In real life, the false positive usually isn't that serious. If an email goes missing then I look for it. Most people are aware of over zealous spam filters and will send a follow up email.

except

what if 50% of my emails are getting caught in the spam filter? What if my friend looks really, really bad in those jeans and now (because I'm too nice) they're her new favorite jeans?

or

what if we positively reinforce content that just isn't that good?

A topic goes hot (because of the submitter) and people think "oh that's a hot topic, I think I'll write about it" and the next thing you know, there's five mundane posts on the same topic.

Gone are the interesting tech stories on Digg only to be replaced by Jerry Springer-isk sensationalism (4 of the current 5 top stories from the last 30 days come from the entertainment and off beat sections of Digg)

This isn't a water cooler rant

This is a serious issue that social media sites are trying desperately to overcome. Just as relevancy and completion are key success factors for the search engines, quality and trust are key success factors for social media.

The future of social media depends on keeping on keeping the emphasis on the content.

And it's pretty obvious that the social media moguls know it. Jeff Quipp explores this issue much deeper. He feels that the recent changes to the Digg algorithm are aimed at just that ... protecting the long term viability of Digg.

How can Social Media be redesigned to emphasis the content?

One solution would be to redesign the interface to put less emphasis on the submitter.

This seems like the obvious answer but if you'll recall from grade school, the obvious answer is usually wrong. This is probably the worst thing that social media could do to itself.

The content is what defines the social media. Without the content social media sites are just another pretty interface.

It's the USERS who are submitting the content. Social media isn't User Generated Content but it is User Submitted Content. Without the focus on the user content won't be submitted. Without the content there is no social media.

A less obvious solution is for Social Media sites to become more niche oriented. If science and technology users are turned off by the off beat content that is often shared on the front page of Digg, then maybe the two should not mix.

Is it possible to bring more personalization into Social Media?

Personalization already exists to some extent. If you have a pattern of predicting (voting for) content that the masses will like, then your vote might be worth a little bit more than mine.

But what if my Hot Page could look different than yours?

What if I'm a Science lover? What if I could customize my Digg profile so that I never see offbeat stories on MY Digg Front Page again?

Could personalization be the next evolution of Social Media?