The Next Evolution of Social Media…

by Jennifer Osborne February 6th, 2008 

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.


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?


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?

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11 Responses to “The Next Evolution of Social Media…”

  1. spostareduro says:

    I Sphunn this Jenn and think it's relevant to many/much today.
    But, the concern I have is on determining what content is worthy of the love..
    You said, "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."
    Everyone is affected differently by each post. Value is in the eye of the beholder.
    I Sphinn, Stumble, Mixx and so on, as I see it's potential to be of some sort of educational value to another. Sometimes this includes Sphinning or Stumbling something that I feel may start controversy..When controversy is available, it's typically the stimuli needed to provoke argument, which leads to even more education.

  2. Hi Kim, I agree it's a tough one. The submitter is critical to the equation and quality is definitely defined by the user. I really appreciate you adding to the conversation by providing a different point of view!

  3. Kimota says:

    Excellent post and one that rings true for a lot of people I'm sure. This is a huge dilemma as the very nature of social media is also its undoing.

    Some out-loud thinking follows…

    Because networking is such an important part of social media – where we add each other as contacts because we enjoy each other's content – this function then feeds the loyalty bias in voting up posts. Maybe the algos should be adjusted to recognise the bias of these people listed as contacts on a person's profile, reducing the tendency for people to get a post hot simply by developing and actioning an active and loyal list of contacts.

    The problem will then become that people won't add contacts but will find ways of networking off-site to build their Digg brigades. Hmmm… what to do…

    Or… to prevent the above, if a person automatically gets added to a contact list after voting up that users content x number of times in recognition of their likely bias. X could be rated as a ratio of those votes against their overall votes against the number of users of a site so that a site with a smaller number of users would have a larger x triggering the bias algo.

    Or I could simply be out of my mind.

  4. […] read an interesting post today, with the same title. Author of the article argues that the very design model of social media is […]

  5. One thing I'd do to SU is rename "add as a friend" to "subscribe." Subscribing doesn't mean someone is my friend, and calling it adding someone as a friend trivializes the human relationships that do also form independently of if I read their blog.

    I will subscribe to someone I think is interesting, if they're my "friend" or not.

  6. You say: "Is it possible to bring more personalization into Social Media?"

    I think what social media sites are providing – well, in my experience with FB for sure – is a far larger cross section of interests about one particular person. Why do we need to categorise and pigeon hole people? Isn't that the friend experience – getting all the different angles that make the whole person?

    I also have to disagree with the personalising of pages eg via design etc as it DOES make me concentrate on the content.

    Sorry but I guess I'm not really agreeing. But that's OK!!! xc

  7. Elizabeth and Kimota, thank you!

    Charlie, I really appreciate differing points of view. I was referring more to the new aggregation sites where the ability to personalize would allow me to show more of who I am i.e. science and technology versus odd stuff or celebrity news.

    Agreed that FB does a better job at letter your "whole self" come out. I think SU has done a better job here too.

    But this raises a great point. We talk in terms of social media but the various mediums are quite different from each other. How we interact with a news aggregater is totally different than social bookmarking, SU, FB, etc.

    hmmm, maybe this should be another post?

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  10. Grace says:

    Great post, Jennifer. I completely sympathize with your concern about social media promoting "popular" as opposed to quality content. It seems to me that many social media networks run the risk of deteriorating into what eerily resembles a high school popularity contest. The process of improving your website's position has become more about collecting votes & "likes" and less about circulating valuable and compelling content. Sensationalist stories that amount to little more than tawdry gossip flood my social stratosphere because they're endorsed by the masses (but certainly not me). Who needs to make straight A's when you have the approval of the football team? My hope is that, like our high school selves, social media will "grow up" and recognize that it's in everyone's best interest to promote excellence over trends.