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Will social media open us up to new ideas?

April 6, 2009

During a recent presentation to a client, the question of Newspapers came up. Specifically, the notion that newspapers were in trouble popped up in a conversation. Someone pointed out that newspapers serve a vital need in bringing us stories from outside of our comfort zone. Without newspapers, we’ll filter out other content. If we pick our own RSS feeds, then chances are, we’ll be getting content from sources that think like us.

An obvious example is getting ones news from the Huffington Post or Right Wing News.

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...
Image via Wikipedia

If people set up their RSS feeds to only feed them information that makes their heads nod, they clearly won’t be introduced to new ideas. That is, unless we consider the evolution of social networks.

Consider this:

‘There have been a lot of debates about whether a person’s “real” friends matter in a social graph — call it the tension between friends and friendsters. In 2009, we’re going to realize that loose ties (like your friendsters on Facebook) are as valuable as your strong ties (close friends) because they’re the ones that bring new ideas into your world and share your opinions with people who are further removed from you.”

This is one pat of a 180 page document from RazorFish, so there’s a lot more to digest inside of it. But this jumped out at me because it’s something I believe in. When giving presentations about where I think social networking is going, I talk about the Dunbar number. The Dunbar Number is 150, and it represents the “theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.”

It was theorized before the Internet, and before social networks like Twitter which seem to exceed that on a regular basis. And even though statistically, the older one gets, the more likely they’ll be close to the Dunbar number, I think there’s a shift coming on how we use social networking.

Currently, they are really good at helping people reconnect to people they’ve lost touch with. Facebook is wonderful for hooking people up with their long lost friends.

But sooner, rather than later, this primary reason for using networks will change. Our children will have to decide to lose touch with people. When that shift comes, Social networks will be the place where we’re most-likely to find new ideas. Maybe it’s from someone on Twitter, maybe it’s a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook. Maybe it’s the friend of a friend on a network that hasn’t even been created yet. But the larger the community, the more ideas one will be exposed to.

Because at their best, social networks are the power of the network created by each individual. And as younger people embrace social networks, they will continue to grow with them. They will have a core group of friends, but then they’ll have more and more outer layers of friends of friends, all who have the ability, through the power of an idea, or whatever, to break into the inner circle. We go through it all the time with RSS feeds (or maybe it’s just me). I find a new blog, and it becomes the blog of the moment, supplanting the last blog of the moment, but that latter blog doesn’t go away, and can easily get back on top with a clever idea.

So if I blame Twitter for being less relevant to me these days it’s because the network that I have (or haven’t) built isn’t performing in the manner I would prefer. That’s not on Twitter, that’s on me.

But the fact is, I spend more time on this blog than I do on Twitter. And this blog is performing for me. LinkedIn is performing for me. Again, that doesn’t mean Twitter is underperforming, it means it’s underperformed for me.

And that will happen with social networks as they evolve, and our use of them evolves. But I do think one thing will be true; we’ll be introduced to new ideas. We just need to have our spidey sense on to see when they come. Because it won’t be as obvious as flipping the page of the local paper.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2009 10:27 am

    I agree with the last part of this the most. It’s funny how one social networking tool/site becomes your favorite for a few weeks then you are back to another. I write a few blogs and for the past couple weeks I have slowly gotten away from them towards Twitter and Facebook. But I am sure in a couple weeks I will be back focusing on my blogs again.

  2. April 7, 2009 11:30 am

    Hi Greg, thanks for the comment. Netspray seems really interesting, thanks for introducing me to it.

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