Most people in today’s world spend their time trying to create or influence culture and social behavior — either in an industry, like advertising, media, design, or entertainment, or perhaps in a political campaign or cultural group or community organization. If we evaluated these organizations using the same criteria we judge technology with, we would also find them to be uninnovative and oversized.
…But we can only build these tools responsibly if we see the bigger picture that social media exists within, so we can avoid the trap of building superficial products, and instead focus on how social is still very significant.”
– Raymond Zhong in Social is Still Important answers a question I’ve long had about the relevance and importance of social apps relative to more utilitarian problems like education, healthcare, and energy efficiency.
Let’s be friends again
Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.
That tagline says a lot about Facebook, especially the “connect” part, because Facebook is all about connections—it’s a directory of almost everyone you’ve met. Who actually has 900 friends? I don’t know about you, but I text my mom, brother, girlfriend, and the guys I go to happy hour with and play soccer with on Sundays. They are the most important people in my life, the people I spend meat time with.
I’ve noticed lately there’s been buzz in the tech press about mobile messaging being a Facebook killer. I think that’s an exaggeration, but there’s are reasons mobile messaging has taken off; it’s basically texting, but you can send messages using your data plan instead of paying Verizon for SMS. So, what’s the big deal? Without worrying about a $200 charge for going over my monthly texting plan, I can tell you what’s on my mind when we can’t be together. I can tell you when I want to be together. I can share my thoughts with you and not bother you if you’re in a meeting or in class. It’s just between you and me, and I don’t have to worry what other people will think.
I don’t think messaging is a Facebook killer because having an index of people I’ve met is useful. When I go to D.C. for work, I look up old classmates and see if they want to grab a drink. I became good friends with a guy who graduated two years before me in high school because when I moved to the Bay, Facebook told me lived in Berkeley. Facebook also made it easy for me to look up talented classmates from college and see if they wanted a job at my company. Facebook is great at loose connections.
But having access to all those people is also what makes Facebook terrible for staying close with my friends: there’s too much noise. I can’t keep up with everyone’s baby photos, graduations, promotions, breakups, memes, and political trolling. But I feel like I should and I feel overwhelmed.
That’s where messaging wins out. I only give my attention when somebody I care for asks me for it. There are no alerts, no streams, no inboxes, no apps, no groups. If my phone doesn’t vibrate, I know I don’t have to give you my attention, and I can’t waist endless hours creeping on your profile. But messaging could be better because in those messages is the story of us, and messaging apps don’t do a good job of telling that story. What was that rap album you told me about? What photos have we shared? You texted me the code to your garage door, but I forgot it, and I hate tapping “Load Earlier Messages” fifteen times. When was our first date? Because I’m making a scrapbook for our anniversary—but I’m embarrassed that I can’t remember when that is.
Messaging apps have a lot of potential, and whoever can make an app that that can bring us closer together is going to be the real Facebook killer.
“It seems very clear that Twitter (the company) is under the impression that the “content” in their system, ie the manifestation of tweets, social graph and “intention stream”, is their core asset. Once you take on that “let’s control our content” state of mind, no matter how fundamentally good your employees, management team, or board members are, you are screwed. Twitter is already well into their harrowing journey down the slippery slope. It seems that most folks in the tech world, except the people still working at Twitter, know how this story is going to end.”
– Dalton Caldwell, Founder of App.net
(I think he’s correct—Twitter is not focused on growing and nurturing *the platform* that allows their “real-time information network” to flourish, but rather, on extracting value the media flowing through their system; that is, user-generated content that can’t and won’t be controlled and can quickly vanish.)
“You are making UX design decisions as soon as you specify anything you expect another human to interact with, as soon as you specify anything that has implications for how a human might interact with it. Of course, you are are also making system design decisions, but we assume you are comfortable with that sort of thing.”
– Erika Hall, Tart Up Your Start up