A few days back my good friend Jack Vinson posted a rather interesting and thought-provoking blog post that would be incredibly relevant for all of those folks who happen to be rather active in various different social networking sites and who may be facing such a common problem as well. Under Fragmented social life he comes to question our inability to re-find good, relevant content because our interactions are just so fragmented and distributed out there in various social networks nowadays that we just can’t remember anymore where we may have shared this piece, or that one, and with whom. A real problem, indeed, if you are active in multiple social tools. Jack’s worry used to be my own as well up to no long ago, till I, finally, decided to settle down on The Big Three. Fragmentation is no longer an issue anymore for me, but rather quite an advantage! And here is why …
A few years back, I was attending a Knowledge Management conference event where one of the keynote speakers was the one and only Dave Snowden, one of the folks I have learned the most over the course of the years around KM, Narrative and Complexity, amongst several other topics. Well, on that keynote he shared something that at the time I wasn’t really conscious about its potential implications, but, in due course, it’s proved to be rather accurate time and time again. And that’s the fact that we, human beings, seem to operate much better when our world is fragmented, when we think of fragmentation, or in fragments, rather than when presented with a whole. In short, our brains seem to process information and knowledge much better in small fragments than with the whole picture.
That’s why, to me, it makes perfect sense to think about how various different social networking sites like Delicious, Flickr or Instagram, for instance, have been so successful all along. They do one thing (Share and store links, share and store pictures, respectively) and they do it well. Rather well. Thinking and reacting in fragments does make perfect sense. Fragmentation surely has got a place in how we interact with social networking tools. But what happens when that fragmentation goes out of proportion and it is just too difficult to manage by trying to figure out where both things and people are eventually? Somehow I suspect a new problem has emerged. Fragmentation getting out of control is probably something that not many of us would want to be facing at this point in time. We are already far too busy and rather hectic having to figure it all out already, don’t you think?
And I know that in most cases, most of you folks out there are thinking about the well known Social Media Fatigue phenomenon that a whole bunch of different people have been writing about for a little while now. Well, I don’t think it’s actually a problem with that social media fatigue per se, as Mitch Joel puts it nicely under “The Social Media Fatigue Myth“, but more with our inability to keep up with far too many social tools when things explode exponentially and we keep spreading thinner and thinner than ever, yet we keep bumping into the same social networks, but in different social settings. I am sure most of us could relate to that context, and, eventually, I think that’s also where Jack was aiming at with that original blog entry. How do we make sense out of it all and still remain sane when we have got more and more social networking tools coming along by the day?
Well, since most of those social tools haven’t done a proper job, or they haven’t delivered just yet as you would have expected, to provide us with a unified user experience to re-find successfully that content we are interested in, despite the fragmentation I guess it’s probably a good time for us all to re-think our very own strategy with regards to where we would want to be, whom with, and what kind of conversations we would want to carry out.
Like I have said above already, this problem of fragmentation and not being capable of finding not just the content I would need, but also the experts behind it, used to worry me quite a bit as well, more than anything else, because of that growing feeling of having spread far too thin at times. Till something called Google Plus came along and it made me re-think my whole involvement with the Social Web. Why would we need to follow the same people, all over the place, if they all keep sharing the same stuff regardless of where they are time and time again? Shouldn’t it be good enough to be exposed just that one time and move on? Are we just too afraid we are not being heard in multiple venues and that’s why we keep sharing the same stuff in plenty more? Why would we need to keep up maintaining our social presence in a particular social networking tool if we ourselves don’t see, nor find the value? Yes, indeed, lots of really valid questions and I am sure you may have plenty more out there! Like if I would delete my Facebook account would that mean I am less social now and may have lost my social mojo? Like if folks don’t interact with you directly does it mean they don’t interact with others and they stop living social?
Too many questions, indeed, and perhaps too few answers along the way, too! What I do know though is that, thanks to Google Plus, I eventually had to stop for a minute, re-think about how I would want to make use of it, and question the validity of all the various social computing tools I have been using for a while out there on the Internet and perhaps try to put a stop at that fragmentation at a level I would still feel comfortable with handling. An exercise that, in my opinion, has allowed me to ponder whether I really need to be there or not, whether I need to keep following the same folks all over the place, whether I can start letting things go and watch how many of those things would really come back to me over time as part of that well known Social Flow.
An exercise though that I can certainly recommend everyone to go through! Thanks to it I have now finally decided on The Big Three and, all of a sudden, that false sense of fatigue, of not finding what I am looking for, of not knowing who the experts would be is now a thing of the past. Still the fragmentation is there. Still having a blast with it. So, what’s The Big Three?
The Big Three are basically the three main social networking tools that I have decided to invest the vast majority of my time in, when trying to live social and all of that based on a specific set of criteria along the lines of figuring out their business value (to me and those around me), my engagement and further involvement with each and everyone of those various social networks, where my customer base is at the moment, and where I would want to spend the largest amount of time immersed on an everlasting learning frenzy. And those three social networking tools would be the following ones in order of preference:
Connections because that’s where I live on my day to day work; Google Plus, because it’s allowed me to consolidate the great majority of my social interactions by moving the conversations over there, helping me become thicker and get rid of that social networking fatigue and additional / redundant fragmentation that Mike Elgan has explained beautifully over at “How Google Plus ends social networking fatigue” and Twitter, because I still find it rather valuable on its own, as I have mentioned in the past walking hand in hand with G+.
Now, does that mean I will withdraw from every other single social networking site out there where I have got a presence? Well, probably not. In fact, I haven’t deleted any of my other social profiles out there just yet; what I can tell you though is how I have started to develop a much lower profile for all of them by participating every now and then and always by sharing content and further information that I wouldn’t want to re-find at a later time anyway. The stuff I would want to is all now going into one of those Big Three.
So essentially the problem that Jack drew further rather nicely for all of us on the evil doings of fragmentation in the Social Web out there may have its days numbered, if we all start re-evaluating our main focus areas, based on our own business and personal contexts, needs and wants, as well as deciding where we would want to start placing both our energy and additional efforts and perhaps start sticking around with The Big Three. Yes, we don’t need to be everywhere; yes, we don’t need to connect with the same people time and time again in multiple places, specially when they are all just cross-posting the same content to just get your attention; yes, we can let things go and they will eventually find us back, if they really need to. It’s time to break that fragmented social life once and for all and, in my own case, I just happened to finally settle down on My Big Three.
But what is yours? Have you decided already? Or are you moving along with that social fragmentation trying to make sense out of it anyway? What do you think?