Optimal Connections

Here’s a list of social networks I’m on and where I’ve been at one time or another completely overwhelmed with information:

– Foursquare
– Friendfeed
– Posterous
– Tumblr
– Twitter

I was thinking today that the only thing I really remember people complaining about was that they were completely overwhelmed with none of this stuff, but with their RSS.

RSS?

While RSS has maybe never been the easiest to manage, it’s so mature now that the ways to control and not feel overwhelmed by it have been around for years. The need to check RSS constantly is much less than the more social updates of your close friends on these other networks, and there’s no social price to pay if you delete particular websites from your RSS feed.

Compare the the list of social networks to RSS and the one difference that stands out is that the following mechanism of the social networks are all built into the networks, while RSS is a standard that people use tools to subscribe to and manage. Decentralized social graphs have been talked about by open software groups since the dawning of Facebook, but it’s still the unified networks that pair utility and networking together that have been growing, with decentralized methods still in the experimentation phase.

This got me thinking about what it is about social networks that encourage us to overwhelm ourselves with information, and what at the same time makes all the content in our RSS the stuff that’s “overwhelming”.

One thing that comes to mind is that our tolerance for extra information is probably higher when we attach a higher social value to information that comes from social connections. It’s this same reason why I avoid unfollowing or unfriending people unless I think I have to, and why I look at RSS and I think of it more as “news” (unsocial, but valuable information) than as “updates” (social, and potential not valuable at all).

On the other hand, connections on Facebook (before, when I used to be on it) were equally unmanageable on the whole because of the richness of all the information connections were sharing with me.

Here’s this idea crudely sketched.

Click here to download:

idea.pdf (71 KB)

Something I wonder is if Facebook brings together what these services all do individually, blending status, location, blogging, photos, links, then we move further to the right of the graph. Right now each service works well on its own and stays manageable because the information we get is specific and hits that sweet spot. If we were to blend it all together would it end up becoming overwhelming and force us to move back down the graph?

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