Social tools and the filter problem

I just saw someone comment that “Twitter would be improved by better list functionality”. For years my only experience of Twitter has been through a list of about a hundred people who I trust to add more signal than noise. I have also been adjusting my Facebook lists, after watching Robert Scoble’s enthusiasm for adopting that technique, to raise the level of stories I see and reduce the number of pictures of cats.

As soon as we get “improved” information systems we are exposed to too much information, feel swamped, and feel the need to improve signal and reduce noise. We are then faced with the problem of classification. Do I classify someone as a person whose views I value on technology, a friend, someone who spots quirky stories, or all of the above? If I put them in a technology news list that I improve by “liking” technology related posts, what do I do when they then post a heart warming human interest story that I also want to like? The people I follow aren’t one dimensional. The appeal of social tools is that we get to see more than just one aspect of the people we connect to.

It’s the same old issue that was meant to be sorted by portals and executive dashboards. As soon as I think I have reduced noise in my system I begin to worry that I am missing out.

The solution is partly to use different tools for different purposes. This is why I prefer an ecology of diverse tools in a business environment rather than the all encompassing enterprise social tools that are the current fashion. It’s a bit like “real life”. We expect to meet different people in different physical contexts and manage our expectations of different conversations in this way.

The problem at the moment is that in the competition between Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and the others for our time and attention, they are all beginning to look and feel the same!

4 thoughts on “Social tools and the filter problem

  1. Great thoughts, Euan — as you know this is a problem I care deeply about solving :-). It seems in the race to be the top news reading destination, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are getting less and less differentiated from a user standpoint. I think it’s interesting to look at what Nuzzel is doing / considering around aggregating news from multiple social networks. [1]

    Ultimately I think where we’re all headed is an engine that not only aggregates the aggregators/networks but actually compares their selections to make us aware of their biases / respective strengths, giving us measurable confidence in our level of ability to avoid "missing out" with our given setup, and suggesting new tools to balance our biases.



  2. I had high hopes for Google Plus when I first heard about Circles, until I ralised that Google had gone for ownership of the social map at the expense of usefulness to their ‘customers’ (/product.) We need mechanisms to transmit on channels (probably tags) and to receive on channels, (probably source/channel via shared tags or by our own tags mapped onto the shared ‘channel semantic’ information of others’ tags) but that requires shareable social map data. I think my social map is mine but Google and Facebook don’t. LinkedIn is so disorganised, I can’t tell what they think.

    It’s unfortunate that every social tool expands to overlap with every other but they all fail to allow us to choose to share. The architecture of social tools is becoming clearer but we’re only renting (paying with our surrendered privacy), so we can’t make the necessary structural alterations. The Free software community should be worrying about this but they are too busy fighting the last battle. Google is our friend, apparently.


  3. I like Gmail’s labelling facility. You can add many labels to the same message and that means they are displayed in every filter to which the labels belong.


  4. "They are all beginning to look the same".

    I believe you said it long ago … typing text into small rectangular boxes and uploading photos / images.

    There will be real competition when something like Ethereum or start to acquire large numbers of users (which may never happen).

    But I sure hope that some day there’s a real and effective alternative to advertising-supported social exchange platforms.


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