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Online Media: Relationships and Finding Signal In the Noise

When I first started using Twitter in the fall of 2006, I was one of only a few thousand people using this weird new service. It was fun because my friends were there. I’m an early adopter when it comes to technology so it’s not all that uncommon to find me on some new online tool kicking the tires.

Back in those days, there was a small enough pool of users that, hey, if someone followed you, you followed them back. It was just that simple. Many of us set up scripts that would automatically follow anyone who followed us. It was karma. It was social. It was how the changing face of the Internet made “us” better than “them”.

As all things go, however, Twitter began to jump the shark. People started using Twitter to push their products and agendas instead of simply communicating. We were like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water, many of us not realizing until it was too late, that the reciprocity approach simply wasn’t scaleable. We concocted formulas to rationalize our efforts. We chose not to follow people who had an unbalanced follower to following ratio. We called them spammers. We labeled them as people unable to engage in conversation. We rationalized our own existence on Twitter, all the while boiling ourselves in hot water to the point that our worlds were nothing but noise, and our effectiveness as professionals became nil.

Around the time I had 2000 followers (also roughly 2000 people following), I stopped following everyone back. This was almost two years ago. Organically, I grew to 8500+ people following me in return simply because I was interesting and people wanted to follow interesting people. The concept of equivalency was tossed out the window by most people while the “influencers” kept talking up the idea of equivalency. I only followed people I had actually met.

Still, the noise became too much. There was no real way to come back from the brink. I had long ago reached the point where tweets in a tweetstream were at full force. I called it Twitter Terminal Velocity – the point where a tweetstream could not perceptibly travel any faster. And the content was not relevant to my personal or professional life.

Good people. Irrelevant content. Too much noise. This was the problem.

About two weeks ago, I made a drastic move that has improved my life in immesaurable ways. I culled the people I was following from 2800 down to 492 (that number has organically grown since). I had a number of criteria for who I kept – people in Austin (gotta keep my new city close, right?), people in tech (not tech news, not social media… tech!), people in the WordPress community, and real friends.

These are the people that matter to me on a daily basis. They make my life worth it on a personal and professional level. I see all their tweets now.

This is not to offend anyone that got cut. If you talk to me (via a mention), I still see those tweets and most of the time I will engage. I also have keyword searches so relevant conversation surrounding topics of interest are also seen, whether they are directed to me or not. However, in my day to day content consumption, I have made my Twitter experience a much more pure experience.

Today, I find myself more engaged with the people I care about. It’s not about me and my existence and importance. It’s about the people I care about engaging in my world and me in theirs. For instance, I would have never been able to encourage a friend about her father’s deployment to Afghanistan if I had 2800 people I was following. It doesn’t scale. It’s not personal. It’s not real relationships.

In closing, let me give on zing to the social media marketers and networkers. Relationships aren’t about what you do or if your customers care. Relationships aren’t about ROI. Sometimes in relationships, you get nothing in return. But real relationships actually make a difference to ROI and customer care. Just don’t mistake the two for the same thing. They are very far from the same thing.

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Our lives in a thousand years

A few days ago, I posed a question on Facebook and on Twitter: What will our offspring know about us in a thousand years? It came after a conversation about how what we know about our ancestors has been discovered through archaeology and discovery of physical evidence. We know much about the Egyptians through discovery and exploration of the pyramids, sphinx and pottery. We know what we know about the Roman Empire due to written evidence, scrolls and ruins.

In our digital age of bits and bytes… where tremendous amount of data is stored in non-physical locations (can you say “The Cloud”?), what will be the traceable evidence of our society in a thousand years?

This morning, the Library of Congress announced it was acquiring (weird choice of words as it denotes ownership) the entire archive of tweets sent out via Twitter. Will they print these things out so there are paper copies? How will the digital archives of trillions of little messages  that, individually may be mundane (how many tweets that read similar to: “OMG I <3 bacon!” exist?), be stored in such a way to create a greater texture and context of our society?

Dave Winer, of whom I despise as a person but who has produced some excellent work in the past, has railed on this for some time…. if we own our own content, how will we preserve it when entrusted unilaterally to another service. We send status updates to Facebook without ever thinking about how or where that content will be used in the future. Tweets are sent from mobile devices and the web without ever really considering that, hey, Twitter might sell the rights to this stuff to the Library of Congress…

Not that I feel like there is a problem with this. On the contrary, if anyone is qualified to preserve our generations and society for a thousand years to come, it is the Library of Congress.

For more on this story, check out Read Write Web’s story on the acquisition.

Photo Credit: dhammassociety

threadsy

Threadsy Aggregates Email, Facebook and Twitter (plus invites!)

TechCrunch 50 startup and runner-up Threadsy reached out to me earlier to look at their service. I’m not usually one to do that but I had some time and their street cred seemed legitimate (TC50, etc).

The service is an aggregation tool that pulls email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo, even IMAP to name a few) together. I couldn’t get my IMAP email account functional but that could just be me. It’s been awhile since I had to configure email addresses manually. My Gmail account imported successfully without any special configuration.

In addition to email accounts, Threadsy also aggregates your Facebook Inbox as well as Twitter. Though no differentiation (visually) seems to exist for DMs and public messages in Twitter, it did manage to aggregate everything nicely and order them in the proper order. I’ve noticed that other products that trie to do this always seem to be a little glitchy on timestamps and sorting, so I appreciated this.

What you get is a consolidated inbox, as seen below. It’s very interactive and clicking on messages brings up helpful information about the sender.

The experience is also very smooth with interactive visual elements (swooshes and what not… to be technical).

My big question surrounding this service is why? There already seem to be a lot of social inbox tools. Gmail is increasingly becoming one everyday with the addition of Buzz, though it does not yet support aggregation of Twitter and Facebook content. I can see the benefits, but I wonder how many users will be sold on it.

Try it for yourself though. The first thousand people to click on this link get into the private beta program. Let me know how you feel about it.