I wasn’t able to watch two of the last three games of my club live on TV, so I taped them to be able to watch them after coming back home later the same day. That felt awful.
During the time the game was played, I knew it was on and was imagining what could have happened, which made me unhappy with the task I was actually doing at that moment because it kept me from watching my team.
After the match I was curious to know the result, yet trying everything to not get aware of it, trying to save the tension for watching the tape later on. Whenever someone called me I either didn’t answer the phone at all or started the conversation with “don’t tell my anything about the game”. On the way back home I kept the radio off to make sure no radio announcer would destroy my evening.
Back home, finally watching the game, it felt wrong. I knew it wasn’t live and I knew the game was already decided. I knew I couldn’t change a thing about the game. Not that I could when watching it live, but the feeling was different. I even had to keep myself from forwarding the tape in some phase of the game, which destroyed the experience even more.
At that moment I asked myself if it would have been any different if it wasn’t my team’s game, but any other two teams. I’m pretty sure it would have. If I would have gotten to know the result before watching, I would have been disappointed, but it would have been easier to get over it. And even during the game I would surely have forwarded the tape a couple of times and cared less about the different experience. So the personal involvement seems to be an important factor.
Then I wondered what it would have been like watching the Super Bowl or the World Cup final on tape. My answer was: Why would that happen? No one schedules a meeting during a major sports event and as a fan you would try all you can to avoid e.g. travelling at that time.
This is a powerful finding. There are hundreds of games going on somewhere every day. Most of them I don’t care about anyway (no, I don’t watch the Chilean soccer league even though the games are live on cable TV and some of them probably are quite good games). For some of them, I’m curious to pick up the result, but that’s pretty much it. For some, I want to know instantly how it went and what the outcome was – even a slight delay gives me a bad feeling. And some I just can’t afford to miss.
Interestingly, my social media usage and my uptake and processing of information follow the same rules.
There are millions of blogs and users of Twitter, Facebook, etc. out there. They broadcast anytime in incredible volumes. Some of the posts for sure are very good and it’s a pity I miss them. But like the Chilean soccer league example mentioned above, in most cases I’m not even aware they exist.
For some, I’m kind of interested in what goes on, but if I miss it it’s not much of a problem. Lady Gaga has more than 14 million followers on Twitter. I’m pretty sure the majority of them could still sleep well even if they missed one of her tweets.
Then there is “my team”. Those sources that I don’t want to miss. Those that I want to know instantly about whenever they come up with something new. And just like I only have one favorite team in sports, these are very, very few.
And finally, there are Super Bowl/ World Cup final types of sources. Whenever they update, I try to make sure I’m available to check them at that very moment.
My team only plays once a week, the Super Bowl takes place only once a year, the World Cup Final only once in four years. If I missed one of those it would feel very bad. But if you’re a baseball fan and your team plays nearly every day for half a year, that bad feeling is probably less intense.
But: That perception seems not to be in line with the rules of the media. It seems that mass of information and especially frequency seem to be the most important success factors in social media.
Just a couple of weeks ago, URL shortening service bit.ly release some statistics showing that the half life of a Tweet or a Facebook status update is just three hours. Three hours!
This means that just a few hours after content has been published, no one cares about it anymore. As a result, people raise the frequency of publishing content. And while newspaper editors 20 years ago complained about the pressure of having to come up with a new paper every day, a day is a luxury many can only dream of today.
On April 6, 2008, the New York Times published an alarming article entitled “In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop”, which described the pressure professional loggers are subject to. It quoted blogger Michael Arrington saying that he “gained 30 pounds in the last three years” and “developed a severe sleeping disorder”, just to continue saying that “at some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen”. He finished with “This is not sustainable”. No it’s not. But nothing has happened since the article was published more than three years ago.
I believe it will change. And I believe it has to change.
Social media channels are designed in a way that they strongly privilege recency. However, a thought that has been published today is not any better than the same thought published one or two years ago.
Two things need to happen (and will happen):
1) Redesign of the channels in a way that values content and quality of content over recency.
This doesn’t mean tagging tweets (although it might be a starting point), but e.g. relating them to content that has been previously published or promoting it based on who forwarded it to whom and what relation that group has to your social context.
Facebook Timeline is probably the most interesting experiment into this direction today, but probably not on the most interesting channel from a quality of information point of view. I also believe that Facebook’s intention was a slightly different one, so it remains to be seen where this will develop.
I strongly believe that this will be the field for the next killer-app in social media. Who will build it?
2) Change user behavior
This is a tricky one as it happens on both sides. Let’s start with the “reader” side: By now we are all a lot more experienced in using social media than a few years back. We know better where to look for quality information that is relevant for us. However, our usage of the tools doesn’t always reflect this. How many people do you follow on Facebook or Twitter? Most probably too many, like most of us.
As long as we don’t start to use the channels in a way that concentrates on relevance, as long as we are afraid to unfollow someone and as long as our bookmarks go into a nirvana of thousands of other bookmarks that are unsorted and thus not retrievable in the moment they could be useful, we simply won’t be as efficient and effective as we could be.
On the “publisher” side, it’s even more complicated. As described above, the existing systems favor quantity and high frequency. It takes a lot of guts to slow down – to concentrate on producing quality output, new ideas, stuff that matters instead of just publishing something quickly to fight the three hour half life threat.
As you may have realized, I have reduced the frequency of my posts. Also, they don’t come in a regular pattern like they used to (this is actually only my fourth post in one and a half months). I’m actually doing everything wrong I can, according to the advise you can find all over the web on how to blog successfully.
The result so far: The bad news is, that less people read my blog. If I was a professional blogger who has to earn his living from it, I have to admit this would make me quite nervous. But there’s also good news. The feedback I get is mostly from people that are really interested and have a lot to say. I had some very interesting exchanges on the topics I posted and it was a joy to discuss with my ideas with those great people – like you reading this right now.
Redesigning the channels and changing user behavior are interconnected. User behavior drives channel development and vice verse, so in a way this is a chicken and egg problem. However, chicken and eggs both exist, so a chicken and egg problem often does not impact if a development will take place, it only impacts when it will happen. Our channels and behaviors will change. And I will be as interested to see this change happen as I am to see my team’s matches live.