As I was going through my FB and Twitter feeds tonight, I couldn’t help but think whether this is all the social web has to offer. I was merely looking to kill some time on a rather boring night and the feeds from FB and Twitter just served for that purpose but on a typical semi-busy day, do I really care to see the photos of a college acquaintance’s (whom I haven’t seen in ages) 4-year old kid (whom I never met) having fun with his friends? Not really. Or what does a Flash developer’s tweet about his sleeping dog’s fart that caused him to leave his room (this is a real Tweet!) really add to my or anyone else’s life? Nothing.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the social web. I love the fact that I can reconnect with old friends on FB or follow people on Twitter. Some information from FB and Twitter ends up being useful for sure. For example, I ended up meeting a college friend of mine in London due to his updates in FB that he’s in London, otherwise I would have had no idea. I also get to learn about different technologies/products due to Twitter updates. There’s no question that I’m better off with FB and Twitter but the problem I have is the amount of irrelevant information that the social web creates that we, as consumers, have to deal with in order to be recognized as an identity on the web.
Social web creates more data for internet users to consume and the social sites like FB and Twitter get a lot of attention nowadays simply because they create a lot of traffic on the web. However, just because something is social, it doesn’t mean it’s relevant. It can and usually is just noise. I remember being excited about FB a while ago because it enabled me to reconnect with my high school friends that I haven’t seen in ages but once you reconnect, you realize that reconnecting is cool but time has moved on and both of you are different people in different places now with little or nothing in common. Then what? You end up with bunch of status updates in your feed that you don’t care about and hence my disappointment with the social web. I’m sure this is true for a lot of people too.
My disappointment is further exacerbated when I put my software engineer/entrepreneur hat. How do you really monetize a social web with so much irrelevant information? It’s not an easy task. I also have hard time imagining enterprise and social web together. To me, enterprise means serious stuff where one click might end up transferring money from one account to another account overseas whereas social means silly where one click is just a poke to a friend in FB. How do you reconcile the two in a meaningful way?
I can’t imagine that the web being just Tweets, Pokes, or Likes, on the other hand, I can’t imagine a non-social Internet either at this point. FB has been successful because it turned the anonymous user into a user with identity. Before, a user was nothing more than an IP address that maybe a site could at most use to guess the location of the user. Now, a user is an alumni of a college, works at a company, posts places he/she went or wants to go and much more. All of this is very relevant information for a lot of online businesses.
We all have an identity now but once the excitement of tweets, pokes, or likes dies out (it will happen), what’s next? Here’s my prediction. I believe that there will be a middle ground where silly social and serious enterprise web will converge in a more meaningful way. In that happy middle ground, as an Internet consumer, you won’t get bombarded with bunch of irrelevant information in order to be recognized as an identity on the web but you won’t be anonymous either to the sites you log on. In that happy ground, you will have a portable identity that only you own and you’ll have the choice to reveal that identity along with its greater social clique whenever you want and only as much as you want to the sites you want, similar to how social interactions work in real life. Whoever figures out how to provide that portable consumer-owned identity across the web consistently will dominate the social web landscape.