Social Media Overload

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In the aftermath of the recent SXSW event, Alexandra Samuel wrote on the HBR blog about five unsolved problems facing Social Media. She enumerated contact list overload, search overload, information overload, brand overload, and apathy overload. It’s not clear to me, however, whether these are pressing issues, and whether universal solutions to them would constitute an improvement over the current chaos.

Contact list overload. Each social network manages its own contact list, and while SN sites all encourage the people to build up their in-site networks by importing contacts, it’s a lot of work to manage each network independently. Of course there are lots of good reasons to keep the data segregated in the first place. Perils of mixing social networks can range from job loss to becoming a victim of governmental repression. Given the inescapable urge that governments businesses have to put federated data to further their own — rather than their citizens’ or customers’ — benefit, the less pooling of contact lists we see, the better.

Search overload. Alexandra laments the lack of influence that “the social web” has on search results, but one of the issues raised at the recent Search in Social Media workshop (SSM2010) was the question of utility of mixing in realtime and social data into search results. Getting too much influence from people who are like you is more likely to lead to “group think” than to true insight.

Information overload. RSS-based content aggregation has become a victim of its own success, drowning us in data. The unstated implication is that the social web (presumably through collaborative filtering) can help reduce the amount of information that we need to read. It may. On the other hand, it seems like people are actually pretty good at deciding what to spend time on, and social media is as much a contributor to the feed as a filter for it.

Brand overload. It seems that marketeers have discovered Twitter and Facebook, and are subverting the medium for their own purposes. This is akin to the cries of dismay when corporations started acquiring a web presence in the mid 1990s. My take on marketing presence in social media? That’s how you know it’s a medium!

Apathy overload. Apparently Social Media is not solving the world’s social ills. As far as I know, in the history of humanity one has yet to see an effective technological solution to a social problem. Social media is the current fashion, but there is already ample evidence that it, like many other technologies, can be used for pernicious purposes as readily as for positive ones.

Perhaps a sixth item on this list should be Expectation overload.

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