The social web has a connection conundrum.
Our own enthusiasm with the democratization of expression has created the very noise that is making it hard for ourselves to be heard clearly–or even found.
The antidote to social noise, the key to finding connections around interests lies somewhere in the interest graph and the choice of context over friendship as a filter for relevance. I blogged on this here.
This is a real problem for everyone on social web. It’s a gotcha built into the fabric of social ecosystem itself, not an isolated bubble nor a mass hallucination of the uber tech aficionados.
Finding real connections with like-minded individuals and for businesses, connecting with their marketplace requires a fresh look at the social infrastructure, with a new lens…or maybe the current one turned inside out.
Social media logic says to keep creating interesting and honest content, keep recycling and resharing links and this will create intersections of value. This brute force approach is too haphazard and works less well daily. We need to understand how social design intersects with businesses needs; where context connects with customers.
And how it becomes actionable—how do you find and have conversations with people who are interested in both sports and raw foods? How does your company connect with people who are trying to solve a problem that your company’s product is built for? Actionable context is the goal.
Think of the filtered web as a mesh of layers getting finer and more finely tuned as you surface from the amorphous friend’s graph to discover interest connections and context for conversations. You need to pop out value connections from the social graph, not just add to it with more content and noise. This is not a science but it is marketing with focused social intent.
Harnessing interest and context is the realm of the curation tools and platforms. There are scads of companies in a race to win our attention, capture our network data, discover context and build new communities of interest at the intersection of these social graphs around our specific needs.
This is just really hard to do and today, more promise than reality. Filtering relevance and connection out of broad-based social networks is non-trivial but key to discovering business utility within the wondrous social framework of the real-time web.
I believe that you need to focus on context over friendship and discovery not just curation as the goal. That’s the end game and the fuel behind the race. I’m positive that every curation platform, especially the more aggressive ones like Summify and XYDO and the scrappy smart ones like Eqentia, are all chasing this.
I search for contextual connections every day for my own and my client’s businesses and have tried many of the platforms. This is my wish list to make curation useful and discovery tangible for both individuals and businesses.
‘Good enough’ curation filters are neither good nor specific enough to be useful
Curation is in some ways just smart search with an intent to aggregate and share.
The same problems that plague search plague curation as well. What I see in Summify or XYDO, I’ve already seen in my Facebook wall or Twitter streams. And most of what I see isn’t that contextual, it’s simply a garden-variety search result with social plugins as a layer.
Two ideas jump to mind that may help to remedy sameness by building context around more unique information:
-Broaden the input stream
The world is not just Facebook and Twitter. Few (maybe no) curation engines import Tumblr content. And none have found a way to work with Disqus to plumb the massive implicit data that resides in their comment systems.
35 million Disqus commenters having conversations on over 750,000 blogs is a global pool of connection value that is untouched. That’s an ocean of context to channel.
-Self-tuning and personalized curation controls
When most players in a new segment are building the same thing, something is amiss. Curation tools are essential but they mostly seem generic and force context based on link popularity. This is both a yawn as a social play and non productive as a business solution. The curation process needs to be personal, customizable and adjustable in real-time.
The hierarchy of curation terms would be a good start, like you adjust bid terms in a pay-per-click ad campaign. These are personal filters, your screens with different mesh densities, that need to move from the very specific (rarely used) to the general (everybody uses).
Being able to parse and rearrange streams of information by keyword lets you define your own context.
For example, my list of curation keywords for natural wines (general to specific) is: Artisanal-> Natural->Organic-> Biodynamic-> Region-> Vineyard->individual vintage.
I want to pull the adjustment levers at will, adjusting the search as I refine the information and the context I think is most promising.
Check out Eqentia’s dashboard for this. It’s a good one, letting me curate by type and sort by a variety of factors, not just popularity.
Sharing is not contextual by definition
A Facebook ‘Like’. A link ‘Share’, or a ‘Follow’ are not delimiting factors and while they inform, they don’t really guide finding information or context.
Think about what happens on a comment string of Fred Wilson’s or Mark Suster’s blogs. These guys are master curators of focused and topical communities. Both are the epitome of context and a bright spotlight on the interest graph for technology and start-up discussions.
Their dynamic encourages sharing, learning, friendships, communities of extended interest and even new customers and partners. They are a wonder and but very much the exception.
Few of the curation platform players seem to understand that content without dynamic context is really neither interesting nor that valuable. The mix of search and social is uncomfortable and bolted on, like Google trying to integrate social data into search.
Interest footprints are complex and multifaceted, like people themselves
When I decided to hang my business and wine blogs off of the same URL, a couple of friends thought I was wacky. But that is my interest footprint and my personal passion graph and just who I am. Today over 90% of my business connections converse with me about wine. That intersection of wine for me, is a shared footprint along with business needs.
Follow any comment string on a dynamic community. If the commenter is from Colorado in the winter, skiing comes up. If from Spain, Mencia and Galica surface. If from London, the Tate Modern. This is human nature. The platform needs to encourage and support conversations as they naturally occur.
Human nature is telling us something about social business design. We want to have interests intersect even as we are searching for just one. Few of the curation platforms seem to be listening.
Discovering context is the end game of curation
The need to filter social networks to create value is a natural reaction to the raw value and size of the networks themselves.
Social nets like Facebook and Twitter need to figure this out for their own models. The rest of us do it for pursuit of interests, business connections and enlisting customers. It’s a real problem with no apparent nor pat solution.
Some niches have developed communities around rock star bloggers. But there is an infinite yearning for groupings around informational needs in travel, arts, sciences, crafts and on and on. On my list of have-to-finds, very few are located. And just putting out more and more content to create a magnet for context is a non-answer.
Businesses fall into that same need to discover these groupings to find new interest for their products. They need to channel the contextual exhaust from these communities of interest into commercial connections. They are looking for these informational-sorted, socially-fueled links in their sales and community funnels.
It’s this commerce piece of the search for context that is the Philosopher’s Stone of the social web.
The market leading solution will be some variation of a B-to-C-to-B curation paradigm. People want to connect socially, create communities of interest with new friends, share information and refer each other to products or vendors or destinations.
When this happens, not only will individuals have dynamic channels for connections but businesses will have a new customer acquisition pipeline from these communities of curated interests.
And the platform that figures out how to go beyond friendship-based communities and referrals to context and interest-based commercial traffic aggregators will have solved both the value for their network users and the business model for themselves at the same time.