Remember when you got started on Facebook? There was that phase a few months into it where every high-school friend was suddenly back on your radar, whether or not there as any reason to have remembered them in the first place. Waves of old and new faces would wash up on the shore of your in-box. Some of us indiscriminately accepted all. Some others took more time to approve or maybe ignore some of the more hinky ones.
Social Networks right now are merely dumps of nearly infinite connections, powered by XML and RSS. If the robot even thinks there’s a connection, it is programmed to go ahead and make it, hoping that you, the human, will sort it out later. This works for the most part, but it also creates a flat landscape where there is no intelligence save your own driving how those connections work. Making and breaking connections is a manual process, sometimes leading to potentially awkward un-friending – a scenario that was hard to imagine 5 years ago outside of Junior High.
What about relevance? Do you think your Mother in Law really wants to hear your latest Tweet about long-form depreciation from that conference? Do your work friends want to see pics of your 5-year-old’s birthday cake? Some might, but handling that kind of relevance is a manual task, using lists, accounts or other means to fight the heavy hand of “connectedness” so prevalent today. Its all so meta that it makes your head hurt.
Think about this present state as a plane in space, flat, with connections among people on the surface being only poorly managed manually, if at all.
Now, the next phase is coming, and part of me loves it- and part doesn’t.
What if Facebook and all social networks had the ability to know how relevant various connections are to you, and why? What if Flickr knew to prioritize photos from members of your family as you browse? What about that super important job lead you met last week? Don’t you want to see EVERY tweet that guy posts? Right now it might not know your mother’s connection to you, or that you want to avoid that one dude from the fraternity- ‘cause of that thing.. You know… That one.
At the most recent Social Fresh Portland conference, I had my eyes opened to this new dimension to the social space. Relevance is in the air, as various speakers express their take on how this new data will change everything. What’s coming is real relevance, driven by real data. It’s becoming possible to track and log connections, and then make data-driven judgments about relevance. High-school friends that you only “friend” once will drop to the edges, and tweets from constant companions, co-workers and family members will drift to the center of your attention-span. This will be done in part through the data-gathering ability of near-field RFID devices to help us make, and log connections. This means the flat plane of Facebook will become peaky, with hills and valleys of relevance.
The most vibrant speaker, Peter Shankman (@skydiver) spoke for over an hour nearly extemporaneously on the coming 24-36 months in this space. He also handed out a few Poken Wikipedia as trinkets. These look like goofy USB drives, but they contain this near-field technology. Just a tap tow pokens together and we share contact data. If we do this more than a few times, the system can really begin to learn and gather real data about how we connect as individuals. Yes Poken are a bit crude, and they look silly, but they mark a new step in making a relevant social space out of a mass of otherwise undifferentiated XML connections. Future developments of this concept might have cel phones making these connections automatically. In retail, supermarkets will be able to log our entry, and as we walk out with a bag of goods, send us the bill to be settled via PayPal. (Of course, they’ll know everything you bought, and that you lingered by the ice cream for longer than average…) We won’t have to tweet about it anymore.
Take a minute and consider this new space. With the more complex, machine derived data… Will it be a good thing that the virtual social world we inhabit be like the inner space of our mind? It will get that way as it watches us connect long enough.