Less Networks. More Meaning.

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Here’s what I observed this past week after scanning the reactions of people in my own networks in relation to Google Buzz. People in my own ecosystem seem utterly exhausted by the plethora of networks they manage and the number of people within those networks. E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, Instant Messenger… just how many platforms can we participate in?

Google’s strategy is likely meant to solve this problem. To become the one "ecosystem" to rule them all. But the Web doesn’t work this way. It’s unlikely that people will abandon existing platforms or networks unless they become so polluted that we have no choice. Sure we may have wandered away from e-mail, but how many of us have actually abandoned it? Very few I suspect. E-mail like Twitter or Facebook will remain relevant as long as our friends and co-workers keep using it. When they stop, it might go away—but how likely is it that scenario?

In my trends for 2010 article at Harvard Business, I wrote the following:

1. Social media begins to look less social
With groups, lists and niche networks becoming more popular, networks could begin to feel more "exclusive." Not everyone can fit on someone’s newly created Twitter list and as networks begin to fill with noise, it’s likely that user behavior such as "hiding" the hyperactive updaters that appear in your Facebook news feed may become more common. Perhaps it’s not actually less social, but it might seem that way as we all come to terms with getting value out of our networks — while filtering out the clutter.

I believe that we are already beginning to see this trend accelerate as the onslaught of new networks for us to explore and manage continues to assault us even as we struggle to find the signal within the noise of our existing networks. The average and even not so average person is simply finding it to be too much. So what’s next?

Less Networks. More Meaning.
In a recent panel discussion for brand managers, I talked about Facbook’s "hide" feature and how we will begin to see more of this type of functionality emerge in response to the need for people to extract value from their ecosystems. While I believe that new platforms, service and networks will emerge that promise this—I think the reality is that people will not abandon existing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. especially if those platforms continue to add noise reducing functionality. We are limited beings with busy lives and creating new networks every few months is simply not sustainable behavior.

I believe that technology titans and upstarts have a huge opportunity in front of them IF they pay attention to this trend. Optimize your existing platform to filter out clutter while decreasing the learning curve as opposed to increasing it. Twitter’s List feature is a nice little tool which empowers people to trim down followings to topics and manageable numbers. 3rd party extensions such as Listorious make lists even more effective. The opportunity in front of us may not be connecting just because you can—it will be making those connections more meaningful.

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