Pretty Simple: web, digital, social

Update July 2011 – our idea has come into being! Google+ offers much of the functionality we were longing for in the below post, yet the problems I mention could still be a stumbling block…

I recently had a great back-of-a-beer-mat brainstorm with @spartakan exploring the advantages of being able to tag Tweets (and other similar Social Networking content) by intended recipient and for the recipient to be able to filter them accordingly.

My angle was that my use of Twitter is purely professional, and I’m not that interested in the chatty element of it. If I could filter out the personal stuff, monitoring other people’s Tweets would become much more efficient and relevant. Equally, @spartakan had a problem on Facebook where both friends and colleagues have added him. Like so many Facebook users, he has found the blurring lines between work and social life to be a little disturbing.

Our thinking was that you could Tweet (or whatever) to groups of followers or friends based on some simple criteria. So you might post a Personal Tweet, for example, which would only go to followers interested in your personal updates. Equally, a Professional Tweet would only go to those following your professional updates.

Problem number 1: Friend or colleague – who defines the relationship?

From a followers’ point of view, I’d like to have control of what my status in relation to others is. For example:

  • My relationship to person A is that he works in my field of professional interest, although I don’t know him, so I only want his professional updates.
  • I am friends with person B and I only want her personal updates.
  • I work with person C but see him socially so I want both personal and professional updates from him.

But what if it’s not up to me to set the status? What if it is up to those I am following, and person B thinks I’m interested in her professional updates? From my point of view, the system falls down.

Problem number 2: Appropriate tagging – who will bother?

The closest we’ve got to decent filtering on Twitter is through the use of hashtags. Using these, we can search for subjects which we’re interested in. It’s a crude, user-invented form of meta-tagging, but it works quite well. If we were to introduce additional meta-tagging, though, to enable this filtering, how can we be sure that people will do so appropriately (i.e. actually tag their professional updates as such)? Actually, I think we can be fairly sure that many people won’t.

Problem 3: Complexity vs adoption

The Professional/Personal model is a very simpistic one, and in real life we’d need many more categories. @spartakan mentioned that he’d like to distinguish between friends and family on Facebook, and this is a common issue (people not wanting their mum to see their photos of drunken nights out and so on). The trouble is that the more complex it becomes, the less likely people are to use it correctly (if at all).

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