This is not a post about Facebook; plenty of thoughtful folks have already covered it, danah boyd, Tim @ Made By Many, and Gavin Heaton to name a few, and I agree with pretty much everything they’ve written. This post is about the future of communication.
We’ve had one-to-one communication forever. Mass-media created a revolution in one-to-many communication. And the internet has shown us the power and possibility of many-to-many communication. We are slowly starting to see the formation of a new kind of communication, which – for lack of a better term – I’m calling one-to-some communication.
The promise of the social web is a fundamentally new form of communication in which each of us can move fluidly between one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many communication with each bit of information we share.
Imagine the drawing above scaled to thousands of connections, within an endless network of other thousands of connections. All constantly adapting intelligently to the information that is being passed.
As our connections to each other become constant and pervasive, the ability to dynamically access different groups of people from our network and seamlessly control the information we pass on to them on the fly, will create a radical transformation in our society’s relationship to information.
We’ve already seen a glimpse of it on Twitter. Look at how information spreads through Twitter. It spreads faster, to more people, and more efficiently to the people who consider the information relevant to their interests, than any method of communication we’ve ever seen.
Here’s how I define social media: the enhanced experience of all media in the context of a self-authored digital network of personal relationships, i.e. a Social Network.
Consider how we currently pass information through our networks. Information comes in to us from any of the hundred or even thousands of sources that we continually monitor across multiple channels, and some of it is deemed worth passing on to other people we’re connected to through digital technology. Sometimes we may only want to share it with one person and we turn to email or perhaps IM. Sometimes we want to share it with a small group and we turn to a group email, or a closed forum or message board, or even a closed chat room. Sometimes we want to share it with a broader audience, and we use tools like Twitter or Tumblr. Sometimes we’re not really interested in who we’re sharing it with, but we appreciate the added value we can create by sharing in a public place like Delicious, Reddit, or Digg. We may want to add our own opinion and share it with the world, and we use our blog or maybe another medium like photos on Flickr or videos on YouTube.
Our ability to control who we share things with in this scenario is a complete mess. There are massive redundancies, as connections are repeated and reestablished on each platform, and through different means. And often the method that’s most convenient for us to send information out is not the preferred method for someone else to receive the information, so the communication fails. And most importantly, we have no good, clear, reliable way to even see what our entire network looks like. We don’t even really know who we’re connected to.
Now imagine that just as there is a standardized method of publishing information, i.e. the internet, there was a standardized method of managing our network. If there was a universal open standard for our identity (which has been toyed with, but not widely adopted yet) and for our connections, then the world of developers could begin building all kinds of ways to help us understand and navigate our constantly changing networks.
In our existing digital world, moving information from Point A to Point B is easy. The internet has done a fantastic job of creating an open and adaptable system on which brilliant people have developed a zillion different ways to share information.
As the social web matures, the challenge we face is no longer how to share information more easily, but rather how can I more easily control whom I share information with.
This is the need we have that Facebook should be addressing. We don’t need their help to share information. We need help managing our connections and how we control the flow of information through that network. Ironically Facebook is in a commanding position to lead and dominate this crucial emerging service need, and, yet, it’s the aspect of their service that they’ve either done poorly or actively avoided.
The social networking site that will do for the connections among people what the Web has done for the connections among sites is awaiting its own Tim Berners-Lee.