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The social communication generation

When we talk of great inventions, the written word is probably in the top five. Today, communication isn’t just a prerequisite, it’s big business. And with the proliferation of services like Pownce, Twitter and Jaiku, words are those intangible threads that draw the far-flung corners of the world closer together than at any time in the past…

When we talk of great inventions, the written word is probably in the top five. Today, communication isn’t just a prerequisite, it’s big business. And with the proliferation of services like Pownce, Twitter and Jaiku, words are those intangible threads that draw the far-flung corners of the world closer together than at any time in the past…

The whole world is talking — Instant Messaging

Twitterrific and Pownce IM chat clients for the MacOur conversations are often with others across borders, continents and time zones, where we use IM (Instant Messaging) services like Skype, Pownce, Twitter, Yahoo! Messenger and Jaiku, among others.

Using these services is a two-way thing; you feed into them with what you’re doing, your comments, messages, et cetera and then you read what other people have been doing, their comments, replies, messages and so on and so forth.

Now more than ever, communication is more than just voice, or video or IM, it’s a rich amalgam of all those things, making a truism of the adage: the sum is greater than its parts.

Because of this two-way dialogue, services like Twitter and in some cases Pownce aren’t ideally suited for people that are on the move, or those that simply don’t want a browser window open.

Despite my very vocal decrying of Twitter, I’m giving it another shot. I signed up with Twitter really early on when it launched and I’m using the Twitterrific and Pownce clients for the Mac, the latter of which is an Adobe Air application.

Getting back into Twitter is an experiment in self-promotion, first and foremost. But at the same time, there’s people on there that I know, so I chat, discuss stuff and help out if I can.

Put simply, I try to be a friend and actively sociable.

Communication through aggregation

About a week ago, I kept seeing messages about FriendFeed and Socialthing. Being the e-hermit that I am, I had no idea what they were. One quick Google later and I was suitably brought up-to-date.

I was reminded of Streamy, which I instantly detested the sight of. So I was in no mood for a repetition of that.

But aside from my tempestuous mood swings (Kate thinks I need to eat less red meat and drink purified water), something occurred to me…

The pyramid of social communication

I say social communication because a lot of communication isn’t particularly social. But as businesses realize the value of actually engaging in a dialogue with their staff and customers via the web, the whole thing is just going to blend, I imagine.

Anyway, right at the bottom of this pyramid are services like Skype, Pownce, Twitter, Yahoo! Messenger and Jaiku. Why? Because they’re just nothing more than the infrastructure with dumb terminals at either end.

And because of this, services like FriendFeed, Socialthing and are destined to fair better than the services they aggregate or use as conduits because they’re further up the social networking food chain.

The value lies not in the service, but the aggregation.

Think of those times when you see someone you know who in turn knows someone famous. There’s a certain cache to that relationship. Chances are, that friend could well know someone else who’s famous.

In that sense, aggregating your communications is to pull together those of your friends. And in the same way guilt by association is something to flee from, fame by association has a strange allure many find very attractive.

It’s sort of analogous to how I tell people that data and information are not synonymous with one another; data is the raw, unrefined source, while information is data filtered, rendered and presented.

And as is the case with social networking these days, themes and memes dominate the greater ‘bloggosphere.

Yesterday, someone on Twitter — ironically enough — posted up an article on how Twitter may have a short future ahead:

“There’s no compelling reason for most people to use it, and many existing services — ranging from AIM to FriendFeed to social networks — have overlapping functionality. And how is it supposed to make money?”

And he’s right. But the thing is, it wouldn’t really matter if Twitter did perish and die, something else would replace it, because the value isn’t in Twitter, it’s in the communication and the aggregation thereof.

Couple that concept with portable profiles and open sign-in systems like OpenID and soon the service will be even less relevant.

Right now, services like Facebook aren’t under any kind of pressure to open up their silos of data, but they will be, after all, Google are laying plans to out-open Facebook.

To begin with, this newfound openness will centre around open standards, but it’s inevitable that people will want to have access to their data. And I imagine both Google and Facebook will want to avoid being tarred with the same brush as Microsoft and their “data lock-in” mentality.

Why no one in the mobile phone industry hasn’t knocked together their own Twitter killer is quite beyond me.

Someone like Sony — or indeed Sony Ericsson — have enormous brand value as well as sort of ad hoc, ready-made community who would probably pre-populate such a service very rapidly.

Also, many people using Twitter’s mobile client would probably jump ship, assuming key friends were in there, using the same mobile phone.

What makes Twitter a success isn’t it’s technical prowess as a software package, but the fanaticism of its users. In that sense, even more of the equity value of Twitter is stored elsewhere, which to me demonstrates how uniquely weak Twitter is.

However, because Twitter has a great following, it’s as well that its creators play to their strengths; in the future, those super advocates of brands will form the epicenters of Social Networks.

As an example of an a near immovable social object, StumbleUpon is not only a thriving Social Network, it’s a Social Media venue, too. Here, people are not only are people sharing the stuff they find, they’re discussing it, as well.

There’s an entire metaverse out there, with StumbleUpon forming a kind of semantic galaxy of data & information, comprised of solar systems of websites and ‘blogs revolving around their parent tags, populated by people like you & I.

Over the next 3-5 years, it’s going to be fascinating to see how all of this works out. Whether players like Skype, Pownce, Twitter, Yahoo! Messenger and Jaiku are still around really wouldn’t matter.

We will have our data, we will have our semantic web, our smart browsers, our brand-driven Social Networks, our portable profiles and the “Plug ‘n’ Play” services of the future will be little more than conduits for our global, aggregated social communications…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

2 replies on “The social communication generation”

Hiya Wayne –

I read that same post about Twitter not lasting because it isn’t making money. I would think that the Twitter guys have to be doing something right because it is so big. Look at all of the new apps and hacks that seem to come out daily. If the Twitter guys were wanting to make money, wouldn’t there be advertising somewhere? Wouldn’t they have a premium service like Pownce does (although I really haven’t figured out why I would want to pay for Pownce)?

If money does come into play, I would see Twitter heading down those routes, and still continue to be a popular network. If that doesn’t work, or for some unknown reason, Twitter does cease to exist, I guess this is why when we befriend or follow someone on one site, we add them to other sites, so we can always track these people we find interesting.

WHEW! OK, working that out sure makes me feel like less of a stalker to some I follow around the internet!! 😉

If I missed the target, I am sorry, it’s still early here! 🙂

Hi Paula!

As you’ll have seen, I’m on Twitter again, after a long absence.

This wasn’t a veiled attack on Twitter, I’ve done that before and made no attempt to hide my displeasure.

As I see things, this “pyramid” I mention is sort of like a food chain — those at the top are the ones gathering the majority of the data value, the users and in some cases the revenue.

Twitter is living on their VC cash and most probably some deal with mobile phone services, but I’m just speculating on that last part.

As I said, services like Twitter are really nothing more than conduits, where their real value is their brand perception.

People who’re hooking up somewhere are using Twitter as a virtual “Hi!” and the real conversations are happening on Facebook, or elsewhere.

So while there’s some social networking ties to Twitter, they’re not in the same league as StumbleUpon or Facebook.

Just look at those people using Facebook and Twitter and you’ll see them using the Twitter Application and posting to their Status from Twitter.

In that sense, Twitter is nothing more than an external Facebook Application.

As a service, Twitter has great brand penetration, which will help. But they’re still very vulnerable…

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