Curating the Signal:Noise Ratio in the Social Graph

IStock_000009428077XSmallCharlene Li of the Altimeter Group is widely quoted as suggesting that, eventually, “Social Media will become like air,” i.e., it will be built-in to every aspect of our online lives.

I don’t doubt this is true.  Increasingly we will rely on the wisdom-of-crowds approach to decide on activities (“worth it to go to this movie?”), and purchases of all sizes and types (“experiences with this car model? with this restaurant? with this real estate agent? this plumber?”), etc.

There are different gradations of support we will want from these crowds.  For example, most folks will be perfectly happy relying on the advice of strangers on Yelp or Yahoo Movies to decide on how-to spend an evening.

But what about more personal and important choices?

What if you only want the advice of your “real” (or at least local) friends, on, say, the latest chapter of a book you’re writing, or if you should attend a reunion, or if you should move to a new town, or switch to a new brand of aftershave?

These types of decisions are either too personal to spread far & wide, or, too trivial to bother your extended Social Graph.  But in both cases you might want to reach a broader group — and in a more social way — than you might reach via an email chain and/or to just get a quick consensus on a trivial matter.

In such cases, there will be a challenge to having a Social Graph that’s far larger than you can comfortably manage.

For example, I have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook and I probably know 1/4th of them in real life.  I am pretty indiscriminate in saying “Yes” to new Friend Requests.  Ya never know when an unknown “friend” might become a business prospect! — And, no, I don’t bother breaking up the mass of friends into Groups.  Same thing goes for Twitter.  I don’t use TweetDeck or Twhirl so I can’t filter “real” friends from random followers.

I don’t know many folks who do undertake such curation.  Who has time?

Yet as Social Media becomes more and more “like air,” I am pretty sure that the challenges I’ve laid out above will come to haunt me.  Why should I bother my old pals from New Milford High School, Class of ‘87, with my shared blog posts about PR & Social Media?  Why should I ask them if they know of a good restaurant in London?  And likewise, why would I care about the “likes” or “shares” or “causes” of my hundreds of unknown Facebook “friends?”

I applaud the discovery process that sometimes unearths gems from the dross of Social Media.  But, there’s a lot of dross.  A lot of spam.  A lot of irrelevant nonsense online.

Remember when the Web was new?  Remember clicking on every shiny ad banner, just to see where it led?  That got old pretty fast.  It’s probably much the same with our acceptance rates of new “friends.”  It will get old.  It will feel overwhelming.

As Social Media becomes an ever-greater part of our lives, we’re going to want to do a better job of curating our online relationships to maximize the value we give and receive.

Posted on: November 9, 2009 at 7:00 am By Todd Defren
20 Responses to “Curating the Signal:Noise Ratio in the Social Graph”


  • The question to me is can a centralized social site like Facebook make it easy enough for people to personalize & segregate their social graph … OR will the pendulum swing back to specialized social sites? Why on earth would you be talking about PR on Facebook?

    I’d argue that people are too lazy to personalize/data manage, and the cognitive load is easier if you just move the conversation to a specialized site. Facebook has a difficult task ahead of them.

  • Todd,

    I think that social search will become a big driver of social graph pruning.

    Its one thing to follow-back everyone that follows you on Twitter or accept every Facebook friend request when you are only dealing with the stream of content in real time – it can be fairly easy to use tools like TweetDeck to sort people into groups and only pay attention to the people you really care about.

    But when you are using the entirety of that stream of content over time for research, and other things that you use traditional search for, then suddenly the content created by your more tenuous social connections becomes a much bigger inconvenience to wade through.

    I think this will raise the bar considerably for companies trying to become part of a consumer’s online social graph, and more than ever companies are really going to have to provide compelling content and interactions to earn that privilege.

    It will be interesting to see how Google applies prioritization algorithms to social search results, similar to what Facebook has done with the News Feed, so that your social search results are shown not only in order of most relevant content, but also in order of the people most relevant to you.

  • It comes down to this: You have to breathe to be alive.

    Using social media is akin to breathing in business. It’s where your customers live, where your clients do their research and where innovation takes place.

    Ignore at your own risk…

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