In the “Why Social Works” series, we have covered some of the main reasons why some of these sites are successful. So far, we have the ability to get news, the competition of voting, the ego, and some sites have solid features and have added social connections as a bonus. There are a few more ideas that help social in its success, and there are a few more things that these sites can do to be even more successful.

Simplicity

Social media is much different than blogs. Blogs were considered the first social media sites. However, not everyone wanted to start a blog. Why? Blogging is hard. Blogging requires a lot of though, patience and hard work. Blogging also does not give much in return. True, you may be able to convert blogging success into some consulting or other type of opportunity, but it takes a long time for that type of success to appear. One of the main differences between blogging and social media is that blogging requires knowledge of a topic while social media typically requires the ability to read and click a link. This simplicity allows social media to be more accessible to people. Social media also does not require a lot of “work”. You can spend a lot of time on social media sites, but it does not mean that it is difficult to use. Imaging if a social news site required you to demonstrate your level of knowledge on a specific topic before you were allowed to vote on submissions on that topic. They would not get a lot of registrations, because most people would stop before taking the test. This low barrier to entry allows all sorts of people to get involved.

Conversation

Another factor in social success is conversation. Most of these sites provide some level of conversation with other people. At the minimum, social news sites allow users to comment on submissions and reply to other comments. For other sites like Twitter or FriendFeed, the conversation is part of the application itself. Another important part of the conversation is that it is targeted. For many sites, the conversation is centered around a question like a forum, or the specific blog post that someone submitted or shared. This also makes it easy for people to join the conversation.

Twitter is one of the few social sites that does not have targeted conversation. However, Twitter gives people a soapbox, an open invitation to talk about whatever they want regardless of whether anyone is listening. The key for Twitter is that you can find someone talking about almost any topic that you can think of. This openness, and the simplicity of the Twitter service itself, enable it to gain widespread adoption.

Future Directions

Even though social media has met moderate success at this point, only a few sites have seen mainstream adoption. If social works, why has there been limited mainstream adoption? First, a lot of these sites are still very new, many not much older than one year. However, there are other issues that need to be addressed before the mainstream adopts many social sites:

  • Language Filters – Many people speak more than one language. However, not everyone speaks all of the languages that are currently displayed on Twitter and FriendFeed. I do not want to stop subscribing to someone because half of their information is in Japanese, Chinese or Russian. The other half that is in English is important to me, so I do not want to lose that. Having language filters to filter out the languages that you do not speak would be a fantastic addition.
  • Topic Filters – Some of the social media sites do have topic filters in some way. Mixx has communities and SocialMedian has news networks. However, other sites would definitely benefit with the addition of topic filters. This also goes together with various types of grouping, like user groups or keyword groups. The main reason SocialMedian became successful is because of the news networks. The ability to create a network full of specific people and topics allowed people to get very targeted information. This is a very powerful feature and likely led to their recent purchase. FriendFeed has user lists and rooms. User lists are on of my favorite features as it allows me to segment my subscriptions according to the type of person I am following. I have a development list, a blogger list and a news list. I have other lists as well, but these three lists are the core of my segmentation. Without the user lists, the amount of information would become unwieldy after a few hundred subscriptions.
  • Selective Updates – In the lifestreaming sites, people will import their activity from every stream possible. This is the point of lifestreaming, but for the subscriber it becomes difficult to manage. In order to maintain sanity, it is useful to be able to ignore specific feeds from specific people. For example, some people use Twitter a lot, but you may not want to view all of that noise within your favorite lifestreaming application. Being able to turn off the Twitter feed for that one user is immensely useful. FriendFeed recently added this, and it has been a fantastic addition.
  • Learning – I can set filters for a whole host of things, but it would be more useful if the application would understand what I mean from my activity. Granted this is more of a wishlist item, but having this type of feature could make the difference for a new application.

Why Social Works Series

If you missed the previous installments in this series, please take a look at the links below:

Why Social Works Part I

Why Social Works Part II: The Ego

Why Social Works Part III: Not Just Social Networks

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