Young social networks have a Goldilocks problem. If none of your friends are on a network, it’s dull. If everyone is on there, then it starts to feel a little crowded. You have to watch what you say a little more. You can’t maintain as many quality relationships. You find yourself drowning in dull personal information. MG Siegler has a great post about this problem in relation to location-based networks, but I think the issue runs deeper. Twitter can still overwhelm newbies. Facebook had to drastically overhaul its newsfeed system to cope with the problem. Clearly, this is an ongoing issue.
Why is it so hard to build a personal network composed of only the right people? There are a lot of factors here — impulsively friending new acquaintances, failing to prune old, stale relationships and following everyone who follows you out of simple politeness. But I think the real problem lies with our choice of networks. Instead of having a network for old friends and a network for casual acquaintances and another for family members and so forth, most of us use a handful of omni-networks that are meant to keep us up to date on every last relationship we’ve got. And that’s overwhelming. Sometimes we care about some people and sometimes we care about others and the ability to switch back and forth plays a big role in what we get out of a network. We either need a greater variety of more specialized networks — think LinkedIn — or more tools like Facebook networks and Twitter lists need to become more robust and easier to use. At the same time, social media power users need to realize that the power of their networks isn’t in sheer size, but in their ability to monitor and maintain those networks. Even if that does require a little more work.
Do ever feel overwhelmed by your own friend lists? How do manage to maintain quality relationships among a barrage of data about irrelevant people? What can networks do to make managing our relationships easier?
Does a network need a huge footprint to be successful?