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What’s Next in Social Media?

Manish Jha
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Manish Jha
How to find relevent information in the digital age
The Internet is everywhere. On TVs, phones, computers, even refrigerators and security cameras. With this ubiquity comes a massive increase in the amount of information available at our fingertips.

In the early days of the Internet, we found content and information by going to list-based directories. AOL and Yahoo! (and, for those of you who remember, Prodigy and CompuServe) organized information around topics. Editors curated content by category and the users were largely anonymous.

Then came search engines. Infoseek, Alta Vista and most significantly Google, turned the model around by putting the user in control. Crawlers, bots and spiders gathered information from the World Wide Web and, users typed key words to find relevant content. Bots and algorithms, in conjunction with the users, curated the information. A filter through which we could find information using words emerged. The engines capture intent, but users are still largely anonymous. Google, with arguably the best algorithm and processes to present this information, has created massive amount of value for consumers and shareholders alike.

The proliferation of social networks has landed us into a whole new era on the Internet. In some respects, social networks are the most human form of digital interaction. As we connect with people we know, trust or care about, we have started to look at digital information through the lens of “trusted sources”. When we go to www.nytimes.com, we can see what our friends are reading, re-introducing the dimension of the shared narrative in an increasingly fragmented media world. Tweets and updates now inform us not only of personal information but also of what matters to those we choose to follow or friend. Information is now socially curated, just as it has been for thousands of years. Content sources and consumers are no longer faceless. While corporations try to create streams in this context, the human dimension, from known and trusted sources, is on equal footing. This is the revolution created by Zuckerberg and Dorsey and we are beginning to taste its power. Just look at Tunisia and Egypt.

As the volume of content being shared on the social web multiplies, however, the most relevant information for us as individuals passes by in the torrent of updates and tweets. Because social media is as much about self-expression as it is about the audience, information both trivial and significant flows at a torrid pace. In fact, over 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared each month on Facebook alone. Twitter users initiate about a 100 million tweets per day, about 25 percent of which contain links. These numbers are growing dramatically, compounded by growing number of users of the social web, increasing numbers of sites integrating Facebook Connect and Twitter APIs, and the multiplying social graphs.

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