I was reading an article from last week about how the US military plans on leveraging social networks and I began thinking about the inefficiencies of social networks. Social networks are supposed to connect us in ways never previously available. Just as the internet as a whole is transforming interpersonal communications, so to are social networks.
Social Media is the Beginning
All to often I hear people preaching about the benefits of social media. If you’ve followed much of my writing over the past couple years you may have heard me talk about how advantageous social media can be. For example, I could tweet out (via Twitter), “What’s the best way to get a chocolate stain out of a shirt?” Within a few minutes I’ll probably have received a couple responses both on Twitter and Facebook.
While this is great, the system is still way too inefficient. The only people responding are people that I’m connected to! While for the average day-to-day questions, there is no benefit in having access to specialized experts necessarily. We are just learning how to use social technology to improve our lives. While it’s great that Comcast responds to me when I have a problem, there should be ways to actually improve the world from this new technology.
I’m not suggesting that people aren’t already taking advantage of social technology to do so, but we are still so early in the process of figuring it out. As the Guardian article highlights, ” finding information and expert sources of knowledge quickly within social networks is neither easy nor efficient and valuable information is left buried within online communities.”
The Quickest Path to Expertise
The Guardian article highlights how social networks can streamline the process to accessing experts. Ultimately this is what many of us have been waiting for but there is an inherent problem with all this access: the experts are immediately overloaded. Additionally, experts don’t want to spend time responding to simple questions. A general surgeon doesn’t want to answer every person’s question about curing a cough.
Yahoo! Answers has attempted to solve that by storing all of the answers to questions that are commonly asked and letting the community vote on responses. This appears to be a great way to solve part of the overload problem. Ultimately though, all the quickest path to expertise discussion has some fundamental flaws. One of which is the balance between localized expertise versus global expertise.
There are also many other issues. Ultimately, I think our relationships with social networks will simply become one of coexistence. As Charlene Li once said, “social networks will become as thin as air”. We are in the process of that transition and ultimately I believe that those networks which are less structured and more capable of adapting to change will be better at surviving the shift.
Perfecting Social Networks for Organizations Just Beginning
As the shift toward a invisible co-existence with social networks takes place, organizations are just beginning to leverage the benefits of social technology. Over the coming months and years we will see a massive shift toward leveraging social technologies within companies. So how does your company currently leverage social technology?
Is your company concerned about inefficiencies presented by social technology or is it more focused on the benefits provided by them?