The Social Media Divide

Jul 23rd, 2008 | By | Category: Commentary, General, Microblogging

Shel Israel has posted an interesting article looking at how he’s begun to rely on Twitter as his “personal search tool”:

I am coming to trust Twitter as my personal search tool…and here’s why: I can consider the recommender.

Much of the information comes from people I already know and have chatted with online. Most of the rest comes from people I can check out very quickly and draw some sort of conclusion on whether I should take their word on a restaurant, hotel or book.

Digg is an extremely popular place to discover and share. But too often, the people recommending or panning are people who have criteria different than my own. Wikipedia is, from my experience, a highly credible resource, but its entire system is designed for impartiality and often I want a partial opinion. Yelp struggles to prevent it, but it’s content can be too easily corrupted by people with vested interests.

But Twitter is like asking a neighbor. The neighbor really wants to share with you something you’ll enjoy. The neighbor is someone you’ll most likely see again and his or her reputation will have been adjusted based on their recommendations.

Israel’s views are common among people active in social media, which leads a lot of people to think that the views are true.

Yet, most people’s experiences with Twitter are nothing like Israel’s.

The Social Media Divide

Most people try out Twitter and don’t get it. They tweet what they’re doing and find that nobody is listening.

They ask a question and never get an answer. Worse, they get spammed.

There’s a reason for this. The value of social media sites is proportional to the size and quality of your network. The people that build a large network on Twitter are going to get results like Israel. Most people, though, probably won’t see the Twitter that Israel and new media gurus see.

This social media divide, between those that have large, quality social networks and those that don’t, is very real.

It’s a problem for companies like Twitter, because it creates barriers to adoption. Your initial experience with Twitter is probably going to be pretty mediocre. This means the site is unlikely to move beyond motivated first adopters.

The social media divide also represents a great opportunity. If social media sites like Twitter can find ways to reproduce the type of experience that social networking gurus have and can bring this experience to a broad audience, the sites’ value will increase exponentially.

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