Sharepocalypse Now: Why Social Media Overload Means New Opportunities for Startups
Jul 31, 2011
2011-07-31 11:37:18 UTC
Nova Spivack has several ventures in production that focus on the real-time stream, including Bottlenose (for filtering the stream), StreamGlider (a new mobile stream delivery platform), Live Matrix (the schedule of the live web), and The Daily Dot (a new online daily newspaper about what's trending online). Follow him on Twitter @novaspivack . The social media landscape is changing quickly, but this change won’t be immediate, or for that matter, efficient. And that's going to be a big problem for all of us. I believe that Twitter , Facebook , Google+ and LinkedIn are fundamentally different, and thus, should not be in competition. However, I’m not sure the companies themselves see it this way. It’s likely they will continue dedicating resources to competition instead of differentiation. And while the social media gods fight it out in the clouds above us, what will happen down here on Earth? What about all of us, the little people — the users? We’re entering a new era of social network chaos, and this, in turn, is going to create new needs and opportunities for startups. The Sharepocalypse
Welcome to the “Sharepocalypse,” a new era of social network insanity. In the Sharepocalypse hundreds (if not thousands) of online friends share content with us across various social networks, culminating in massive information overload. Our lives will become more fragmented, we will lose productivity, and we’ll perpetually be playing catch up. Granted, we’ve heard this song before. But I argue that the movement will reach a fundamentally new level of chaos — and the data from my portfolio of companies bears this out. The Sharepocalypse causes (and is caused by) social overload — an evolution of information overload. Because the distinctions between each social network are not entirely clear, we feel obligated to maniacally juggle different apps and social networks just to keep up and be heard everywhere. It would be one thing if all our social messages were part of a single, parsable, filtered stream. But instead, they come from all different directions. The Sharepocalypse is aggravated by social streams that originate in many competing silos. We spend nearly as much time hopping between networks as we do meaningfully digesting and engaging the content within. Furthermore, the more we engage in cross-posting, the more noisy and redundant each network will become. Social overload begets more social overload. In a room where everyone is shouting to be heard, the mob shouts even louder. And it’s not just one room full of people shouting — it’s many. Among the social networks of Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and other social outlets, which network is the most appropriate forum for any given post? But wait, it gets worse. Now we have to choose among Circles as well. Google+ circles are mini virtual sharing networks, and they’re potentially infinite in number. What circle or list or group should you share with? But first, how well organized are your circles? Do they overlap? Are you sure that by only sharing with certain circles you can reach everyone you need to? No. On top of all the social noise we experience, look forward to new noise from brands. Brands are becoming more lost and confused about how and where to communicate than ever before. Predictably, they will try to reach us redundantly, everywhere, all the time to make sure we see them. Social media consultants, on the other hand, will have a total field day, because ultimately they will benefit most from the chaos. To make matters worse, it looks like Microsoft may now be on the verge of launching a new kind of social sharing service . And many other companies will follow, I’m sure. Why not every mobile company, for that matter? Why not every big brand? Even celebs may start their own social networks in which fans can share and compare their adorations. And I’m not talking the micro-networks like Geni and Dogster. We’re moving toward a landscape in which social networks and sharing mechanisms will be built into the DNA of every site and service. As Mark Zuckerberg has argued, everything that can be social will be social. I agree…and that’s the problem. Choice Overload
Nobody is going to know where to share or where to look. How will you know if you missed anything important? Which networks will you visit to get updates from friends, from brands, from publications you follow? The sad truth is that you can’t get it all in one place. In fact, choosing with whom to share is going to become harder and will require more thought. Ironically, by trying to solve this problem using "circles" and other gestures, Google+ may just be piling on more disparate channels. Therefore, many people will simply opt to quickly and easily share everything with the public, rather than denote a special group or circle with which to share. The fact is, when people have to ponder a choice, they often opt for the easier alternative: don’t choose at all. This is classic choice overload theory . Many studies have shown that choice overload leads people to make fewer choices. People become stressed when they have to choose from too many options at once. It’s a perfect storm: A massive expansion of networks on which to share and track information, but all the while, its users have less and less energy to make choices. The result will be a lot more confusion and noise. Soon we will long for the days when we were unplugged, cut off from the global brain, and able to, at least once in a while, enjoy that rare feeling of being up-to-speed. A New Category: Social Assistance
The Sharepocalypse will generate an expanse of new problems. However, this will generate a new opportunity for social assistance — a new category of software and services — and therefore, a ripe environment for startups. Social assistance will be the next frontier spawned from social networking, and we’re all going to need it. We’ll require help managing our online relationships, tying our streams together, sifting through the noise, keeping up with what matters personally, finding who and what we need, and remaining productive. Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Microsoft will all struggle to deliver acceptable signal-to-noise ratios to their users. But they will be focused on solving this problem within their silos, rather than across all platforms. I call this approach "vertical social assistance" because it focuses on assisting people only within particular networks. Because each service is biased toward its own social graph and content, it’s unlikely that any of them will help solve the social overload outside their walls. Understandably, it’s not in their interest to enable users to make better use of competing services. This world of fragmented messaging systems is akin the early days of email in the 1980s, when users of one network were unable to communicate with another. It was a mess. Eventually, email gateways were created to link these disparate networks. But the problem wasn’t fully solved until everyone adopted a single set of standards, and all the email networks connected into one common fabric. Unfortunately, the unification of email networks and standards immediately killed of a lot of the smaller email networks and client makers. But through simplification, the world became less complex and more connected. The question is, will something like this ever happen for social media? Will we see the social networks connect into a common fabric anytime soon? Right now, the major social networks own the content — it's captive on their platforms. If that were to change, and you could read any social media message anywhere, they would have to compete on features alone — and that’s another can of worms. What I call "horizontal social assistance" is the opportunity to access and use social media messages in a unified way. This approach is different from the vertical social assistance approach because it would span across all networks. The users of social networks need this capability in the same way they needed email unification. However, until all the social networks agree on standard profiles, messages, contacts, groups and streams, it’s not going to happen. And to be frank, such an agreement is highly unlikely in the near future. But it could happen if some neutral party takes the initiative. In the meantime, many other social assistance resources will emerge that target a range of different needs and opportunities, including:
Social Relationship Management (SRM): : Services that help people create, organize and manage sets of social network relationships — for example, sets of people to follow and/or share with on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. Social Awareness: Services that help people keep up with their social networks, especially among a user’s friends. Social Curation: Services that help people organize and make sense of their streams and messages. Social Personalization: Services that help people sift through the network noise for information most relevant to their particular needs and interests. Social Analytics: Services that help to measure online social behavior and trends, optimize engagement, monitor activity and communicate more appropriately. Social Automation: Services that help to automate activity in social networks, like automatically updating your status, helping to increase your influence, suggesting what to share, matchmaking, alerting, and using bots to intelligently interact with and assist users. Because social assistance will become so necessary, both vertical and horizontal social assistance could mean interesting opportunities for startups. Ventures that provide vertical social assistance for particular networks, like Google+ and Facebook are going to be early build versus buy acquisition targets. These are rapid innovation opportunities for individual developers or small teams. Ventures that attempt to solve the harder problem of horizontal social assistance will have a chance at building longer-term independent value. Some may become strong stand-alone ventures, or larger exits, but they will also be more technologically challenging, requiring larger teams and more capital. One thing is certain: The Sharepocalypse is here and, as a result, social assistance will soon be the cutting-edge of social media innovation.