Friday, April 2, 2010

The Social Media Avalanche

One of my most favorite things in the world is cotton candy. When I take my kids to Chuck E. Cheese the first thing I do is distract them with handfuls of tokens. When they go off to play skee-ball, I stealthily buy a big bag of sweet, glorious pink cotton candy and eat it in peace. The way I see it, cotton candy is like underwear - I don't want to share either one.

The inevitability though is my complete and total lack of control in stopping half-way through the bag. My stomach plainly says, "Chris, you need to stop now," while my head says, "Let's see if we can finish the bag." Cotton candy, as Martha Stewart might say, is a "good thing," at least in smaller, manageable doses.

Over the years, I have found that many things are filled with cotton candy-styled awesomeness, including beer, live Sunday afternoon Bowling on ESPN, and social media. Like cotton candy, all are really incredible yet best enjoyed in small, manageable doses.

Options, Options, and a Few More Options

Just the other day I was playing on my Facebook when my eye happened to spot a link with an unusual title - something like Klurf, Shooff or Mlipr. In a rare moment, I channeled the crotchety ways of my long-dead grandfather and wondered, "What's the deal with all these stupidly named social media Web sites? ...They're everywhere!"

I opened up a new tab in my browser, went to Google and typed something about there being too many social media sites. Much to my delight, I found an equally crotchety fellow who had written an article called "Too Many Social Networking Sites Out There." While I completely disagreed with his assessment of Twitter, I really found what I was looking for - not from his writing, but from the technology powering his blog.

I clicked on the "SHARE" button on the navigation across the top of the blog. To my surprise, a list of sharing options popped up.

Not one or two options.

Not three or four options.

I was presented with a list of 263 OPTIONS - everything from the familiar: Facebook and Twitter; to the semi-familiar: Orkut and Digg; to the "really?!?!:" Fwisp, Plurk, and Mister Wong.

In fact - here's a graphic of all of them.

I don't care how much anyone loves social media; if people are having to figure out one of 263 options (of anything) it's probably too much.

Social Media is 2010's Version of Cable TV

I can bet that most of us have seen a giant list - like the one above with tiny little logos - like this before. In fact, if you still check your mailbox every week, more than likely you get some sort of cable advertisement from Comcast or AT&T that has an information graphic on it listing all the channels you get if you subscribe to their service.

After much cotton candy-fueled deliberation, it finally dawned on me that social media sites are patterning their propagation and consumption very much after our modern-day television.

Once upon a time, people turned on the television set to a limited number of stations - outside of the "Big Three" networks, there wasn't much else. Last year, when I signed up for AT&T U-Verse they had to give me a 12-page foldout brochure to help me get acquainted with my channel listings. Truth be told, I've had U-Verse for nearly a year; the only stations I know by heart are the networks, ESPN and the ones my kids watch.

Social media is very similar: there are places like Facebook and Twitter that I (as well as countless millions) flock to every day. If there was a Nielsen's rating for social media, those two sites would be near the top.

Then there are other sites like Tumblr and Flickr which I go to once or twice a week. On my cable box, their equivalent is Food Network and VH1.

Admittedly, I am paying for channels that I didn't even know I had - and often wonder who watches programming on them and why. In the realm of social media, I am still scratching my head in regards to purpose of Fwisp and Plurk.

Basically, television and social media are not only similar in the massive dearth of channels, sites and content; but also in how the "players" are separated into the "big boys," the one's with a legitimate audience, and the niche pretenders.

Of course, where social media differs from television is that while there are numerous niche cable channels, they usually have intuitive names. If I see a channel called "Game Show Network," I don't have to put my rocket science degree to use in determining that the station shows game shows. When I see names of social media sites like ZooLoo and Sphinn, I not only have no clue what on earth I'm supposed to do with it - but I'm probably so busy on the "Big Three" that I won't even care.

So What Does This Mean?

I have no doubt that with every passing day, ever-improving technology will mean that new social media sites will spring up with the promise to do bigger, better and more exciting things. As more sites come online, it will not only be harder for users to figure out what they do, but how best to manage and integrate social media accounts - those with varying information types, interfaces, and purposes.

Perhaps one day Google will create an uber social media application where users could manage any and every social media account under their name from one single screen; or perhaps social media will continue to function much in the same way we interface with television - we pick what we like and pay no mind to the other stuff. I leave the floor open to you humble readers and the Comments link below.

In the meantime, I will sit back, enjoy a bag of cotton candy and wonder how long it will take for some industrious chap to say, "Hey, you know what cable television needs?...A Social Media channel."


  1. Great insight connecting television to social media! I've just started to notice the similarities in their business models, myself.

    I was out to dinner with a friend the other day, and I sat silently as she began to talk about the latest episode of Greys Anatomy.

    Her: You don't watch Greys?
    Me: I don't even have a TV.
    Her: You must have a lot of free time.
    (The answer is no, I don't.)
    Her: You don't watch ANY TV?
    Me: Well (long pause), I watch The Office on Hulu.

    Bingo. Although I don't have a user name on Hulu, if I did, I could create a queue, just like a playlist, and have my line up of shows ready to watch. They'd suggest shows I might like, too.

    That's one way social media is hooking up to cable.

    There are definitely a lot more ways Social Media and Cable Networks could be collaborating. I recently applied for a job with a major broadcast network. The position is for a writer to create supplemental content for the network's shows. Not writing FOR the shows, but writing interactive material that engages an audience online--like video content, games, quizzes, and blogs. I have yet to hear back on the gig (fingers crossed), but even knowing that jobs like this exist blows my mind.

    TV and social media are bound to converge for sure. I'm interested to see where it might lead, too.

  2. Chris, you hit the nail on the head with this post. There are too many selections on the social media menu. Twisp sounds like something you pour milk over and have for breakfast, and Plurk sounds like a noise your stomach might make if you ate too much Twisp. I frequent the same social sites you do, and I watch the same televisions programs you do, as well.

    So my question is, who is looking at all of this other content?

  3. I think TV already has at least one social media channel... Current TV offers an eclectic mix of user generated content.

    I'm sure there are regular features with regular followers, but I just like "dropping in" every so often to see what's on. I watch stories and videos that I would not bother to search for online.

  4. I was talking to my nerdy tech friends while writing this post and we sort of collaboratively came up with a marriage of television and social media that could potentially work.

    Say I sign up for Comcast cable; one of the first things they have me do is go out to and fill in all my social media IDs and passwords – Facebook , Twitter, etc... Essentially, there would be a single channel on my cable dial that aggregates all my content from those accounts. Not only would I get a “social media channel,” but it is MY social media channel. Personalized TV…sweet.

    On my big TV screen I could look at friends’ pics and videos, and with a very Comcast-like added fee of $4.99 per month, they’d throw in a remote control that has a keyboard.

    Say, I want to be notified when a particular user updates or sends me a message – a notification could go off on the screen (much like existing TV caller ID). I could then either pause the show and send something back, or utilize a picture in picture to communicate on one side of the screen, while my TV show runs on the other.

    Who wouldn’t love to add “What TV show I am Watching Right Now” to their Facebook feed? Like Foursquare, we’re talking about content being generated simply by doing what we normally do in our lives.

    And Goodness,…the advertising potential! If Facebook automatically knows that I like to spend Tuesday nights from 9:00-10:00 watching Lost, you better believe I’m going to start seeing ads for V in the right-hand column of my Facebook page.

    The fact of the matter is that people are spending far more time with their faces pressed into computer screens and mobile devices – and less time in front of the television. It’s only a matter of time until the TV providers figure out a way to give people their social media fix while keeping them glued to live programming.

  5. I thought I was overwhelmed by all of the social media sites listed in The Social Media Bible, where my score indicated I was just a tad bit more aware than the average person. But now, I feel truly overwhelmed after just viewing your list. I never imagined that collectively there were so many. Your comparison to TV viewing was very much on point, and I would also compare it to Second Life, where there is so much going on that it can easily make your head spin. I would imagine that the people who participate in Second Life also stick to their own "big three" in a way.