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.
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."