the grass is greener on the internet


Evolution of social interactions

The figurative communications ‘area’ we claim as our own and put our personal stuff/things/gear/info into has rapidly expanded with the rise new technologies.

These technologies, in particular the Internet, have hence affected the way we interact with each other and how marketers must interact with their targets.

Here’s a diagram of how we used to interact::

So hypothetically, there’s me, Steve and Bill (names chosen completely at random ;)). I am friends with Steve and Bill, but they’re not friends with each other. We each have our own little coloured ‘area’ for information – things like demographics, interests, work, thoughts and feelings.

Our ‘information areas’ do not overlap, so to find out any of this info about one another we’d have to actively communicate. Hence Steve and Bill, who are not really friendly, will know very little about each other at all.

The outline of each person’s ‘area’, representing their available attention for their effort, is largely unbroken and so we each have a lot of attention to devote to non-social sources of information (newspapers, TV, books; traditional media). We might each be paying attention to completely different sources.

But then the internet came along…

First up, our personal areas have doubled in size.

Note that our attention available is also larger for the same amount of effort. Just as the internet has made the space we occupy larger by giving us more places (email, blogs, chat) and making them cheaper and faster to access, it’s now easier for us to devote our attention to more stuff.

Our ‘areas’ are also now permanently overlapping. It’s not by much and there’s still some very defined spaces, but now I can see when Steve and Bill are online, see their user profiles or blogs whenever I want and participate in the same forum discussions. If I really want to know what they’re doing I still have to actively communicate with them, but it’s a lot easier and faster; email, IM, comments.

Steve and Bill are now much more likely to stumble on each other, even if they don’t want to.

But then a second communications revolution occurred…the RSS feed. Or in its best known form, sites like Facebook and Twitter.

This new way of interacting is known as ambient awareness (link from Sarah Doody).

Note again the massive increase in personal ‘area’, which now means that Steve, Bill and I are in each other’s spaces all the time. We know a lot more about each other. Steve and Bill, just by merit of knowing each other, are frequently in each others’ spaces too.

But also, more of our attention is taken up; not directly proportional to the information gain but still increased. Of course, as you can see by the overlap, there are more cases where I can pay attention to both of my friends at the same time.

How has this affected the way we see each other? NYT claims that it’s a good thing we no longer have to ask each other what we’ve been doing. But how often have you been told that your activities from last Saturday night were drunkenly heinous, evidenced by your photo tags? Or been questioned constantly when your Facebook relationship status changed? Even when you know the information came from online sources you willingly sent to the world, isn’t it just a little weird that someone you’ve never talked to can know practically everything about you? Or that your boss can now know about what you get up to outside of work?

Let’s not forget that this takes away the incentive to actively engage with other people, meaning that you might know a lot ABOUT many people, but you don’t really KNOW many.

However, we might be seeing a world of freer trading emerging… As we have more people to refer to we are more likely to find something which is on our demand curve, in terms of things or information.

For marketers:: The point is that everyone has limited attention available; there is far less attention available for more traditional sources, and much less devoted to actually seeking out information. The available attention we’ve gained for our effort is going into social sources. We’re far happier for other people to seek out information for us.

So you had better 1) be a deliverer of information, pure and simple, 2) be our friend and play our games in the hope we like you, or 3) hope to hell we get over RSS soon.




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