Sharing on the web is something that we all do. Be it sharing a link on Twitter or Recommending something on Facebook, it’s something we do everyday. This is great for our friends and family, as they are seeing content that they probably wouldn’t have stumbled onto themselves. But I’m going to ask the question that nobody seems to be asking.
What’s in it for us?
Asking what we’re getting out of sharing may sound selfish. In fact, getting something in return for sharing sounds downright wrong. However, with as much time that we spend on the web curating, digging, and finding great content to share with others, we actually deserve something significant in return.
Yes, we’re getting to meet new people and keep in contact with people that we care about, and that’s very important. I’m asking a very different question though. When we share something on the web, we don’t think about the effect that it has on others. Sure, someone can retweet us, favorite our post, or like something, but that doesn’t really give us the feedback we need when we’re putting in the time to say “Hey, this is cool!”. I’m not going to focus on whether we’ll get paid for sharing, because that’s a whole different topic. I personally worry about what I’ll be able to get out of the content that I’ve shared five or ten years from now. How about when I have kids? Will I be able to show them exactly what I was checking out on November 7th, 2007? It’s not looking so bright for that so far.
I’m going to discuss how the most popular services are going about giving us something back for what we’re putting into it. Or more specifically, how these services are going about personal aggregation and analytics.
Facebook just made the first big step in personal aggregation with its Timeline feature. It’s not publicly available yet, but it’s going to change the way we use Facebook completely. When I visit your profile, I could view things that you posted in 2008. That may sound like stalking, but really what it does is let me see how you and your tastes have evolved over the years. For example, you may have listened to a lot of Dave Matthews Band in 2008, but now you’re more of a John Mayer fan. Until Timeline, you’d have to click a “more” button over and over to go through someone’s Wall posts on Facebook. What a bad experience.
For me personally, this type of aggregation is exciting. I am really excited to remember the places I’ve been and the things that I said in the context of months and years. That’s really what Facebook was missing before Timeline, the context. A lot of other services are missing that too.
Twitter is probably my favorite service to use. I have tweeted some of the most important milestones and moments of my life. I was using Twitter before it launched, and certainly before it went mainstream. Can I search for those tweets? No. That to me is nearly data robbery. I feel like I’ve put so much effort into Twitter for myself and for others, yet I can’t reference any of it. Twitter search only makes the last 5-7 days worth of tweets available. I can however go through my tweets by infinitely scrolling through them. Like Facebook’s wall before Timeline, that is a horrible user experience.
Twitter tells me who my followers are, who I follow, and how many times I’ve tweeted, yet leaves out all other context about what’s most important…the actual tweets. Sure, I can favorite tweets, including my own, but that’s a lot to ask.
I want to see my tweets in a timeline, I don’t want to have to work hard to browse through them. In a second I want to see what I tweeted 2 years ago today. I think we deserve that much, especially since Twitter is starting to monetize the service. For as much funding as they have, they certainly don’t seem to be putting in a lot of work into user interface and experience. Relying on third parties for these types of features won’t work, since Twitter has choked companies usage of its API.
Google+ is the new kid in town, and like all of Google’s products, it’s driven by search. That’s actually a way better experience than Twitter right now. But again, there is no interface or visualization of what I’m posting, who has shared it, and how much activity certain things have generated. Google+ has released a read-only API, so maybe some developers will build great features outside of the service itself.
The thing that worries me about this is that third-party services rarely get popular with people other than geeks. People tend to trust the main company and product, and use only what they’re given. It’s only really curious geeks and nerds who go digging for a new experience by way of a third-party. Perhaps Google+ will have an App Store like Facebook has when it launches Open Graph, so that users can find the experiences and visualizations that they want, without having to leave Google+.
What excited me the most about FourSquare wasn’t becoming the mayor of a venue or checking in with all of my friends. It was storing the information about where I’ve been and what I’ve done for years to come. I personally travel a lot and visit a lot of bars, restaurants, and venues. I simply can’t remember everywhere that I’ve been. FourSquare actually does an amazing job at showing you in a visual way what you’ve done and where you’ve been over the years. Unfortunately, most of this is shown on their website, which most people don’t use. Luckily, the company is weaving this data into their app more and more, showing you how many different coffee shops you’ve been to, for example.
Parents tell their kids stories about where they were on this day or that day, but generations to come are inquisitive and want the information to be completely accurate. Accurate information being readily available is essential to the future of our own personal family legacies. Imagine knowing what your Grandfather was doing and where he was in 1965, along with a photo. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t want to know that.
Delicious, Utopic, and bookmarking services
Bookmarking services tend to perpetuate the problem of sharing into the ether. Those services want to make it super easy for you to share and share and share, so that they can collect the best content on the web. Sure, it’s great that you can go back and reference all of the cool things you’ve found, but that’s not enough. The context of why you shared something is lost, and a “note” feature isn’t going to do it. Entering notes is boring and nobody does it. I want the things that I bookmark to be surrounded with other context, like what other things I’m doing on my computer at the time.
Things are moving fast, and it’s a real-time and instant gratification society. We’re all caught up in the world wide web and we continue to weave this web by sharing, retweeting, liking, and recommending content.
At the end of the day though, what are we going to get out of it? The internet is our digital scrapbook, after all.
I’m not asking for a paycheck or a thank you, but I think it would be nice if these important companies with a lot of funding would start thinking longer term for its users. I’ve used Twitter for over six years, Facebook for just as long, and FourSquare a few years as well. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into making sure I’ve shared and tracked all of the things that were important to me in the moment. These companies are starting to figure out how to make money on all of the things that we say and share.
It’s these services turn to remind us of why we do it in the first place.