It’s Not a Filter, It’s a Choice

Sometimes the internet feels overwhelming. Each day when I logon to my work email I know that there are going to be dozens of emails requiring some form of attention. Where I can, I scan for the most urgent items and attend to those – responding or perhaps delegating. Emails that require a more considered or detailed response are left open while I research an answer, make calls or pull together my response. Then, of course, there are the daily tasks of working – meetings, phone calls – and the DOING part, which should take up most of the day.

But a proportion of my DOING work revolves around the Internet as well. So I scan blogs and RSS feeds, check various systems for facts, reportage, responses and conversations. There may be a hundred or so blogs and feeds to keep up with.

And after work, with my blog and my reading and my areas of interest, I can easily add another 100-150 RSS feeds and a similar amount of email. Then there is Twitter, which alone generates a substantial amount of email (follower requests, direct messages and so on), as well as well over a thousand messages a day. No wonder I have little time for the interruption of advertising.

But while it can APPEAR overwhelming, I have made very clear choices about how I manage this glut of information. As I began to think about the stages of Twitter Commitment, I realised that there are fundamental building blocks which underpin our use of new social network technologies. Some time ago I thought it looked like this:

View more presentations from Gavin Heaton. (tags: social media)

But this was too simplistic. It was missing the essential human element that drives our interactions – trust. But trust in a social network is dynamic – it constantly shifts, changes shape and transforms itself as the context changes. So rather than “trusting” – we are exercising what I call “social judgement”.

Basically, social judgement allows us to make decisions based not only on our who we trust, but on how much trust we place in certain other individuals. For example, this is how I use Facebook:

If I receive a Friend Request from someone I don’t know personally on Facebook, I look to see who we know in common. I then make a VALUE judgement about HOW judicious (or dare I say, “promiscuous”) each of our mutual friends are in terms of their social networks. Sometimes I look at the first one or two mutual friends – sometimes I evaluate all of the mutual friendships before making a decision. Where I feel that I can trust the web of connections between us, I will confirm friendship.

This is at least partly why influence in social networks is not just about numbers, but about the trust or “social judgement” which lubricates them. It is not necessarily about connecting to the most people, but connecting to the most people who can derive benefit by interacting with you. You see, it is not about YOU creating value for people (by creating content, linking etc), but people FINDING value in what you do create.

HP’s recent research would suggest that friends are more important than followers – and it seems that Julian Cole agrees. However, as Granovetter’s research on the strength of weak ties showed, people are more likely to take action where there is a weak tie connection between parties.

And this means that there is a choice involved. Every time we forward on a link, retweet a message read on Twitter or any other type of social network interaction, we are CHOOSING to act. We are not just using our network of connections to FILTER the noise, we are using it to SHAPE our experience. It is a choice. And understanding this distinction places us in a context where STORYTELLING emerges as vitally important?

To explain this, tomorrow, I will share with you one of the important elements of Social Judgement – the Auchterlonie Principle.