In social networking there is a point of diminishing contact. To begin with a numerical example, let’s assume that an early Facebook or LinkedInÂ or Twitter user started out with one connection. This one connection was his or her closest friend online, and this friend – for purposes of current illustration – reciprocated by only following this one person. When such an initial adopter sent an update into his or her network, that update was personal in the true sense, and was noticed. It was probably also responded to. Even if only for a split moment in early beta trials, this situation may well have existed.
Let’s now travel quickly into the future, from the point of origin depicted,Â to a time when a tweeter or Facebook or LinkedIn subscriber has hundreds, or possibly thousands, of followers, fans, or connections. In relation to that first update that was sent to his or her first social network contact, any message that is now broadcast to very large numbers will have a diluted impact. First of all, this message is no longer personally directed; and secondly, it will be received by an audience that in turn follows hundreds if not thousands of update senders. This is not an audience that pays intimate attention.
This new illustration is of the social networking world in which we now reside. Many of its participants, in fact, have already surpassed the numbers highlighted, in many cases by far. With 500 million Facebook subscribers worldwide – and the number of Twitter or LinkedIn users, (keeping to the original examples), approaching new powers of ten all the time – the vastness of individual networks is necessarily headed to extremes. As a result, the message of the individual is necessarily diluted. At an extreme point, that message is completely ignored, and social networking loses its meaning.
With this existentialist backdrop, it is of special interest to note the emergence of new online resources that aim to reduce rather than expand, and bring back a personal element to an increasingly anonymous experience. Peer Index, for example, which has built some momentum recently, offers to sift through the millions of opinions on social networks and deliver to the solicitors of such opinions those voices most likely to carry weight. As elitist as this may seem, it is at least a filter that can increase the opportunity for certain voices to be heard. An even better example, however, is a service that advertises itself as a sophisticated product recommendation engine:
Hunch has had no shortage of exposure – in blogs, social networks, technology publications – and this current edition is not meant to be part of the push. The development is worth consideration, however, that in a world of diluted social networks approaching anonymity, a service should rise to prominence as a result of the following message, (more or less): answer a few questions about yourself, and we will show you that we understand who you are. This understanding is demonstrated through the delivery of customized and highly personal recommendations, based on the user’s unique profile, for consumer products and entertainment.
That Hunch is a recommendation engine is, in my opinion, of secondary importance. This is not an end, but a means: the recommendation serves as a proof – you know me, Sir! – of which the subject is recognition. The reason that users gravitate to Hunch, in other words, is perhaps less for the suggestion of camera to buy or movie to see, than for the experience of being acknowledged. In short, this is a social network in reverse: rather than offering to blast a user’s message into an ocean, the ocean is captured in a snapshot, in the background, that is in fact a portrait of the user. Like any portrait, its subject can cherish it as a mirror.