If you haven’t heard about the Slow Web, Jack Cheng’s blog post about the concept is an excellent primer.
As Cheng puts it, where the Fast Web “is a cruel wonderland of shiny shiny things,” rooted in real-time hoopla, the Slow Web is about, “Timely not real-time. Rhythm not random. Moderation not excess. Knowledge not information.”
It’s about not letting the web run you.
So, how does the Slow Web apply to social media?
If information becomes irrelevant when it moves too fast for anyone to glean any knowledge from it, doesn’t social media cease to be social when the size, complexity and speed of the network becomes too great to support quality engagement?
Some trends on the horizon seem to suggest that the answer is “yes,” and that people are interested in seeing the pendulum swing in a slower direction for social media, too…
1. A decrease in platforms but a rise in tools to manage them.
There is only so much time in a day a person can devote to social interaction while still maintaining a personal and professional life. For many, that time has already been maxed out.
As a result, there is a dearth of new social networks being launched (and the ones which are, have struggled to gain traction.) The only exception seems to be networks which offer a radically different spin on engagement (e.g. Pinterest).
What there isn’t a dearth of however, are new tools and applications to better manage an existing social presence. Practitioners seem to be realizing that simply syndicating content haphazardly to multiple social networks will net little results. But with technology and tools they can be more efficient, precise, and responsive with their resources. This represents a great first step in shifting the value proposition in social media from quantity to quality.
2. The splintering into micro-communities within networks.
As the Dunbar number theorizes, the cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships is between 100-230 people. But this has hardly deterred people from building social networks in the thousands or tens of thousands.
But to what end?
After passing a certain point, (be it the Dunbar number or otherwise) the network simply becomes a forum for broadcasting information in a one-way exchange. In other words, it reverts to being broadcast medium, not a social one.
One way people seem to be addressing this is by creating new, smaller networks within their larger ones. Using features like lists and private groups or circles organized by professional-focus, personal connection, etc., people can more easily identify contacts within their networks that require special care and attention, and adjust their engagement accordingly.
Micro-communities also enable people to better deconstruct the real-time social experience. Smaller groups mean slower moving conversation threads, and slower threads mean more opportunities for engagement in a wider time frame. Yes, people still participate in real-time threads moving at the speed of speech. But now they can also chip away at a discussion over time, similar to the engagement pace seen in blog comment threads.
3. A shift in perception from “audience” to “community.”
The word “audience” is a hold over from our first generation understanding of the social web, in which we are the star of our social experience and all of the people gathered in our respective networks are simply there to see our show.
In reality though, like a painting done in pointillism, what looks like from afar as a mass of humanity is actually a complex web of different personalities, interests and activities.
The next generation of social will be about understanding and acknowledging this diversity and generating content rooted in empathy, context and relevance in order to create meaningful engagement within our social communities.
4. Timely brand discussions instead of real-time marketing pushes.
Right now, most businesses (and oodles of content marketers) approach social media as an opportunity to push out content and have real-time interactions with a community about that content in return. The focus of this type of engagement is, again, on the content provider and his or her goals.
But the true and deeper value of having a rich and diverse social network is that it’s like accessing a hundred cocktail parties already in session, not like addressing an audience waiting with baited breath for a presentation.
Pushing out content, asking for the retweet or share and then walking away is an amateur move. But shifting so the objective is not to broadcast, but to adapt and jump into an existing conversation, and participate in such a way that it achieves a business objective, is the greater more valuable skill that a slower social web will demand.
As Cheng says, the Slow Web is “not so much a checklist as a feeling,” and these predictions for a slower social media are based on a feeling as well — one rooted in our collective experience of stepping away from the computer, glazed over and overloaded from the massive, never ending influx of content and thinking, “I can’t keep up.”
If you’ve ever been in that position, I’d love to know what you think of the Slow Web. What do you think it could mean for social media?