Commentary

Finding Method To The Social Media Madness: How Socialistas Sort Through The Clutter

You may remember that a few weeks back,  the Social Media Insider was a victim of paralyzing brain fog, on deadline, when she couldn't make any sense of all the social media information being thrown her way. While you're free to theorize that it was really writer's block, the experience led me to wonder, more than ever, what ways people are finding to filter social media streams well enough to derive quality from all of the often mind-numbing quantity.that the Social Media Insider was a victim of paralyzing brain fog, on deadline, when she couldn't make any sense of all the social media information being thrown her way. While you're free to theorize that it was really writer's block, the experience led me to wonder, more than ever, what ways people are finding to filter social media streams well enough to derive quality from all of the often mind-numbing quantity.

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So this column is devoted to that topic. Every time I see a news headline, such as yesterday's announcement that Twitter and LinkedIn, have, well, linked up, I know the stream is becoming not only broader but will probably even sprout new tributaries. That's good in general, but it also creates major problems. When you stop and think about it, information overload is sometimes so debilitating that it's on a par with having little information; it becomes that dizzyingly hard to figure out what's really going on.

With that, here are some tools Social Media Insider readers are using to sort through the clutter. The most fun of those suggested to me, by far, is Twitter Times, a Twitter application that  launched in September and expands upon the idea that the tweets of the people you follow are a custom newsfeed. Twitter Times takes all of the links shared by those you follow (and the friends of your friends) and turns them into a custom newspaper, with headlines, text, the whole works.

I got to peruse the first copy of my Twitter Times this morning; it's a wonderfully clean, uncluttered look at what the hot news of the day is in my part of the Twitterverse. Does the whole idea of an online newspaper sound like kickin' it old school? Sure. But newspapers didn't survive all of these years because they were horrible; it's just that something better came along, and Twitter Times does a great job of advancing both customization and news. Thanks to @catherinventura for referring me to Twitter Times.

Another way people are managing their information flow is through the proliferating number of tweet aggregators (tweet-a-gators?), which tend to approach the business of aggregation in different ways. Of course, there's Federated Media's ExecTweets, which allows Twitter users to follow the tweetstream of top executives. Sawhorse Media's MuckRack aggregates tweets of journalists, but only of those who apply and are accepted -- the fine print states clearly that if you're a journalist whose tweets consist solely of your stories, you don't make it in, which gives the site a certain honesty. (Thanks to @ahoving for pointing me to it; now I just hope that it accepts me.)

Another example is the site started by my alma mater, Adweek, calledTweetfreak, which puts intriguing tweets from people in advertising and marketing into a blog format, and adds in a dash of #FollowFriday by suggesting five people each week that its editors deem worth of following.

Other recent advancements, such as Twitter lists, may also help refine social media quantity, but that product is too new for me to know what to make of it. Will it refine the flow, or just make the stream widen once again?

But there are other ways of refining social media content that have little to do with the above forms of customization and are much more important. One thing I certainly wasn't thinking about when I started to look for a way to make sense of all this myself was that the current state of social media affairs has essentially blunted its ability to be a life-saving tool in a crisis. So what are some of the solutions being worked on for that problem?

If you find the above a bit overblown, contemplate the following, as The New York Times' Noam Cohen did in a story over the weekend: last January, the daily number of tweets was 2.4 million; by October it had swelled to 26 million. Thus, as he points out, during a crisis such as the tragic shootings last week at Fort Hood, tools such as Twitter Search become pretty useless as a means of hearing from people who are actually at the scene. Most of the tweets on the topic are from people who have no connection to the actual event. Contrast that with the Mumbai terrorist attacks almost a year ago, which elicited real information, and you'll see there's a problem here.

Cohen's column went on to talk about Twitter's coming geolocation tool, which should help refine tweets around big news stories. Not only will people using Twitter from mobile devices be able to easily state their location, but a search tool that allows people to search by area will become available at the same time. And you thought geolocation was just for retailers who wanted to tweet deals to passersby!

Cohen also mentions an open source project started in Kenya called Ushahidi that tracks text messages by time and location and "was developed to track reports of ethnic violence in Kenya in 2008." If that doesn't prove, once again, that for every technological problem, there are at least 100 people in 100 metaphorical garages working on a solution, I don't know what does.

Funny that this is one of the longest columns I've written, and yet I feel like it's tremendously incomplete. Hell, I didn't even mention Google's or Bing's entrees into real-time search! Please add more ideas below. It's a deep topic that I'd like to explore further in future columns.

8 comments about "Finding Method To The Social Media Madness: How Socialistas Sort Through The Clutter ".
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  1. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, November 11, 2009 at 4:37 p.m.

    I think there was a scene in the TV series Heroes where someone picked up the ability to hear anything. Well, it wasn't just the stuff nearby, but everything, and it was overwhelming.

    That's what's going on with Twitter right now. You now have the ability to tap into conversations you never even knew existed, and like the TV show protagonist, it gets overwhelming.

    But Twitter's API does something smart -- it gives developers like you and me the ability to develop new ways to systematically organize the cacaphony, and using these tools, hopefully we're able to screen out the wheat from the chaff.

    The origin of TV provides a useful vision of what may happen as a result. The cue-tone enabled a system where networks could create localized programming - and local advertising - automatically, from a hodgepodge of television content. In fact, the definition of a cue tone is "...a message consisting of audio tones, used to prompt an action."

    And, after all, isn't that exactly what Twitter is enabling?

  2. Kern Lewis from GrowthFocus, Inc., November 11, 2009 at 5:39 p.m.

    The author wrote:
    "But newspapers didn't survive all of these years because they were horrible; it's just that something better came along..."
    I would partly disagree. Mostly something cheaper for the consumer came along. Somewhat better, too (portability, sortability, et al.), but free beats even a dollar a day!

  3. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, November 11, 2009 at 6:32 p.m.

    Ms. Taylor what a wonderful write up. I am traditionally a proponent of social media technology, except when it comes to using it as a platform for advertising. And sadly all the platforms which could sell the technology for revenue, chose Ad Revenue as their business model. Tsk Tsk. That being said I really found the Tweet Times and the ExecTweet referrals very exciting for personal news and technology. Though I find most Tweeters only Tweet worthwhile info 10-20% of the time. Even the Execs. I followed Zappo's just to see what all the fuss was about. Over 1 million followers! Well since Oct 15th nothing of worth has been Tweeted except that the CEO was waiting in airport security a few times. So the real challenge is how to filter value from the drivel. I know this is all a work in progress and I clamor incessantly that brands will get drowned out in social media and the fact is no one really wants ads in their personal conversations (thus the subscription model).

    As for the Twitter Location Based Technology. I wrote the NY Times about their article on this. Twitter actually hopes to see where you are...and then launch Ads to your phone. It is not altruistic technology, though it was portrayed as this. It greatly concerns me that I can be somewhere, and tweet to my 'cohort' that I am looking for a restaurant and have Twitter launch 50 paid Ads my way from all the restaurants that sign up.

    As Jerry Seinfeld said is his live standup recently....We went from having very deep one on one conversations to broadcasting nothing to everyone we don't know.

  4. Barbara Pflughaupt from BP Media Relations, LLC, November 11, 2009 at 6:52 p.m.

    Loved this.. definite proponent of social media but agree that the level of information is becoming, or has already become, more than anyone can handle as a steady stream daily. It's why the need for editors still exists but we are not willing to pay for them. I am. We need to monetize the web so we can breathe.

  5. Mark McLaughlin, November 11, 2009 at 8:25 p.m.

    Terrific article. Social networking products and ideas don't make sense until they are massively scaled but perhaps there is a peak in scale after which the enormity becomes a burden. Is there a natural life cycle for successful social networking ideas driven by the notion that their exponential growth ultimately undermines their value proposition?

  6. Mark allen Roberts from Out of the Box Solutions, LLC, November 12, 2009 at 6:34 p.m.

    Great content,

    Knowledge will be the power that protects the market from the smores ( social media whores) preying on accounts and giving social marketing a bad name.

    I talk about smores in my blog http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/20-top-entrepreneurial-best-practices-to-insure-2010-is-a-profitable-year/ and click #15

    Mark Allen Roberts

  7. Amy Koehler, November 12, 2009 at 8:55 p.m.

    Really great wrap-up of how to wrangle to overwhelming amount of information via an even more overwhelming number of sources. Something I struggle with on a daily basis. Thanks!

  8. Aaron Clopton, December 15, 2009 at 12:55 a.m.

    Let us sort through the news clutter of social media for you . . . . . . at www.newstwit.com .
    An aggregator of Twitter news feeds in many different channels (national/state/local to topics like sports, technology, venture capitalism, home schooling, etc.) - all of which are managed by professionals - the site is designed to give you the quickest, cleanest, yet most thorough snapshot of real-time news feeds. Check it out and let us know what you think!

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