The Greatest Change to Communication and Relationships in History

As far as changes to the way people interact, how friends are made, how privacy is thought of; nothing over the entire course of the human species has made as significant of a change to human communication and relationships as social networks.

Looking through history at each of the technological advances to communication: the telephone, fax, email, post, word of mouth, and written language. None has enabled the human species to communicate to the world and receive information back passively, with such great efficiency, as online social networks. Consider a photo from a family vacation. Before online social networks, an email could be sent with an attachment to intended recipients. Before that this photo would have to be sent by fax or post. If recipients liked the photo, they couldn’t click a ‘like’ button, or leave a thumbs-up icon on your door. Some would send back a thank you note, or return a similar photo of their own loved ones in kind.

It is now possible to have a presence in the lives of hundreds of people without ever having to directly communicate with them. As my brother put it while describing the very early stages of the publicly accessible Facebook: “it allows you to create the illusion of staying in contact with people, without actually having to do so”. And so it is, those peers from high school, who we mostly wouldn’t have stayed out of touch with, now occasionally grace our feeds with a baby photo, opinion, or shared news clipping. The family members who before the Internet only crossed our desks with holiday cards, family dinners, and reunions, suddenly can keep track of our whereabouts, and tell us what they think of our lifestyles, without having to gossip with other family members.

The title “social network” is both very accurate, and a paradox. For while those networked by their social connections can now keep tabs on each other with almost no effort, each person is less connected to their friends and family than ever before. As it is no longer necessary to invest time to maintain individual relationships, the lack of having to stay in touch leaves every person with fewer personal moments shared with the people they care the most about.

On the one hand it’s great, we can all stay better informed, not lose touch, and are more likely to be able to recall a face to a name if we bump into each other by accident. We’re more likely to follow up and make plans, or wish each other happy birthday. The main net result is we have a certain amount of surface knowledge about each other, that we wouldn’t have had without our virtual ‘what I’m doing these days bulletin board’. Where in the past an update on what we are doing, where we are working, etc., would have required talking to a mutual connection, or directly communicating – now a short search on the internet, LinkedIn or Facebook will do.

The negative argument is this diminishes social expectations of relationships. As we – people existing and getting information from social networks – become more used to tracking our peers on Facebook and sharing moments in our lives on Facebook, we’re taking away the natural inclination to do so in the conventional way, the one where we choose who receives the update, and we send it out showing intention. Sharing news about your life on the internet certainly makes it possible to share your news with the world, but it doesn’t have a personal touch like a phone call, postcard, or even, yes, email might have. Perhaps the latter for many is also too impersonal, but at least a specific recipient had to be chosen in that case, which is not the same when it comes to Facebook.

Additionally reducing the quality of a communication on Facebook, the software logic which decides what appears in our so called ‘personalized’ news feed, dictates what we actually see in our feed. Multiple factors up-vote and down-vote the likelihood of a friends shared moment even appearing in our own feed.

So what can we do about this?

There is no going back, I’m afraid. No social revolution will take away this new way of staying connected. Though some dilution is inevitable; certainly as the number of Facebook registered users continues to climb, other social networks pop-up taking away entire generations, and still other camps find the Internet medium for sharing life events isn’t the right one for them – they deactivate or delete their account. Those people condemn themselves to a world where the only information others know about them, is that which others shared albeit the old fashioned way. But at least there is a more genuine nature and quality to the old fashioned way, one can know who they’ve kept in touch with, and one can focus on building relationships without the Internet, where things may be slower, harder, less informed, but at least you know who is making effort. Somehow this is even a strengthener, for while sharing, tagging, and ‘liking’ each others content online is some lightweight method of indicating interest, a physical or 1-to-1 gesture of direct communication now has more weight than ever before.

 

 

 

The Good Old Days, and the Crazy Crazy Future

The Good Old Days, and the Crazy Crazy Future

The year was 2003, and with the help of some dialup (in the United States) one could post an ad on Criaglist.org, for well, anything. This was useful because if one suddenly decided he wants to start a new company, it was an easy way to test the interest in the product or service he had to offer. After posting the ad, in the next 24-72 hours you could sit back and to see who would bite. For me this was a regular pastime, exploring possible business ideas. The ad’s ranged from web site development, landscaping and moving companies, to drives on request (hello Uber yes I had the idea first).

GMC_Craigslist

Compared to today, it was too easy. Back then, Craigslist was where people went for everything, buying and selling stuff, renting apartments, buying houses, hiring dog walkers, ride shares, dating, events, and job openings. But it wasn’t to last for long.

It didn’t happen overnight, but around 2008 the Craigslist user base had changed, the people became less reliable, more weird. Creepy even. It was on both sides too. As a user looking through ads some were WEIRD, I remember apartment listings that just had a picture of a cartoon dog, and a couple details about the apartment. And when receiving replies to ads I’d posted some people were normal, and others were obviously whack jobs.

Also by the end of the last decade, it wasn’t just the people on Craigslist (CL) that had changed, there were other places to go and spend time on the internet. Ebay had totally taken over the sell/buy space. Sites like Match.com started to peel away users of the personals section.

This also meant things were more difficult too. I remember a NYTimes post about one accountant who stopped paying for advertising because he got all his clients through CL. I doubt that guy still has the same story now. Services like accountants, web developers, painters, and repairmen, who used to get their new clients from the Services section on CL, lost traffic to paid advertising and highly competitive search engine ranking in Google search results. It didn’t happen overnight, but by 2010 Craigslist was only good for long shot job opportunities and sublets, it’s been a while since I checked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those are not useful anymore either.

Fast forward. It’s 2015.

The world changed so much in the last ten years. Getting peoples’ attention requires multi-tiered approach of social network engagement, Google page ranks, paid results in search, email campaigns, paid Facebook ads, quality scores, and so much more. There is no classifieds listings where you can post your capabilities and wait for interested people to connect, it would be a bad test.

Ideas aren’t so easy to test anymore.

unbounce-1
Unbounce.com’s landing page “rehab” program

 

geo-targeting-1
An old screenshoot of a Google Adwords Campaign

A recommended method to test an idea now, is to make a landing page, choose a set of keywords, and then create a Google Adwords campaign to send traffic to the page (since the page doesn’t have built in traffic like Craigslist did).

With some traffic going to the page, you can see how your keywords convert in Google’s Adwords dashboard, watch how many bounces the landing page gets, and most importantly how many conversions you can create. But that process is more complex than the Craigslist post I described above from 10 years ago. Your keywords can be wrong, you location & demographic settings may not be optimized for your target market. Perhaps you’re not bidding enough on the campaign. Your landing page content may be all wrong. And if the landing page isn’t convincing, say, maybe it looks a bit fake, like dummy landing page, people can tell, and if they smell a fake, they close the page as soon as it opens, and then your whole test is a waste. A waste that, let’s not forget, needed to be paid for. Again, unlike the Craigslist test.

More so, there is a feeling that without a website you aren’t legitimate. Without a Facebook page, it’s just a personal side project. Without a good chunk of followers on your instagram or twitter account or “page likes” on your Facebook page your business isn’t legitimate or too young to be trusted.

Imagine how it would feel for an Law Practice with 25 years of experience that cannot get more then 36 likes on their Facebook page. A popularity vote on a platform that has barely existed for 5 years, with a company that barely existed 10 years ago. That’s got to be hard to swallow. All the rules are changing, and it’s making a fool out of everyone. Don’t worry, we’re all in the same boat.

What a lot of people think they need to do when they start a company, or put their business on the internet, is that they should buy a domain name. Unfortunately, the days of just getting a “.com” or “.net” (also known as TLDs) are long gone folks. There are now over 1,000 different TLDs to choose from, with .travel, .book, .biker, .ninja (I puke a little at that one) domain extensions (TLD), there is a universe of possibilities, meanwhile most of the people in the world are still just figuring out the difference between email and the internet. Some still don’t really get setting up their smart phones.

If many people are still just trying to get the hang of a smart phone, will the average person even know that “http://johndoe.restaurant” can be a real website URL now? Think twice before buying that domain name folks, I think the verdict is out on that one. Let’s wait for CNN to do a special on it first to be safe 😉

I digress.

The increase of complexity grows at a rate near Moore’s law with no end in sight.

As a 33 year old, I feel lucky to have both witnessed a time before Microsoft Windows (MS-DOS), when there was only a telephone to communicate, and getting to experience first hand the wave of people using Friendster, then Myspace, then Facebook, and now lots of niche networks to boot. But I meet teenagers and see how they use technology, and think about how much things will change in the next ten years, and nothing seems more overwhelming than this, except perhaps an echo chamber with a never ending loud speaker going off, creating nth degree echoes upon echoes.

In the next 20 years, a time frame anyone reading this can probably expect to live (I’m rooting for you!), the complexity will grow way more than it has in the last 10 years. So basically, a likely startup in the year 2026, could be offering a service with a promo like:

“Internet Simplified”

“Our service takes over your communications, searches, blog reading and all so you don’t have a brain aneurysm. We will call you at the end of the day with a simple summary for you!”

her-movie-still-17Perhaps such a service will be an add on to our personal OS – à la “Her”. Perhaps by then, shopping will be in it’s own division, a “sub-net” of the internet. News/Content/Blogs will be in a subnet. Social & communication will have it’s own subnet. Things will have gotten so complex, the new innovators will just be making ways to compartmentalize.

Until then we’re all the guinea pigs. And those who want to continue to compete for the next big innovation have keep an eye on the changes, while the others sit back and continue to be dumbfounded by all the rapid changes.