For technology opinion leader Robert Scoble, “social media is work.” He doesn’t scroll through Facebook posts to unwind; on the contrary, he’s trying to limit the overwhelming stream of information coming at him – which he predicts is likely to get much worse for all of us. “On YouTube this morning, I deleted 250 channels I subscribed to that weren’t bringing me enough value,” he told me in a recent interview. “I’m down to 45 now and boy, my feed got dramatically better. But it still has noise in it, and still has things I don’t care about in it.” The stream is just as relentless on email: he praises Gmail’s spam filtering system, which saves him from “up to 1000 emails a day” from purveyors of junk.
If you’re not facing similar overload now, there’s a good chance you will soon. Says Scoble: “I’m just an early adopter; I subscribe to more things than normal people and have a high level of inbound and a high level of noise.” A lot of people “don’t see a problem if they only subscribe to 40 people on Facebook; there’s not enough of a flow rate to care about it.” But with smartphones and sensors, expect the volume to be turned up significantly.
“If you search for Nike FuelBand on Twitter, every one of those products is tweeting. There’s more noise that comes with wearable computing, things that let us take pictures every 30 seconds as we walk around living our lives, and a huge number more photos per person will exist. That’s still going up exponentially and will for years to come.” In the future, everyone – and everything – will be spewing out information. “There’s a buoy outside Half Moon Bay that tweets the wave height; London Bridge is tweeting; Nest Thermostats will tweet. Sometimes you do want to see the FuelBand – but not all day long.”
What to do? In the case of Scoble, whom I’m interviewing at the upcoming BusinessNext Social conference in Las Vegas, he’s set up “more than 1,500 Gmail filters” that kill another 300 emails every day, which he writes was “the best thing I ever did for my productivity.” But in many ways, regular users are powerless to stop the onslaught of additional noise. Scoble carefully curates a Twitter list of investors, seeking insight on funding decisions and new startups. But even then, he told me, “that list has things like cat photos, vacation photos. I’m seeing things I don’t want to see on that list.”
That problem creates an opportunity for businesses to add real value, however. Facebook (a company Scoble praises for its technical acuity) has worked hard to create algorithms that show you the most important and relevant information. “Facebook is studying emotional reaction to things, and bringing you fewer of things you don’t engage with and more of what you do,” says Scoble. “That’s why they use emotional words – ‘friend’ and ‘like.’ They want to filter things to you that you’re going to feel emotion about: things you’ll read, comment on, share with friends. Watching all of those behaviors and measuring their business by how well the feed is being reacted to – that’s why [the algorithm] changes every week.”
Of course, Facebook isn’t the only company working to solve this growing problem. Scoble says of his Twitter list, “There’s no way to tell that list, ‘Hey, only show me when you see something economic being discussed – funding, startups, venture capital.’ I could put in a list of words and filter it pretty easily, but right now I can’t do that. I think in the future we’re going to see more and more noise filters.” And with the flow of information growing exponentially, they can’t get here fast enough.
What are your strategies for filtering out noise? What tips can you share?
This post originally appeared on the BusinessNext Social website on December 28, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter