The Social Media Garden and How I Make a Salad I Want to Eat

We’re bringing our relationships, no matter how minor or inconsequential, online.  The struggle, though, is how to translate our analog relationships to the digital paradigm.  When I accept a friend request from a cousin I only see at family holidays or a classmate from high school that I had one class with, they are automatically given the same status within the social network as say my wife or a friend I see every couple of days.  Twitter and Facebook and the like have tools available that allow me to treat these connections differently within the network, but everything is still so new, there is no existing etiquette and protocol.  We’re still learning how all of this is supposed to work.  How do I make sure the people I want to hear from, the people with whom I have real connections, are given priority in my feed?  More importantly, how do I filter out the noise of the over-sharers, the people that don’t realize everything they post is shouted at such a volume that everyone they are connected to can hear it?  What does it mean to friend someone and to be someone’s friend?

This WordPress post, Social Post Moderators Wanted, presented a funny idea.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those over-sharers, those people that Like ridiculous things but never say anything, those ALL CAPS or txt spk, slng-izzle spooing mizspellers could lose their privileges to post freely?  What if there existed a “moderate” button alongside the ubiquitous Like and RT buttons.  If enough people pushed this moderate button, the post would be removed.  That post would then be queued for some other user that had been made a “moderator” by either nomination from friends and followers or by just algorithmic designation.  These moderators would go through their queues and determine if other users’ posts were worth posting.  If a user has enough posts rejected by moderation, that user would lose free posting privileges and all posts would have to first go through a moderator.

Of course, there are all sorts of reasons why this could not work.  But it is a fun, escapist flight of fancy.

Part of the real issue here is relationships.  When I follow or friend someone I know personally, that digital connection becomes part of a more complicated relationship.  I can’t unfollow or unfriend that person without it having some meaning to the relationship.  I may absolutely adore someone in the analog world, but that same person may fill my social feed with noise.  Even though post moderation isn’t a viable option, there are solutions for dealing with the social noise.  Facebook and Twitter have tools available, and I use them heavily.

Twitter, in keeping with its simple idealism, has implemented Lists.  Lists are great options for the one-way follow relationship of Twitter.  I can add a Twitter feed, user, or account to a List to organize and filter my feed and I can even follow other users’ lists.  The beauty of Lists, though, is that I don’t have to Follow someone to add them to one of my Lists.  So I can attack noise in my Twitter feed on two fronts.  I follow a lot of news feeds (@NewScientist, @NYTimesScience), organizations (@JoinDiaspora, @NASAJPL), and celebrities (@ThisIsRobThomas, @FeliciaDay) in addition to people I know personally.  Well none of the accounts in these categories, with their thousands (millions!) of followers, are going to miss me if I don’t follow them.  So, the feeds I typically ignore, I can unfollow and just add to a list that I can check occasionally, but they will no longer appear on my feed.  Now, for the people I know personally that I can’t simply unfollow I can use Lists in a different way.  I can add all the feeds that I know I’ll want to check everyday to a filtered List, but the noise-makers don’t make the cut.  But don’t worry, they don’t know, because I’ve made this filtered List private!  Now I can focus on this filtered List and only check my full feed occasionally and just peruse the first few updates, knowing that I am not missing anything.

Facebook has also implemented Lists, but the friend relationship on Facebook is more complicated because it is bi-directional.  That means I can control my own noise to a degree!  What’s more, I don’t even have to use Lists at all if I know there are only a couple of people I don’t want to hear from.  I can simply click the ‘x’ on one of their posts and it gives me the option to delete just that post from my feed or hide all posts from that user.  I can hide all posts from someone who posts nothing but noise.  Fortunately, hiding a post does not affect the friend relationship.  I still use Lists on Facebook, though.  My posts, by default, are hidden from a subset of the people I have accepted friend requests from, be they well-known or once-mets, by creating a list of people I never want to share my posts with, and a  list of people to share my updates with by default.  In this way, I control the volume of my own social feed voice, a skill I wish some of my friends would learn.  I also use Lists in the same way as Twitter.  I have made a List of just those people and pages I want to hear from everyday.  I can focus on that sifted list, and not worry about my full feed.

Facebook and Twitter can waste a lot of time.  They can also be direct access to the news, information, and social updates I care most about.  The trick is to filter out the noise, and, for me going forward, the time-sinks.  My social media strategy is shifting.  I am becoming more familiar with this new way of interacting.  I am culling my feed to just the information I want on an everyday basis from the wider pool of all of my connections.  I will check my full feed maybe once a day, but I will devote no more than one or two minutes to scanning it for possibly overlooked information.  The rest of the time, I will focus on only my sifted list.  I see only the people and information I want to see, filtered of the noise and distraction, while preserving social network relationships and access to feeds I have a less urgent interest in.

This is all new.  No one knows how these social networks, status updates, retweets, likes, and media sharing things are supposed to work.  I want mine to allow me to connect to lots of people but only see the stuff I care most about.  You may want your feed to show all the funny phrases you Like, display every little change in mood you have as the drama of your day unfolds, or announce what new time-waster you’ve discovered.  Go right ahead, I have a list for you.

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