This Week in Shark Jumpage

I just came from checking out Lucas on a Social Media Club LA panel on something about technology and music, apparently there’s some kind of intersection there. Who knew? Anyway, the organizers projected a live stream of all the tweets tagged with #smcla on a screen behind the panelists during the entire panel. 

SMCLA Twitter Stream

This has become a pretty common “feature” of tech panels nowadays, and I’m heareby asking organizers to knock it off.

There are a couple of reasons I feel this way. First of all, I don’t know how anyone in the audience could really pay any attention to what the panelists were saying seeing as the *entire audience* seemed to be on their mobile devices or laptops writing things to show up on screen (myself included). Secondly (and more importantly), the majority of the shit that went up there was totally lame (with the noted exception of this Sarah Palin tweet). Most people who get up to speak during Q&A time at panels are really doing it to hear themselves speak and try to impress the panelists and/or audience (“I’d like to pose my question in the form of a statement about how awesome I am, please validate/hire/sleep with me”). The good news is those Q&A sessions are generally short, and there is a physical limit on how many people can actually speak on the mic at any one time. Well when you put that Twitter stream up there, every self-important douche in the room can post his/her little cry for attention, and they generally do (again, including me).

Don’t get me wrong, I think real-time audience feedback is a valuable tool to keep any panel on track (I’m too lazy to search the web for the numerous stories of panels turned around by moderators monitoring audience tweets or find the right link to the Sarah Lacey SXSW debacle). But, the devil’s in the details and you’ve got to implement it in a way that preserves the right incentives for the audience to participate — i.e. improving the conversation, not trying to steal the spotlight. I was actually at what I believe was the first conference to use an interactive real-time feedback system. It was the >play conference in November 2006, and I blogged at the time about how Michael Arrington was a total prick for asking the organizers to take the SMS-based audience feedback system powered by Mozes off the screen behind the panel (ironically, this panel and the Valleywag story that came out of it may have driven the first significant tipping point for Twitter adoption).

As much as it pains me to agree with Arrington nearly two years after the fact, I do think there is a reason to have a moderator and a good moderator should be entrusted with the power to steer the panel discussion. The moderator should definitely be watching the conversation about the panel on Twitter in real-time and reacting accordingly, and individual audience members who want to have *virtual* side conversation should feel free to do so on their laptops or devices. But, don’t give individual audience members the opportunity (and encouragement) to distract the rest of the audience by putting their comments on (or above) the level of the panelists.

If your audience is that smart, put them on the panel. And if your moderator needs to be babysat by your audience, get a better moderator.

Consumption as Self-Expression, Lifestreaming, and the Social Signal:Noise Ratio

My buddy Hooman just wrote an insightful post expounding on a phrase I’ve been using for a long time now (and have yet to hear elsewhere, so let’s make it a meme baby!): consumption as self-expression. It’s a pretty self-explanatory phrase and examples include: Last.fm favorite artist or recently listened songs badges on your MySpace page (or their pretty cool Facebook app); publishing your Netflix queue via RSS; using a plug-in like Postalicious to add your Delicious bookmarks to your blog (as I do); or services like All Consuming. Each of these services has a primary value proposition to get you to give them your consumption information other than republishing it out to the world (i.e. Last.fm = discovering new music; Netflix = getting the movies delivered; Delicious = archiving bookmarks for personal reference; All Consuming = getting recommendations on other stuff you might like). But, the ability to share your consumption information back to your social network (or publish it to the world, if you so choose) is becoming an increasingly important secondary value proposition.

As an example of how powerful the self-expression value proposition has become, take Flixster, which became a top app on Facebook by getting people to re-enter much of the ratings information that they had already given to Netflix just so they could have a social experience around it with their friends. Apps like Flixster and What I’m Listening To (by Last.fm) finally start to address the forgotten backwater of the social network profile page that the “Interests” section has become. Like the appendix or the vestigial tail, the Favorite Books/TV Shows/Movies/Music fields on today’s social network profiles are left over from the first designs of Friendster (or maybe even before) and have done nothing but atrophy since. Unlike your tastes, these fields are static, and they’re totally disconnected from your consumption experiences. So, I’m all about the apps that have allowed me to leave the ‘Favorite Movies’ and ‘Favorite Music’ fields on my Facebook profile blank and instead show my friends what I’m actually watching and listening to.

That’s the good part of consumption as self-expression, IMHO. But, I’m increasingly finding a bad part too and it’s the growing (g33k) trend of lifestreaming. I see the value in wanting to broadcast a consolidated feed of everything public you’re doing across the web to those interested (in fact, I’ve already installed a lifestreaming plug-in on this blog and have yet to set it up — you can also use Friendfeed or MyBlogLog). I’m just not particularly interested in subscribing to anyone else’s. I may want to *pull* this information, when I’m trying to learn about what a person likes or has been up to, by visiting his Facebook page or blog. But, I have negative interest in having this information *pushed* to me at all times, a la Friendfeed, which I only use as a broadcast medium and not for consumption.

This is where the whole idea of the social signal:noise ration comes in. In his original post on which I commented, Hooman distinguishes between “machine-generated” and “human-generated” updates. The machine-generated ones are what I call consumption as self-expression, while the human-generated are the ones like blog posts, Flickr photos, or Twitter messages that require some kind of proactive communication on the part of the publisher. In my recent post about Twitter, I talked about how the on-demand nature of the Internet enables us to have a signal:noise ratio approaching infinity and how Twitter was the restorative “white noise of cyberspace.” But, I see full-on lifestreaming with machine-generated updates and all as going too far. So for now, I have imposed a crude filter to limit what noise I let in: if you didn’t take the time to generate the content yourself, I ain’t subscribing to it.

And, even that may not be enough. As the circle of people I follow on Twitter has expanded (and I *only follow people I’ve actually met*), I’m finding even that increasingly annoying and less the valuable randomness generator it used to be. Over beers today, Jeffrey suggested maybe as more people start using Twitter and the average number of people being followed grows, there will be less “updates on what I ate or when I went to the bathroom.” Whether it’s some kind of social networking mores or a technical solution like Laurie’s Havoc algorithm (ask him about it), we’re definitely going to need something to steer the social web back to a more sustainable signal:noise ratio.