Online used to be a world of “the more the better”. Search engines would brag about indexing X zillion of pages, the race for LinkedIn contacts was raging between users, and even professional sites like Alibaba would base their communication on the fact they allowed to reach thousands of suppliers in one click.
For early adopters, every single piece of information published on the network was a small victory. Each page indexed by Altavista was one more step towards the society of information that we were trying to build.
This was the old world of megabytes. Not the world of 2011, measured in exabytes. Tons of information have now created noise when we increasingly need relevance. From a world whose problem was to add information, we now enter a world where the problem is to find which one can be ignored, hidden, or deleted. Let’s take the three examples again:
- Do you really care if Google indexes one or two more billion pages? No, you care about the top 10 results. The challenge is not to index 90 million pages containing the word “bank”, it is to hide the 89.99M that are not relevant to the current context.
- Users are coming back from the “more friends is more fun” mantra. I see people remove or hide friends, some now cap the number of contacts to a “few” hundred. But the key is advertising: once social advertising happens (whatever it’s form), more friends will likely mean more ads. “De-Friendization” will then accelerate. And what is the point anyway, when we all lost the followers race to Lady Gaga anyway ;)
- If you have to find a supplier, would you rather have a lot of offers, or the right ones? Sites like needeo work with selected suppliers, not “all the world’s suppliers”, and in that case quality and trust will always beat quantity.
Another sign this trend is here to stay can be found in services like Path which, in their DNA, embed the fact that you can not keep in touch with more than 50 people. Also Beluga (acquired by Facebook), Brizzly, the trend is now to launch closed group apps, to capitalize on the fact that it will be easier to monetize systems based on quality relationships than on a lof of relationships. The data mining will be easier (less data to make sense of), the social ads will be more effective (users are more likely to click on a recommendation coming from a close friend than from an acquaintance), and it will be possible to create real trust between the users and the system, with no fear of privacy boundaries being crossed.
From a world of quantity, we now live in a world of quality. The key is not to have a lot of signals, but to have the right ones. Social networks make it possible as long as they don’t encourage us to have lots of friends, just the right ones. Do you now better understand the 75b$ valuations of Facebook?