February 5, 2008

Sturgeon’s Law, and the future technology of social technology

Social technology has been hugely important to me since 1991. I met Linda on a Prodigy bulletin board. Blogging is crucial to my business. Mailing lists have led Linda and me to two vacations, most of our computer gaming, multiple TV shows (especially Buffy/Angel), and a whole lot of books. I find LinkedIn useful at times, and for the past few weeks I’ve been Twittering up a storm. My love life, work, and entertainment all are rooted in technology that gets people communicating with each other.

I’m not just saying that for street cred. My experiences also illustrate two important points – people use many different kinds of social technology, and social technology is very important to them. When you feel or hear negatives about MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blog reading or whatever – those are indictments of particular services or technologies, not of online social networking in general.

If you think about it, most criticisms of social technology boil down to the same thing, namely Sturgeon’s Law – the famed observation that 90% of everything is crud. (Emphasis his.) Indeed, when you add up inane ramblings, stale jokes, Facebook “cocktails,” empty repetitions of “Hi! How is everyone?”, and those horrible songs people feel compelled to put on their personal websites, 90% seems like a low figure.

The first keys to successful social technologies are obviously that they be engaging and easily accessible. But even if they pass those tests, they will fall under their own weight without sufficiently good filtering mechanisms, and I don’t just mean for spam. Usenet and chat rooms collapsed in a pile of crud. MySpace and Facebook (which I don’t use) are thought to be going the same way. Twitter already has people complain about spam and filtering their follow lists – and it barely has grown past its core geek niche.

I’m working on a blog post just about the metadata and filtering mechanisms needed in Twitter. It looks apt to get quite long. The complicated issue of portable identities isn’t just about what you disclose; it’s about what you want to see, and from whom. The technology of social networking is a huge data management challenge, and most commentators on the subject don’t seem to have realized that yet.

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4 Responses to “Sturgeon’s Law, and the future technology of social technology”

  1. Chris Hambly on February 5th, 2008 8:39 am

    Really good read and I’m with you on the concept of Data Management Challenge.

    This is a really timely post as I see three related posts now inside 10 mins or so. I made a comparison about Social Media being a Mafia Mentality this morning see here:


    That post picked up Laura-Jane Filotrani who posts for the guardian:


    All very related posts I thought.

  2. Bob Sawyer on February 10th, 2008 8:27 pm

    While I agree with the need for data management and powerful searching capabilities, let me offer a slightly different perspective, starting with a corollary of Sturgeon’s Law: 10% of everything is good. In a lot of areas, such as social networking, “wildcat” oil drilling and sales, batting .100 is very respectable. If you find your batting average is above .100, the smart thing to do is find more chances to swing. Repetitions of “Hi! How is everyone?” may appear devoid of useful information, but I’ll bet a sociologist could write a term paper if not a thesis on what they say about a community; that may explain why millions of people don’t flee in disgust. Finally, there surely are people who insist upon a much higher batting average, but I contend those are not the people who use social networking technology.

  3. Curt Monash on February 11th, 2008 1:06 am


    I’m not sure the precise number in Sturgeon’s Law has been empirically tested. 🙂

    Right now, I’d say that I care about a lot less than 10% of my Twitter tweetstream. A LOT less. Fortunately, I skim quickly.


  4. Text Technologies»Blog Archive » Enterprise Twitter on February 11th, 2008 7:44 am

    […] the messaging and office productivity software vendors don’t provide filter-rich Enterprise Twitter, somebody else most likely […]

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