Putting the words ‘social’ and ‘network’ together doesn’t always work. Traditional networks perform at their best with as little friction as possible – eliminate interruptions to the flow. But interruptions are at the heart of social networks. If you are not interrupting someone, you are talking to nobody or trying to interrupt everyone.

O’Reilly published a great article last year – The End of Social – talking about this very concept. How automated posts from apps such as Spotify and Foursquare remove friction and lower the value of interactions in the process. Do I care what music you just listened to or what location you just checked-in to when it’s an automated update to everyone vs ‘hey, I’m in the area, let’s catch-up’.  The article references research into the effect such automatic updates have on trust, linking to a Microsoft Research post – In Defense of Friction.

The MSR team conducted a test of trust, comparing automated handouts of credit versus human handouts. They observed that credits given out by a human being gave a signal of appreciation that you simply can’t automate. And that word is key. I wonder, have too many become obsessed with achievements (the ‘gamification’ of systems using badges to reward effort) when knowledge-sharing of value is far more likely to happen in appreciative networks.

Eliminating friction in a social network may benefit the provider of the service, automatic updates make it easier to collect data about users for whatever purpose. But the benefits to the participants in the network are less clear. Too many automated messages may award you an achievement badge but increase the noise:signal ratio to a level nobody appreciates.

Flickr Image courtesy of Adam Rosenberg

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