NYT’s Clive Thompson on personal news feeds

The growth of news feeds on social networking sites continues to gather momentum. The New York Times recently ran a piece by Clive Thompson on being connected digitally. Facebook set a major trend when it created the newsfeed allowing you to see all your friends’ updates at a glance. Services like Twitter continue this trend – adding a social component to the way we find information. Rather than just searching for documents that interest us (think Google), we can follow friends (or trendsetters) and sniff along these trails to dig up new information.

The article touched on some interesting issues around social networks:

  • ‘Ambient awareness’ is the academic term for maintaining incessant online contact (eg. rapidly scrolling through the Facebook news feed to see what all your friends are up to this week).
  • Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has researched the number of acquaintances a person can know at any given time. He suggests this number is around 150 people. After this, it is difficult to keep up (although the PR professionals around me seem to break this rule).
  • We can form many more ‘weak ties’ – that is looser acquaintances with whom we don’t develop such strong ties. For instance, many users keep two Twitter accounts: one for their weak ties and another for that more intimate circle of family and friends.
  • Be careful – as these spaces become more pervasive, if you don’t define yourself, you will find others will do that for you.

To it’s credit, the article finished on a positive note (something that rarely seems to happen when the print world opines on the digital one). There can be a therapeutic side to documenting your activity on Facebook or Twitter – it forces you to look at your life more objectively with increased self-awareness.

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