Last year, my colleague Karen Groenink and I were doing some work around social software and put together a theory we called ‘Personal Analytics’.
The problem we had observed was that in the most popular social software sites, there were very few feedback loops for the people publishing content. On top of that, these sites were encouraging more publishing of content, and more ‘friend’ additions. More is not necessarily better. We were seeing that people were creating more and more content, and sharing it with more and more people. Often this sharing was not explicitly to a set of individuals, but was ambient – for example content shared to 500 people because the publisher happened to have 500 friends on the social network they used.
We also observed that this content can have vastly different value to different people, and in fact, much of this shared content had little value to anyone but the publisher. The problem is that the content that is high in value to people gets lost in the noise. By providing Personal Analytics, we wanted to help people publish better content in the first place. It aimed to give people feedback on what others find valuable, enabling them to filter what they publish in future. We wanted people to think about their audience before hitting the ‘post’ button.
The goals behind this theory were:
- To help users share the content that their friends will value the most.
- To do for personal communication what Google Analytics did for websites.
We believed that people will refine their personal image if there is a feedback loop showing that other
people are consuming their refinements. This behaviour is evident in places where people can personalise how they look to others e.g. MySpace profiles. We also believed that showing audience is one motivating factor, showing how that audience valued your content is a much stronger motivating factor.
There is certainly a downside to providing Personal Analytics. People may not value your content, and the negative feedback may be so demoralising, that people stop publishing content altogether. Clearly from a business perspective, there is a huge disincentive to social network sites to provide Personal Analytics. Currently, Facebook and FriendFeed get around this by only providing positive feedback. But I believe that there is an opportunity in also showing the negative feedback. Maybe it is public for all to see, or maybe it is private for the publisher only via a dashboard (similar to taking a colleague aside discreetly and telling them that they have bad breath, or by taking a friend aside and telling them “he’s just not that into you”).