For social networks, volume is the enemy of value

In this blog I often talk of the value of information. Information is a valuable asset and companies increasingly place great store in identifying new sources of data about their products and customers.

Individually, we are also quickly assembling a mass of personal information through our social networks. Professionally, the most popular social network is LinkedIn.

When LinkedIn launched a decade ago we enthusiastically started to build our portfolio of contacts. Each contact has a value to us in our career. While that value is intangible it motivates us to maintain the contact as a relationship that enhances our network.

However the volume of our contacts is starting to become overwhelming. In many cases the accepted invitations can be counted in the thousands. Projecting forward a decade, it is easy to see that many of us could be facing a set of contacts in the tens of thousands.

While a list of several hundred people reflected a set of connections that was meaningful in a business context, the accepted invitations that are spilling over are starting to resemble a mailing list more than a premium set of relationships.

The social networks are trying to help by adding data to the mix, enabling us to find out who values our status updates, how our connections are progressing through their careers and who is interested in our profile. However there is an argument that this is perhaps the information equivalent of “quantitative easing”. That is, when we are concerned that the information economy is stalling we publish more information.

The inevitable consequence of quantitative easing is, of course, inflation.

The social network that finds the solution to the inevitable inflation, that is the need to add more information just to maintain a static real value, will have a huge edge over its competitors and perhaps find a new role in the information economy.

Maybe the professional network of the future will allow contacts to degrade and eventually disappear if they are not maintained. It could be that we will augment our relationships with other data about our interactions and hence score their real relevance to us. At the very least we will develop better ways to mutually identify the bonds that have the greatest potential value.

What is most exciting is that the most effective solutions to managing the overwhelming number of contacts that we are accumulating probably haven’t been invented yet. Let’s hope the solutions appear before the networks lose their value through sheer volume.

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About infodrivenbusiness

Robert Hillard is the author of Information-Driven Business, available through John Wiley & Sons. Find out more at www.infodrivenbusiness.com. Robert was an original founder of MIKE2.0 which provides a standard approach for Information and Data Management projects. He has held international consulting leadership roles and provided advice to government and private sector clients around the world. He is a Partner with Deloitte with more than twenty years experience in the discipline, focusing on standardised approaches to Information Management including being one of the first to use XBRL in government regulation and the promotion of information as a business asset rather than a technology problem. Find out more at www.infodrivenbusiness.com. The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely his own.
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One Response to For social networks, volume is the enemy of value

  1. joshtanchel says:

    Rob I think it’s the way people manage the data. LinkedIn allows you to tag contacts into segments which is something I do weekly by tagging all my recent contacts.

    For those that haven’t done this with contacts over 500 or 1000 I agree the data becomes overwhelming. For those that invest in keeping the data updated and segmented it is manageable. New technologies will allow greater analysis which is encouraging.

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