Social’s Missing Feature: Filtered Following

The Sharer’s Circles

When Google+ was announced, the biggest innovation was the ability to separate “friends” into “circles.” The concept being that we want to share different levels of information with different groups of people. The sharer gets more control over her privacy and who views her content. Many hoped this would also mean her followers would get content more specifically tailored to them as an audience.

The social industry and tech bloggers went wild over the concept. Facebook took a dig at it, and then quickly expanded its own friend grouping feature. Then, almost everyone forgot about it, and some went so far as to call them the dumbest feature on the network.

I struggled when creating my circles because I didn’t really have a reason to put people into different circles. These days, almost everything I share on any network is public, so why bother categorizing people? If I’m not okay with the whole world seeing something, I don’t (er, try not to) post it on the internet at all. Privacy is dead, remember?

I don’t think the circles concept is completely wrong, but I do think that it fails to address the larger issues around social sharing on the interwebs.

Sharer vs. Consumer

Let’s back up and talk about the two sides of the content sharing coin: the Sharer and the Consumer. If you are using social media correctly, you fall into both of these categories. You share original content or content you find elsewhere on the web. You also consume content shared by friends, family, trusted sources, and randos.

Circles address the Sharer side of the coin while ignoring the plight of the Consumer.

Our Consumer side has it pretty rough on the web these days. We’re bombarded with content from every imaginable source. Credibility is as indefinable as ever, we’re pressured to know everything the nanosecond it happens, and possibly worst of all, our narcissist Sharer side yearns to contribute our own voice above the rising clamour.

The other side of the equation is that both our Sharer and our Consumer sides have multiple interests.

I’m clearly interested in internet start-ups (or I wouldn’t be running this blog), and Klout has picked up on that, putting it at the top of my influence topic list. Klout also knows that I like to talk about New Orleans. I don’t tweet about either of these things all of the time or even 50% of the time, but but they seem to pick up the most +K’s on my ranked list.

Scrolling further down my Klout topic list you’ll find business, travel, and (ahem) other topics I tend to tweet about regularly. Like most twitter users, I often interject random information, quotes, and the occasional #rant into my tweets.

Random thoughts might be interesting to some of my followers, but many of them may prefer to only see my tweets in their timeline when I’m talking business or startups. This revelation has led some individuals to set up multiple accounts: one for their business persona and another for their personal life.

Having separate accounts dilutes the “real” feeling of a twitter presence and can weaken a personal brand. It also causes annoyances when you follow two accounts run by the same person and they tweet the exact same thing from both accounts simultaneously. I’ve unfollowed more than one account because my timeline was clogged with duplicate tweets. So how can we address the plight of the Consumer?

Filtered Following

What if there was a way to select the person you want to follow, and also drill down the topics you’d like to hear about from her?

Enter Suzie Q. Techie:

Suzie clearly has a lot of interests. I might consider following her because I’m also interested in startups and tech, but that note about Paris Hilton would definitely make me run in the other direction. And Bunnies? Who tweets about Bunnies?

Right now, whether you prefer to peruse content and interact on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or any other mainstream social network you can’t pick and choose what content you see from Suzie. On Facebook you can select arbitrary levels of “importance” to display in your news feed, but what Facebook thinks is important and what you think is important are not guaranteed to even exist in the same universe.

Now, what if Suzie Q.’s profile looked more like this:

or this:

In both of these (really, horrible, awfully designed) mock-ups, there is a slight adjustment in the “Follow” function. You can either click, “Follow All” to get everything Suzie Q., including baked bunnies and and furry Alaska (err…), OR you can click on the individual #hashtags or topic areas to keep your Suzie-feed specific to #startups and #tech.

Suzie could #hashtag her tweets with the appropriate topical tags to feed the filter and/or an algorithm could pick out topics automatically based on content.

I realize this is a much more complicated feature to implement or manage on the back-end than I’m making it out to be, but I find it interesting that no one has attempted it so far.

What do you think, would you prefer to only follow some accounts for specific topics, and have the noise removed? Or is all of the combined noise what makes social media so worthwhile to begin with?