Self Expression in the echo chamber…

The last generation of big online tech companies empowered people to do offline things in the online world. SHop for books at Amazon, buy crap they didn’t need off of eBay, sell the crap they bought off eBay to someone quickly on Craigslist, finding a date on eHarmoChemiMatchO’Fish. It was actually the golden age of the internet, making people’s lives more efficient in a lot of respects.

The current generation of big online tech companies isn’t doing much offline-to-online. It’s really more about creating places where people can express themselves. And the winners are the ones that can make people feel like someone is actually paying attention to said self-expression. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Quora, TUmblr. They all live and die with the fact that users have something to say, something to convey, something they want to put out there for….SOMEONE….to hear.

Which is why I’m interested as to why none of these companies have found a deep and meaningful way to measure how much YOUR particular signal is cutting through, and to whom. For example, Twitter lets you know who is following you but to my knowledge there is no simple way to tell how many click-thrus a link-including Tweet gets. Nevermind seeing WHO clicked through to read whatever had been declared. Facebook has no meaningful way to measure it either unless you count people “liking” a post. That’s a mechanical requirement – a person clicking a button acknowledging the content. There is no way to know if your Aunt Lulu skimmed/read that you were heading to the library to study this morning. Quora is a little better as people can vote up (or down) content which shows a direct engagement. But not everyone who reads votes, and the voting exists in a binary state (up vote, down vote). Folks can comment on content on each of these sites just as they can on WordPress and in forums everywhere. In other words, the call to action is measured by the reactivity of the person reading the content. Til now that has been enough. Folks have been so glad to have a megaphone to speak through that they haven’t wondered about how much of their signal is cutting through the noise.

But the growing usefulness and ease of having a voice online means that people will continue to seek more advanced and complete forms of validation for what they write and what they say. It won’t be enough to know that 14 people liked the link you posted or that 45 people are following you on Twitter. It will be important to know that they are ENGAGED with what you are saying. It will matter to you that Uncle Leo read your views on the GOP debate and BY GOD HE THINKS YOU ARE CORRECT ABOUT THAT JOHN HUNTSMAN FELLOW! It will matter to you that your Tweet about how awesome Real Steal was caused three friends to go see it. People want this validation in the offline world every day through promotions and pats on the back and simple water-cooler conversations. It’s only about half developed on the internet.

Problem is that all of those people have the same need, like they are all in the same room where everyone is talking, trying to be heard while no one realizes that half of a conversation is listening.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Outside of microchips in the brain or laptops that have eye-tracking movements I’m sort of lost as to where this is all going. But it is most certainly headed that way – the appeal of the internet now is that it gives people a voice. At some point all of those folks busy talking are going to start asking if anyone is really listening.

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