Let’s talk about what interests you

Steven Moffat may not like it, but when every show advertises a hashtag in order to encourage viewers to participate in Twitter discussions during shows then you know that he’s pining for days gone by.

Many shows are ripe for hearty, heat-of-the-moment discussions and it can be as much fun to follow the #masterchef tweets of (say) Mic Wright or Greg Stekelman as it is to watch the programme. Worrying about missing out on the nuanced narrative of such telly isn’t a major issue.

The reality is, whereas once we relished the chance to discuss our favourite shows around the water cooler now we don’t have to wait. Social media commentators are regularly being quoted by the mainstream media and reputations are being made. Book deals or commissions can follow from such popularity.

Even before social media made this process easily accessible, people flocked to online chat rooms to “follow their interests”. And before that there were the bulletin boards. Life was simple, if you could manage to navigate the sign-up process and deal with a 14.4k baud rate and your mum telling you to get off the damn phone.

Twitter and Facebook finally made the rest of us sit up, take notice and take part in the social conversation and we now share squintillions of messages on what we love and hate about every aspect of our daily lives. But I think that maybe we’ve lost a little of the focus which older systems afforded. I first noticed this after we released Super Twario (a mad, fun bit of self-promotion). The vast majority of users were drawn to the app not by the fact that it was a Twitter app, but because it seemed* like it was focussed on gaming. Over the year or so since its release, I have spoken with many of the users and discussed their Twitter stats. It’s quite a revealing story. Many people start using Super Twario following nobody and by having no followers. At first this behaviour puzzled me. Then it worried me. Such people would be visiting an app that was meant to make viewing their Twitter feed that little bit different. It wasn’t designed to be a serious reader but to get something from it, you did need a feed to create the little platforms for our tiny hero to jump upon. Take this away and I think you would be puzzled.

But what it did show, was the role interests (or hobbies) play in social behaviour. People were flocking to something not because of the technology involved or the fact that they knew there was a powerful online meeting room, but because they had an interest.

And they wanted to talk about that interest.

Understanding that made me look at all the people I’d introduced to Twitter and I went back and questioned them. Rigorously. I found I could split them into two camps: power users and casual users. Power users are well catered for in the social media world. Services exist by the bucket which enable them to view millions of feeds, measure interest, analyse influence and send abuse in multiple languages.

But the casual users all reported a period of bewilderment when faced with signing up.

Who did they add to their lists? How did they know who was genuine and who wasn’t? And then, with maybe a dozen or so people in their pocket, how did they focus on what brought them here in the first place: their interests?

Which brought me back to #masterchef and realising, when 1,351 people are all chattering about a dozen different things, that sometimes I wish I’d the time to set up filters for my social feed.

More importantly, it led to a bunch of us sitting down and having a what-if discussion about social media apps.

But more of that tomorrow.


*On a sort of related note: I wish we had the time to develop Super Twario more. We still get calls for it to have this feature or that and there are many ways it could go that would be of benefit to the right brand. Maybe one day we will get a week or two to have a really good look at it again.