How much social media and web 2.0 does the “normal” Internet user really want or need?

Let’s add a few more questions:

  • Does my neighbor really want to know which websites I have been on today?
  • How do you explain to the next guy on the street why any of your hyperconnectivity really matters?
  • Are you possible just giving the vibe that you belong to some digital cult? (be honest!)
  • Are you losing people that were once close to you because you have nothing in common to talk about except the good old times?
  • Do you tend to define yourselves via: # of blog postings, # of followers on Twitter, # of Diggs received, # of friends on Facebook or contacts on Linkedin?

Do any of these questions sound familiar because you are tinkering around with them (and the answers) as well?

Why is social media necessary?
Can you answer that question in a few short sentences that everyone down the street can understand?
You win!

I don’t have a short answer to this therefore you are looking at a longer post. I am surrounded by social media “gurus” and have heard many statements that resonate well with me – but not with the general public.

With our clients am constantly engaged in a conversation that touches the question: “Why does it matter and how is going to affect me or my company?”

It is easy to get a little frustrated with people (clients, friends or even family members) that just “don’t get it”. We have had to do client presentations 3 or 4 times because they are still not sure that they understand everything correctly.

I am surrounded by people in my professional life that don’t question the relevance and importance of our advanced options to connect and share everything we want to with a push of a button or two – pretty much whenever and wherever we are.

We as individuals are quickly changing. But we might not always notice that the perception of others is also changing. We might have been computer experts at one time and now are being moved into the hard-core geek and nerd corner.

What’s happening?
The constant push for more and new ways to interact has made the web much more complex. Things haven’t gotten simpler – even though we might think so. We moved from having a few portals where people would interact and chat to a few dozen and now I could come up with a list of social networking platforms and tools that easily exceeds 500.

This market has been become oversaturated quite a while ago and everyday there is more clutter added.
It is a VERY time-consuming and exhausting exercise to keep track of all this. Sometimes it feels like the more I follow the more pops up left and right and that I am totally overwhelmed.

I feel that the divide between us social media experts and the average computer users is getting bigger at a rather fast pace. The “normal guys” are advancing and learning new things as well but at a much slower pace. They spend maybe 2 hours a day online and we spend 10.

Their time is limited (ours is as well – we just decline to notice that at times). Social networking sometimes becomes a self-fulfilling purpose for us.

The person down the street has slightly different priorities and therefore their online behaviors are also a bit different from mine.

Here are some default questions I face regularly when I step outside my magic circle:

  • Why is this relevant to me? What’s it in it for me?
  • Why do I need a gazillion of online friends?
  • How about my privacy?
  • Why would I share anything online unless I have to?
  • Who has time for all of this?
  • And a big one for corporate clients: What is my ROI on this going to be?

Interesting points. I could hand the book Groundswell to each one of these people because that book lays out the value of social networking much better than I ever could. But guess what? This won’t change people’s minds. It looks like I am stuck.

My days often go like this
The more time I spend online the more time I want to spend online. Until my wife threatens me with a divorce or I am smart enough to read her mind and tell her that I am done for the day (I am never done!).
But that isn’t necessarily true for everyone else – thank god!

Many people have only a limited time available online and try to spend it wisely. They don’t want to visit 20 websites, get account notifications from 25 directions. They want Facebook, MySpace, iGoogle or maybe LinkedIn. One or two social websites are plenty for them. Try to sell them on another network and you really need to have a very strong case.

So what I am facing is that my two worlds are drifting further apart right now. This means we are losing people. The Internet has an outer and an inner circle. That’s always been the case. But I feel the barrier between the circles is getting higher. It is fairly easy to get set up online. But it is a very long road until you end up using Friendfeed to its fullest extend.

Anyone who finds an truly effective way to break down the barrier will have some major impact – not just on the Internet but on our society as a whole.

Even Facebook often shows poor judgment in predicting crowd behavior and could improve their reaching out. I’d put a team of psychologists together – not just hire more software developers.

Add local specialties in foreign markets to the mix and your head is going to explode.

For now I’ll just make a real sincere effort to keep the bond with my non-technical friends alive. I need that reality check once in a while.

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