Ok, enough nostalgia. I give this as background, to explain my own behavior when I started getting involved in social networks. My first thought was to collect as many "friends" as I could, to grow my network quickly and add just about everyone that I had an email address for. Now that I have accumulated a bunch of people on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Plaxo, I have a different strategy.
I want quality rather than quantity. As my networks have grown and they still aren't as large as my college-age daughter (see, it is that underdog feeling again) I have seen the "feed" streams that are produced from all these people just burying me in the details and status updates of their lives. I try to dip into this vast, deep flow of information on a daily basis, but it quickly overwhelms me. I run back to the relative comfort of my email inbox, where at least I can hit the delete key and pare things down to a reasonable single screen of to-do and action items and people that I have to return messages to.
Burger King ran a promotion not too long ago where they asked people to defriend 10 Facebook friends in order to get a coupon for a free burger. They were swamped with thousands of requests, thereby establishing the value of a friend at somewhere around a quarter. That is pretty depressing. I always thought a friend was worth at least a couple of bucks, if not more.
I also want to grow my networks slower, because like anything else on the Internet, I am concerned about customer retention and my networks are my customers. You are the people that will (hopefully soon, puh-lease) pay me money to speak at a conference, write an article or white paper, produce a screencast video, or do some custom product consulting. So I don't want to just spam you with needless updates about what I had for breakfast or insights about my pets or family vacations, although I did get some interesting feedback when I mention the books that I read in my last missive.
So I have gotten pickier about who I add to my various networks. And while I don't want to be as snobby as that Jr. High clique of popular kids, I do think we all need to take a step back and consider what our friending and more importantly defriending policies will be going forward.
Over at Twitter (where my network is still "just" a few hundred followers), there is a lot of activity around third-party apps that will automatically increase your network with all sorts of tricks. This is a bad thing, because those networks become less valuable as their feeds become larger. You will be adding more noise to the signal, and as a result, miss out on the important stuff.
I am still figuring out Twitter, to say the least. But I can tell you that my Twitter activities have saved me a grand total of $140, which is the overdraft fee that Bank of America initially charged me when I deposited a check to the wrong account. Through the miracle of social networks, I was able to tweet my bank, email them the information and get them to call me and correct the problem, and probably keep me as a customer.
Now, I don't have all the answers here. Or even some of them. And I am glad that I don't have to deal with the hyper social strata that are Middle School today. But I can take some small comfort that none of my 20-something children have Twitter accounts, at least not yet.
David Strom is an expert on Internet and networking technologies who was the former editor-in-chief at Network Computing, Tom's Hardware.com, and DigitalLanding.com. He currently writes regularly for PC World, Baseline Magazine, and the New York Times and is also a professional speaker, podcaster and blogs at strominator.com and WebInformant.tv