Media Perspective: How to make social experiences on the web more intimate
A view from Russell Davies

Media Perspective: How to make social experiences on the web more intimate

One of the things about working in an agency again is that I'm surrounded by people who read Campaign. And some of them, it seems, read this column.

That has not been true for the past few years and, I must admit, I preferred it the old way. Blogging taught me, very clearly, that I don't like feedback. I know I should, but I'm unconfident enough to be horribly destabilised by anything negative and socially awkward enough to be incapable of accepting praise. And I bet I'm not alone.

As millions of people suddenly find their voices publishing on Facebook or Twitter or wherever, lots of them are discovering that they don't really like being that public. They like updates and chatting and sharing with their friends; they just don't want to be part of such a big, public conversation.

The mass media tend to report on Twitter and Facebook (and, back in the day, blogging) as mass media - here's someone who became "famous" via social media, here are some celebs having a spat on Twitter - but, for most people, it's actually quite a small, discrete experience and managing appropriate levels of privacy and control is sometimes quite difficult.

These networks, after all, have mostly grown massively beyond their founders' expectations: they weren't originally designed to cope with billions of people all comfortable with slightly different gradations of privacy or openness.

Which might be one reason why we're seeing a flurry of social tools being launched explicitly with the aim of giving you a smaller, more controlled social experience.

Look, for instance, at Dribbble (yes, it has three Bs), a site described as "show and tell for designers, developers and other creatives". It's a place where designers can show off their work and check out others, but you can't sign up unless you're invited by someone who's already a member.

Their hope is to keep the quality of the material high. It's a similar pattern to the image bookmarking site FFFFound (yes, it has four Fs) - originally inhabited almost entirely by Japanese art directors, it developed a particular aesthetic and a FFFFound invite is still highly prized in some circles.

Or, for ordinary mortals, there's an iPhone photosharing app called Path - founded by ex-Facebook folks, but limited so you can only share with 50 people, presumably your 50 closest "friends". Path was designed with direct reference to the work of the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who has theorised that there's a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships - normally cited as around 150.

Who knows if that's true, but it's an intriguing part of the new reality that we're talking about small numbers like that as well as the big ones of mass media.