I am constantly reminded of just how many people are following one another. Daily I get messages from twitter telling me about someone new who is choosing me to follow along with 4000 other folks. While I don’t doubt that some people could have 4000 contacts, the regularity with which this occurs makes me think that there are more and more people who are living with an immense amount of noise within their network. So much noise that they probably have to tune out almost everyone and they use their network only for brief moments of consumption or creation.
Now, the easy answer to this question is that you can eliminate noise by simply following less people or having fewer “friends”. The brief explanation would include ideas of pruning back your contacts and really focusing on people that actively engage in the kind of thinking or discussion that you would most like to take part in. But, I am not interested in this answer because it doesn’t get at the bigger problem of having too much information to consume and too little time to consume it. What I am looking for are better filters. What I am after is a real way to channel all of the good things going on in my network and make it more usable than just turning on a fire-hose and pointing it directly at my mouth.
PostRank does a good job of saying which RSS feeds to pay attention to as well as which posts to read, Filttr lets you limit the number of tweets to words you want to hear, and things like Nambu and Tweetdeck allow us to create our own just-in-time searches, but the noise still exists. It is still the human process of eliminating waste from our networks.
So, what is the answer? Do we just wait while other people invent ways of pruning or should we remain vigilant and cut back our Reader accounts once a month? No. Instead, we must redefine the noise. We must take a look at the 4000 followers and really think about how it is that the network has changed what it means to “catch up.” The true noise of a network is in the things that actually “seem” important but are not. They are the things that take a lot of time to read and digest but in the end, they lead to no better solutions or ideas. I believe we are getting very good at being the filter for tweets about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So much so that this now only makes up the gentle background hum of the everyday network activity. What we need to take a closer look at are why we are in the network in the first place.
If you are using a network to broadcast your latest blog posts, your noise may come from comments or in tending all of the thing that you “could” write about. If you are using your network to check up on your family, your noise may come from the distractions of of “long lost friends”. If you are using your network to ask questions, your noise may come from the debate rather than the answering of those questions.
Whatever your noise, the only way to eliminate it is to adhere to why you are taking part in the network. Everything else stems from that. I believe that there are too many people who are traveling aimlessly through Facebook and Twitter. They follow and friend so many people because they lack a purpose for being there in the first place. They are there because others are there. So, the filter I am looking for is simply an understanding of purpose. If I stop to ask myself why often enough, I don’t find myself frustrated by the noise, I find it relaxing and invigorating. In fact, I find that I just might need to make some noise of my own.
If my network is a fire-hose, I plan on putting out some fires.