So on Friday, July 1st, I proposed to my FG (former girlfriend, now my fiancee…so weird to say that out loud) and after much hemming and hawing negotiating and thumb wrestling she said yes. Feeling like a rockstar riding the high of finding and locking down (without the need for tranquilizer darts) such a wonderful person with whom to share so much I started thinking: Conversations, thoughts, experiences. The mundane and the exciting. The novel and the old-hat. Our engagement really is about our interest and commitment to stay involved and ENGAGED in each others’ lives. To communicate when chatting is inconvenient. To give a thumbs up in support when one of us is endeavoring. To share each others’ accomplishments with friends in order to point out how much we like the other person. To follow each other into situations with an unspoken agreement to never break ranks. To participate in group activities together. Wait, WTF?
Sharing, thumbs up, chatting, groups…it’s almost like the analog version of the social web. AND THAT, my friends, is funny. We’ve modeled the terminology of online social interactions off of familiar real-world human interactions, needs, and modes of, well, engagement. But the big difference is that when you get engaged (hopefully) you’re doing it in a binary way. You either are or you’re not. Getting engaged is the ultimate commitment to a strong-tie relationship. You take a person with whom you share no genetic material (for Bob’s sake I hope this is the case), and then make them family. Ironic that we use this same word to talk about levels of interaction and participation online.
We live in the era of weak ties and that’s fine (as I talked about here). It’s an era in which we connect digitally to a larger number of people but engage with fewer and fewer of those connections in ANY way (meaningful or other). I demoed with Team SnapGoods at NY Tech Meetup last night and talked about this a bit as it relates to a general malaise that I see in the social web world: because connecting digitally has become such a commodity we have become dangerously underinvested in those connections. They don’t mean much by themselves. Facebook, linkedin, twitter, foursquare, meetup, gowalla, quora, namesake, snapgoods…social connections abound.
It used to mean something if you and I were facebook friends. Now, I’ve been forced to adhere to a social norm of accepting just about any facebook request that isn’t from a gorgeous scantily clad woman who has 1,200 all male friends and whose account suggests that she likes ‘dating an american mans’. But before you reach out to friend me, know that you may wind up on the I DON’T KNOW YOU friend list. For reals. So what’s the point? The point is there is an opportunity in the data. An opportunity to better understand the relationships and behaviors in order to unlock real chances to make your network work for you.
You and I may not know each other well, but we probably initiated a digital connection because of mutual or at worst one-sided interest. However the lack of day to day engagement means you will likely not remember when you come to NYC that you’ve got a hardcore native NYer in your network (that’d be me) who loves nothing more than making trusted recommendations about what to see and where to go in my hometown. #Fail. And I may forget that you work at Amazon in the Strategic Partnerships Group, a company I may be trying to do business with. #doublefail In these cases if you’re not communicating or engaging with some frequency you might as well not have the connections. So what do we do?
Give up and not connect? Spend more time trolling our social networks for opportunities? OR, let the little robots in the cloud do more for us? I realize now that I’ve been thinking about this for months even as I was preparing to fully and completely engage my FG.
And what I think I figured out for myself (others have said this already) is we only have so much room in our lives for meaningful life-altering all-in engagement with other humans. We are not built to have 2,000 close friends. But we can have 2,000 connections with real value in specific instances. If you want 24/7 good times and not-so-great engagement, keep liking people’s birthdays like you do with 80% of your network. If you want lifelong, super intense commitment, find your own person or get a puppy. BUT if “all” you want is to find value in your rapidly growing digital social network, I think you’ll find yourself needing tools that help you uncover that value.
So that’s what we’ve been obsessing about for the past few weeks. Engagement, even as I was contemplating…my own all-or-nothing Engagement. Weird, huh? Check out how the 800 person crowd reacted to our DEMO of Knodes (our solution) at NYTM last night…