Thoughts about signal to noise

As we all know, the east coast is dealing with Hurricane Irene. 

And as result, there are a lot of posts on various social networks about the storm (photos, videos, commentary, news, etc). 

It’s dominating various streams I hang out in. 

I’m sure I’m missing some stuff but the great stuff is being retweeted or fav’d and I’m getting it that way. 

This brings up the age old topic: signal-to-nose ratio.

That is, how do we get more signal and less noise. 

I hear from many folks that there is a signal to noise problem in our social streams. I don’t agree for a few reasons.

1. The vast majority of folks don’t follow that many people.

Here are two examples of very active twitter users. My wife @laurensabet checks twitter out every day but as you can see she only follows 50 people. She gets great content from those followers and the stuff they tweet and retweet. She didn’t directly follow a lot of folks tweeting about the hurricane but she followed enough folks that were retweeting some interesting things. 

@benkweller is an active twitter user but only follows 100 people. These folks don’t need less noise – they need more signal. 

I would guess that most people on most social nets don’t follow/friend zillions of folks. They follow a small number. Their feed isn’t noisy. 

2. Often, the biggest complaints about noise are from folks that have decided to friend and follow vast numbers of folks. The post that stands out in my mind is Robert Scoble’s post about Instagram. Here’s the headline:

“I deleted 4,200 I was following on Instagram, it helped there a lot, why not here?”

I’ve got no beef with Robert or how he uses various social stuff. I love that he’s early and embraces new things all the time. But following 4200 people and having a tough time isn’t surprising. So why would someone follow 4200 people?

My guess is that they don’t want to miss out on great content. 

And that’s the heart of the matter. There is so much awesome content being shared on various social networks.

But the key is finding more good stuff or letting that good stuff find you. 

Twitter delivers awesome stuff to you in a few ways. 

  • people/brands you follow and their tweets
  • people that retweet interesting things
  • trending topics
  • the new activity stream which is crazy good
  • and of course Twitter Search

Tumblr delivers amazing stuff thru

  • people & brands you follow
  • people that reblog interesting things
  • Tumblr Tracked tags & Explore
  • Tumblr Radar
  • Tumblr Spotlight

Both of these services are getting better and better as more content flows through their networks. 

The same is true on foursquare. There are many ways to find great content – people you friend, Foursquare Explore and now Foursquare Lists

It all starts with a highly curated list of folks to follow or friend. And then the network starts delivering the goods from there.

I think the opportunity is there and stands in front of us. Give us more great stuff. But that doesn’t mean I want to get rid of the noise. It’s actually not noise. It’s awesome and I love every post, check in and tweet from folks I choose to follow & friend. 

The opportunity isn’t to nuke stuff. It’s bring me more.