Steve Fenton

Social media conversations

I have been busy extricating myself from social media over the past few months. I have deleted several accounts and limited others. In all cases, I have ditched the mobile applications. This led me to think, what was I looking for on social media?

The answer lies in what I enjoyed when I first joined Twitter – interesting conversations.

Let’t talk about old school conversations for a moment. You meet up with some friends you used to work with… probably over a coffee. Because you are all doing things differently you have lots of interesting topics to cover. You’ve got a whole spectrum of experiences to talk about and draw on and everyone goes back to work with some new ideas. This is important to all of the organisations represented, because this is one way they can avoid software development process entropy.

Not all of the ideas will work in all of the organisations… that’s a given. What is given is that they are working somewhere in order for them to become the topic of conversation – these are people who trust each other and understand their friends in great detail.

The conversation is fascinating and there is enough shared between the different world views for it to be productive. The absence of aggression and defensiveness – even though ideas will be challenged – means this is a valuable conversation.

When you have conversations like this on social media, it is great – because you are likely to be drawing from an even-more-diverse pool of ideas. That’s what I loved about it early on.

So what changed?

Let’s go back to our coffee shop conversation. Now imagine that the socially awkward stranger sat at the next table doesn’t respect the flow of conversation going on and suddenly starts saying how things were “back in his day”… Then a knock-off movie seller interrupts to try and shift some pirate movies on to you… Then someone sits down in the middle of the group and keeps repeating the same objection to everything being said. If this happened in real life, you’d all leave and you’d think twice before going back to that coffee shop. Just one of these is socially unacceptable, or at least awkward – yet it is the exact way social media works.

You start a discussion with people… it gets interrupted by people with no social skills… the usefulness of the conversation is gone. This is not merely a technological failing, we need to learn a healthy way to talk to people that we don’t actually know online – just like we manage expertly when we meet new people in person.

If social media is to provide healthy conversations, it needs to operate within normal social rules.

Written by Steve Fenton on