I’ve noticed something interesting over the past decade: commitment to social events has plummeted. When I was young, someone would plan a party or event, send out paper invitations, and get responses from people stating whether or not they were coming. It worked wonderfully. The host knew everyone got the invitation and knew how many people to plan for. It also built a sense of excitement for the get-together as people found out who else was going and speculated on what the day may hold for them.
When Evite became the normal way of sending invitations, people treated them the same as paper ones even though there was a new socially-acceptable response called “Maybe.” People responded with either a “Yes” or “No.” One or two people would say “Maybe” because of some other prior commitment that may not have ended in time. What used to be a “No” was now a viable “Maybe.” However, during the years of Evite’s reign, the “Maybe” population grew. More and more people were responding “Maybe,” not because of prior commitments, but because of subjective reasons. People confessed that they didn’t know whether or not something else might pop-up that day or if they would feel like participating the day-of.
Now that Facebook Events has begun to overthrow Evite, people have become accustomed to using “Maybe” more than “Yes”–especially if the event hasn’t reached its tipping point–the point at which an event gains momentum because of size of the “Yeses.” Often, people don’t even respond but use “Remove from my events” instead. Even the “Yes” and “No” responses aren’t certain–they tend to reflect the invitee’s excitement level about the event rather than his commitment to attend. On several occasions, a “Yes” response meant nothing because the invitee never checked her calendar.
Did Evite and Facebook ruin commitment?
I recently heard David Allen’s commentary on Twitter. He’s an experimental user and has some good thoughts on its utility. One thing he said particularly stood out to me as a nice heuristic when determining the bounds of my commitments to others and myself:
Am I going to too many cocktail parties this week? Or should I be going to more cocktail parties this week given what I’m doing?
The answer to those two questions, especially the second one, helps one discern whether or not to even go to cocktail parties…period. If you can’t answer “yes, I should be going to more cocktail parties…but for reasons X and Y, I can’t,” it’s time to reevaluate why you’re even going.
Each time a potential commitment arises, ask “what am I doing in life right now?” If it has changed since the last time you took on such a commitment, reconsider whether or not you should take it on again. If you shouldn’t, don’t.
Awhile back I wrote about the concept of wisdom of crowds. And I referenced a great explanation of the dangers of its extremes. After a bit of thought, I’ve determined that “wisdom of crowds” needs a new name. Or rather, we need to do a better job communicating its uniqueness from other types of group thought. “Mob rule” is a bad thing, and it sounds bad too. “Group think” is also bad, but it doesn’t sound as bad as “mob rule.” Mob rule isn’t wisdom, group think isn’t wisdom, and, quite frankly, we need to realize there is objective wisdom that “the crowd” misses.
Let’s not kid ourselves. A lot of us make unwise decisions every day. Just because there are more of us doesn’t mean we’re suddenly wise.
The wonderful documentary The Truth According to Wikipedia explains the problem behind useless information overload.
Facebook is great, but getting a gazillion Facebook email notifications can be annoying. It should have the option of a daily summary email that consists of all notifications for the day. The user interface would be the same but would also have a little daily summary checkbox option on the notifications settings page for those who want only one Facebook email per day.
I’m blocking Facebook notifications until it’s implemented.
You can join the cause by joining my “Facebook Needs a Daily Summary Email Notification Option” Facebook group.
Update: Today I got my weekly LinkedIn Network Updates email. Somebody’s doing it right.
If you read TechCrunch or any other news site focused on startups, you have noticed that there is a lot going on. However, the majority of the startups mentioned are focused on one of two things: social networking and media (music and video). He is why I wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole:
- There is too much competition. Unless you’re a well-rounded genius, you’re not going to be much different than those competing in the same space with the same ideas.
- Their business models are weak like all the startups that went belly-up in 1999. Most rely on advertising revenue. Although revenue is based on click-throughs instead of impressions, the same ads shown on multiple sites will become noise and people will stop clicking.
- They are based on fads. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook and I love YouTube, but they can be an incredible time sink. The first two or three months I was on FB, I generated a lot of activity, as did my friends. I would have to visit FB at least twice a day to not miss anything. Now I see two to three days worth of activity on the homepage. The novelty of “Josia is eating gummy bears” is wearing off.
So what’s a budding entrepreneur to do? Solve a current consumer or business problem. Find a niche market or monopoly that you can beat at their own game because they’re just too big and bulky and outdated and used to doing things the old way. Create a novel device with BUG. Just don’t do what everyone else is doing because they’re all doing it.
I just bought tickets from Fandango to see a movie with my girlfriend later this week. On the order confirmation screen, I noticed a Facebook-looking message peek its head and then quickly disappear. I whipped-out one of my clever hacking tools and made it appear again:
Yes, I see the “No Thanks” link, but the whole dialog was visible for no more than two seconds. Definitely not enough time for me to read it, process what was going on, and act appropriately.
Instead of defaulting to publishing a story in my Facebook profile, Fandango should default to asking me if it can do such a thing and wait for an explicit confirmation either way. After confirming, then maybe it could play this trick again the next time I buy a ticket without me wondering what just happened.
I’m afraid there are going to be more grievous misuses to come.
Update: this new Facebook feature has been getting a lot of press and backlash. So much so that Facebook has now changed the design from opt-out to opt-in…sort of. See my Google Reader Shared Items (via the right-hand navigation) to follow the story.