Which approach do you take to managing information overload on the web? Do you unleash the firehose on yourself, subscribing to RSS feeds or relying on content aggregators to keep up with the news? Or do you take small sips from the stream of content, regularly checking a small set of websites to look for updates? It’s a common problem: firehosers dedicate much of their time to finding the golden nugget in the stream, whereas the sippers have given up on hearing everything—they will settle for a subset of the news. In both cases, highly personalized information often misses the recipient, or arrives late.
We’ve been looking at ways to empower another source highly personalized content: our friends, family, and coworkers. They already share web pages with us by e-mail, in person, and on social networks. Social link sharing is often high-quality and personalized: quality is vetted by people you trust, and personalization is implicit when your social network uses its notion of your interests and tastes to forward you links. Social link sharing is not perfect either—we all have that friend that’s filling up our mailbox with e-mails that contain the subject line “Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: puppies,” and our considerate friends sometimes avoid sending us content to avoid being perceived as that person.
Michael and I have been working on a multi-stage project to understand the social processes behind web content sharing and to support those processes by introducing a novel tool called FeedMe to facilitate such sharing. We’ve published our findings in this technical report, and have summarized the results below. Today we’ll be sharing part 1, where we will discuss our initial exploration to understand social link sharing; in the next post, you’ll be hearing about the tool we built based on these findings, and you’ll get a chance to sign up for a public release of FeedMe!
We conducted two surveys encompassing 140 users of Amazon Mechanical Turk, one focusing on what it’s like to receive posts, and the other focusing on what people think about when sharing.
In our receiver surveys, we learned several things:
- E-mail is the dominant link-sharing medium. Receivers cited a lack of time as a reason for why they do not visit content aggregators to find the top web content. Sharers share content through email over all other mechanisms, because it is ubiquitous on the internet, and is a consistent protocol for sending content with anyone. Another interesting tidbit: in addition to being the dominant link-sharing mechanism, e-mail tied regularly visiting one’s favorite websites as the the dominant information-finding mechanism. Few users utilized feed readers, social aggregators, or social networks for links. It turns out that e-mail is not dying in favor of Facebook and Twitter, especially not for the average user.
- Topic Interest Drives Enjoyment. The biggest reasons receivers cited for liking shared content was the relevance and entertainment value of the content. Off-topic shares were off-putting for them. Sharers were conscious of this; relevance and timeliness were their biggest concerns.
- Link Sharing is Burdensome when it is a Repetitive Firehose. Receivers disliked it most when sharers could not rate-limit themselves. One user complained about a sharer who blindly forwards 10-20 e-mails per day.
- Small Audiences are Best. A small recipient list is a good predictor of whether recipients will appreciate the content.
- Friends are the Most Common Target. Sharers share more content with friends than family or co-workers, and their set of receiving friends are a small group that they regularly communicate with.
- Receivers Want Even More. If guaranteed high-quality content, receivers claimed they would like to have more links shared with them.
From active sharers, we learned:
- Sharing Correlates with Seeking. Individuals that identify with spending a large amount of time seeking out web content are also those that identify with sharing a large amount of content, and having their contacts in mind as they read web content.
- Sharing does not Imply Sociality. You might think that sharing activity is guided by how much of a social butterfly you are. Not so. We measured two types of social capital, and neither was able to explain sharing practice.
With this information in mind, we sought out to build a tool to help heavy information seekers share more content. Next week we’ll be sharing FeedMe, the tool we built to address this issue. Until then, feel free to look through our technical report for the detailed results.