Are good times ahead in social media?
Good Time.

Time was once just a clock to me
And life was just a book, a biography
Success was something you just had to be
And I would sell myself unknowingly

And you know that I could have me a million more friends
And all I’d have to lose is my point of view
But I had no idea what a good time would cost
Till last night when I sat and talked with you.

John Prine…. A Good Time

John Prine’s song, A Good Time, is all about the incredible magic that comes from a good conversation. Anticipating over-friending of the world, Prine notices that a meaningful point of view might just be at the opposite end of the popularity spectrum. Great insight comes from great conversation.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this:

It’s really hard to have great conversations in social media. In some cases, like LinkedIn groups, theres a kind of dialog that involves moving the ping pong ball back and forth and around. A really solid topic on ERE (doesn’t it seem like there are fewer of them today?) can really move an idea forward.

But they’re not really conversations. Online dialog resembles conversation in the way that kindergartners play resembles sharing. In the pre-school, kids usually play by themselves together not so much sharing as not infringing on each others’ space. Online dialog tips so easily into heated noise because it doesn’t have all of the aspects of real conversation

While I’ve been sort of whiny about my travel schedule recently, it’s only when I forget about the great conversations that happen on the road. It’s always the unexpected encounter that turns into an exploration of personal history and industry stuff. In the past couple of months, I’ve had really interesting conversations.

They all involve eye contact, close proximity, a willingness to take personal risks, a sense of safeness (trust) and a sort of intimacy that grows over the course of the conversation.

After a routine diet of real conversation, it’s hard to return to flicking 140 character spitballs. (And, oddly enough, the more connection I have in the real world on a given day, the lower my Klout score.) Getting back into the groove of documenting my status seems silly and challenging.

Real conversations happen right now. Social media happens in the past.

My take away from this conference season is that social media is tragically flawed. All that happens in Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter is a detailed examination of the recent past. The liveliness and intimacy of the present moment is completely absent. There is precious little evidence of the future.

If you want to see the present in an online setting, join a collaborative classroom. With video, chat, collaborative white boarding, wikis, link farms and shared mind mapping, the experience is overwhelming and transformative. It is not yet adequately integrated into the social universe (G+ hangouts are a move in the right direction).

As for the future, it’s hard to examine the future without a real conversation as the foundation. Social media can carry the documentation of people’s ideas of the future. It can’t (yet) really help build, direct and shape it in the way that organizations have to to survive.

When things move forward, they are happening in the present and shape the future. When things stand still, it’s generally because they are focused on the past. It’s what lawyers are for. The very best way to avoid risk is to keep the past front and center.

Frankly, I don’t know how to think about this very well yet. What I’m noticing is that very little social technology is actually social. Mostly it’s about the collection and distribution of data. That’s not inherently bad.

It’s just that the present and future have so much more to offer.

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