We are fast approaching a point where most normal people do not have any more time that they could spend on social media platforms. But this doesn't mean that we've reached the end of the road for time spent on social. We've only reached the end of the road for time spent dedicated to social.
In the broadcast media business, there are industry accepted numbers that appear absurd to normal people. For example, who spends 5 hours a day watching television? Apparently you do. But that doesn't mean that you spend 5 hours a day on the couch. Rather, it means that the television is on for 5 hours a day, often as background noise or entertainment while you are doing other things such as exercising, folding laundry, cleaning or cooking. The television is no longer a "destination experience" that must be experienced in all of it's attention-dedicated, high def 3D glory. Rather, the television is yet another source of background noise in our lives. It's is our ambient entertainment fix.
Social media is quickly becoming both more than and less than a platform. Social is becoming the ambient thread that connects and joins people, devices, brands, marketers... the world. Ambient connectivity doesn't demand constant attention, it enables pervasive access. Passive socialization through platforms like The Washington Post's social reader are creating designed, passive social data and signal. On-demand social media such as Twitter and the serendipity of location and photo sharing are user initiated in limited bursts of socialization. This is the future of social. We are always connected, we just don't need to waste our attention on it unless we need it, until it decides that there is something we should be seeing (such as Facebook alerts). This is smarter social, this is always on social, this is ambient social.
Humanity has lived parallel lives - one digital and one analog. The two played off of one another, but it was up to the user to invest the time needed in the digital in order to suppliment their analog. In the new ambient-social world, we live the experience what is in front of us. Everything that isn't in front of us is available as needed, and brought to us as appropriate.
We will continue to spend gobs on time on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Google+. The platforms aren't going away and the behavior of social media hasn't reached it's saturation point. Our active attention however, is fast reaching saturation.
The implications for marketers and developers are profound. In the world of ambient connectivity, disaggregated, specialized experiences (reading the news on a newspaper site) must provide social data back to the aggregate platform in order to invite new visitors. In turn, the disaggregated specialized experiences must find ways to integrated the aggregate platform (such as Facebook) back into their experience - utilizing the tools and APIs of the platform, as well as third party enablers such as Wibiya.
Most importantly, brands are going to have to orient themselves around their real place in the universe. Most people simply don't care too much about what marketers have to say, and don't want to be all that plugged into your marketing. Marketers are going to either have to become more entertaining or offers greater digital utility. Because simply being there with customer service and promotions is no longer the price of relevancy.
Implications for Humanity
I was recently at a tweet up where a well known Twitter power-user became board with the people around him and went outside to tweet. We have all seen this in meetings, where the power player in the room ignores the presentation put together for him or her, in order to answer emails on their mobile device. This isn't our future.
This new dynamic is less about disruptive technology that removes us from the present, and more about a new generation of smarter connectivity - one that ultimatly resembles the past before we had ever digitally connected in the first place. This technology doesn't disrupt our lives, and it doesn't demand that we disrupt our lives in order to participate. We aren't going to spend more times looking at screens, rather we are going to get better experiences in the time we spend looking at our screens.
Welcome back to the real world. We've missed you.
This is the world of ambient social connectivity. Because when computers do the reading and the thinking, we are free to get on with our lives.