Does SPAM force us to switch messaging technologies?

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Danah Boyd’s site about social network fatigue, or why people switch messaging technologies (in particular social networks) over time. One view is that SPAM eventually overrides every technology, forcing people to move to something else. A commenter, JD, suggested that SPAM killed Usenet, Email, and IM, and […]

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Danah Boyd’s site about social network fatigue, or why people switch messaging technologies (in particular social networks) over time.

One view is that SPAM eventually overrides every technology, forcing people to move to something else. A commenter, JD, suggested that SPAM killed Usenet, Email, and IM, and even domain names (not sure about that one: phishing?). There is certainly merit to this viewpoint…it does seem that as time goes on SPAM just grows and grows…maybe we get tired not only of social networks but also of the signal/noise ratio of quality content on the medium.

I proposed another view, that isn’t necessarily opposed to the first one but isn’t quite as black/white. I think that SPAM does cause fatigue…but actually isn’t powerful enough to get us to switch technologies. I think usability has a lot to do with actual switching. Simply put, we message in the easiest way possible.

In the current situation, social networks and text messaging on mobile phones are primary ways that teenagers message. They don’t use email or IM as much as they used to (of course they still use it). I think the rise in the use of social networks and text messaging stems from them not only being easier and faster, but more contextual. For example, when you sign somebody’s blog on MySpace (or wall in Facebook), the message shows up right where you spend a large part of your day. You don’t have to fire up an email application and “get mail” to check to see if something is there. It’s a crapshoot. In addition, there is no threading or linking that goes on in email. In social networking you can see so much more if you want to…by simply clicking on the avatar of the person who sent the message.

So, what comes after social networks? Well, I think it will be a migration to socially-enabled features within existing applications that we’re already using.

One excellent example of this is Google Calendar, which we’re using pretty happily at UIE. It’s simply a calendar application, just like we’ve had for years with Outlook and iCal, except it’s got great social features. You can easily share calendars with others, as well as “share and edit”, which means you collaborate with others in managing the calendar. I think that this will be the way that most of us get into social networking (if we weren’t already). Some kind of built-in social feature in an application type we already use.

(this just in: new reports [Techcrunch, Hitwise] just out that Google Calendar seems to be growing well)

This conversation has also reminded me of an obvious point that we have to remember about SPAM. Spammers follow the people. If a ton of people are using a certain messaging system, then that’s where the SPAM will be. Even though it seems like there is a steady stream of SPAM, there really isn’t. It’s a whole bunch (or probably only a few) of script kiddies making discrete decisions to actually send it. That’s why you don’t see as much SPAM during off-hours…spammers like to watch Lost, too.

But what actually gets us to change messaging technologies? My guess is context and usability more than SPAM. I say this because I’m using email and IM more than ever…despite the SPAM being sent my way. I don’t yet have a better or easier way to message. When that comes along, I’ll gladly switch.

I don’t know which side is right, but the question is an interesting one. If one side is right, then that potentially says lots about how we design messaging technologies.

Published: January 4th, 2007

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