Monday, 6 August 2012

Menshn'd in Despatches

I'd thought about doing a post on Menshn back in June when it launched, but at the time the new social network - created by Louise Mensch - was only available to people living in the U.S.

The network was set up by the (then) Conservative MP, with the aim of filtering out the 'noise' found on Twitter and focussing debate around selected topics. Louise Mensch has now resigned from her seat in Corby and East Northamptonshire to spend more time with her family. Good for her - every woman makes tough choices about parenthood and I wholeheartedly support a woman's decision to bring up her children how she sees fit.

What does concern me, however, is the suggestion raised in this article that she might use this time to work on her new social networking business.

This should be another 'good for her' moment, surely? Women in business - yeehaa! But the problem is, I really don't like the concept of the network. It's based on the premise that there is a lot of 'noise' on Twitter, tweets that Mensch thinks aren't sticking to the point and therefore shouldn't be heard.

Her ideal would be to keep the discussion slick and filter out anything off topic, which (she has been keen to point out) would also create the perfect engaged environment for advertisers and marketers. Sometimes that does seem very tempting. I agree it can be infuriating trying to make a point and that point hitting a wall of spam and trolls.

But surely the point of Twitter is that it's democratic? Everyone has a voice and everyone is free to listen to (or follow) whoever they choose. If you take away the destractions, the random input, the humour, you lose some of the beauty of Twitter and a lot of the character.

There are already a lot of constrained discussion forums on the internet and none of them are as popular as Twitter, possibly because they lack the human factor. It's that very human factor that is keeping the less talented advertisers and marketers at arm's length, because they fear the openness, transparency and freedom of speech that are the common currency of the Twitter crowd.

Just like a clued-up live audience, Tweeters have the capacity to praise the skilful and heckle the inept into submission, getting right to the heart of the matter. If you silence the 'off topic' jibes or the seemingly irrelevant comments, you risk missing something that will take the discussion to a whole new level or alienating a would-be supporter.

Perhaps the answer lies not in focussing the discussion, but focussing the interactions. Giving people more ways to find and follow people and conversations that might interest them. Maybe providing more more ways to avoid those that won't. I wish Mrs. Mensch all the best, but unless she addresses the issues above, I can't really see her network being a rival to Twitter. If it does succeed of course, I'll be sure to Menshn it here ;)

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