Social Media Takes a Turn for the ‘Intimate’

The explosion of new platforms and technology behind social media is wonderful and certainly changing the face of our world, but it’s still only a by-product of what’s really taking place beneath the culture’s surface. Yes, what Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Blogger, YouTube and the rest of the hundreds of platforms are telling us, is that we want to connect and share, but connecting and sharing isn’t the bottom line. The big leap in our social instinct boils down to a desire to connect and share meaningfully.

Recent trends taking a closer look at what meaningful really implies, point us toward numbers (smaller) and content (more personal). While big numbers (followings, likes, friends, etc.) seem to imply relevance, popularity, and clout, they also imply a low-degree of intimacy. Millions of followers? Excellent. How many of them will actually receive a personal reply on Twitter? And if your friends’ list were pushing several hundred to 1,000+, would it be strange to call (or receive a call from) more than 30% of them? Chances are, yeah. And you might even be like “Ugh! Why are you calling me? Is this some sort of emergency? Did someone die? Are you trapped under a heavy object with no other recourse but to disturb my life? Text me, bro!” At least this is how Fast Company’s Barathunde Thurston imagines it (and really, it strikes a chord, no?).

The Internet is no longer novel, so neither is “connecting”, but the quality control of connections is. We have the relatively recent emergence of intimate social platforms/tools like smartphone apps “Path” and “Share” as well as e-mail lottery “The ListServe”, and “Quilt”, to speak to the relatively overdue interest in quality interaction.

In case you aren’t familiar, Path helps you to stay connected with up to 150 close friends or family at any given time by encouraging you to share your simple pleasures throughout the day. “Simple pleasures” may include the poetry anthology you’re thumbing through on the metro, the kind of juice you refreshed yourself with at breakfast, the tunes playing on your iPod RIGHT NOW. Again, it’s mobile-focused, and contains a list that caps off at 150 people–these numbers are easy to navigate and attend to and if we’re honest, the highest number of people you’ll find interested in your morning’s orange juice. But that’s the point: connect with those kinds of people, and return an interest in their goings-on. Make it about “sharing” information, not catching the attention of the greatest number of people perusing your news feed.

And speaking of “sharing”, mobile-app “Quilt”, self-described “real-time digital scrapbook built by close family and friends” gives users the chance to create what else but “Quilts”. Quilts are basically moments/memories stitched together by a select group of contributors you control through privacy settings. It’s quite popular among music aficionados as it makes sharing a particular show or album release with fans so much easier, and it’s popular among everyone else for the collaborative process of spreading thoughts/photos/check-ins/special events.

Now “The Listserve” is an altogether different concept in the form of, what else but an e-mail lottery? A few graduate students from NYU posed the question: “What would you say to 1,000,000 people?” and then constructed The Listserve around it. Basically, sign up at by entering your e-mail address. You’ll receive an e-mail a day from a perfect strange somewhere in the world discussing what he/she would say to 1,000,000 people given the opportunity–a Bloody Mary recipe, whimsical facts about bees, the shortcomings of Google Translate, or a personal creed. It may include anything. If your own name is pulled, you have 48-hours to compose your thoughts and send it out to the list, which is now over 20,000 strong. Why does the concept sparkle a bit? Well, it’s supposed to be just that really. A bright spot in an otherwise task-oriented list of e-mails. One of the Listserve creators, Josh Begley, hopes it will “propel personal narrative and blur national boundaries.” And so far, it’s heading there. Cross-cultural dialogue can make an impact via a single e-mail a day, but in overcrowded information vacuums like Twitter? Well, the odds are just less favorable.

The point of each of these platforms is to detach big numbers from assuming big relevance and influence–to give people the chance to really connect and share apart from popularity contests. The strongest connections–which can lead to powerful collaboration and even revolution, in some cases–are those born of intimate connections with the potential for longevity. Intimate social media wants to give these ideals a platform, and thankfully, they’re stepping up.

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