The myth of “everything” – Responses to my view of Track

My post yesterday – specifically regarding the Great Track Debate – received several responses on Twitter, identi.ca and friendfeed. Many of these – really all of them were positive – but the debate is far from settled.

I learned something very important from one discussion in particular – that there is a myth that permeates the conversation. The myth of “everything”.

This myth is the adherence to two ideas:

  1. That somehow the “fire-hose” (as discussed here) represents the complete information about any given topic – that somehow the “fire-hose” is everything.
    1. At the root of it, this is the idea that everything is attainable.
  2. That – in order to monetize track – having everything is essential. For example, if you are trying to manage your brand you need every reference to it in real-time.
    1. At the root of it, this is the idea that everything is required and valuable.

The reason I refer to these two ideas collectively as the “myth of everything” is because when they are clearly stated and examined they are immediately recognizable as inconsistent with reality.

So let’s take the two ideas one at a time and examine how tenuous their attachment to reality is.

First, that the “fire-hose” represents everything about any given topic. The fire-hose is the sum total of what is said on a given service. In order for that to be everything that service would need to be participated in by everyone. That is a hard enough hurdle to overcome, but there is more – not only would it need to be everyone, it would need to be the only method by which they communicate their thoughts, ideas and feelings.

Even if you were able to combine the fire-hose of every service available – every social networking site, every blog, every micro-blog, every IM service, every news site – you would still be far short of everything.

So the idea that track only becomes valuable when it can capture “everything” is a myth. Everything is unattainable.

Second, that having everything is essential. Let’s suppose we were to allow that somehow everything was achievable. Even if it were would it be required? Would it provide value commensurate with the effort required to collect it?

Let’s evaluate this in terms of brand management. The assumption which underlies this is that it is required to respond in real time to every post which is misleading, false, or damaging. This assumption is flawed – the reality is that it is required to respond to a statistically relevant sample of those posts. You aren’t trying to refute every post – you are trying to move (or keep from moving) the average (or perhaps mean) opinion.

If any company were forced to staff enough positions to actively monitor and respond to every post made about them – they would immediately cease to be profitable. It isn’t scalable, and more importantly it isn’t required.

This holds true equally for politics.

So the idea that track delivers value because having access to everything is required and the primary driver of value is a myth. Everything is neither required nor valuable in real terms.

What the track community should be focused on – again IMHO – is not the fire-hose and the attendant myth of everything, but creating systems which can attain enough trackable scope to provide a statistically relevant sample of the posts in the social media universe.

I understand that, emotionally, it feels good to tap into some perceived “everything” and refute any and all posts that you think are misleading, false, biased, or offensive. But this isn’t about what feels good – at the end of the day it will be about what is effective. And to be effective everything is neither required nor valuable.

These two conclusions – that everything is unattainable and that – even if attained – is neither required nor valuable should allow us to dispense with the “myth of everything” and return to the point of track:

  1. Real-Time Information Discovery
  2. Real-Time Participation