Here's how to use Facebook to tap into collective intelligence: ask questions.
Scroll through your Facebook newsfeed. What's there? Statements. Opinions. Links to articles and blog posts. Comic strips. Snatches of song lyrics. Youtube clips. Quotes. Pictures. Vague status updates meant to elicit sympathy and concern. A thousand voices, clamouring at once "Me! Me! Pay attention to me!"
Asking a question does the reverse. What do you think? What do you know? Come on in. Tell me something I don't know.
In 1997, internet entrepreneur Josh Harris installed cameras and microphones in every part of his apartment and broadcast his life, twenty-four hours a day. He always had people watching the live stream. If he couldn't remember where he'd left his keys, he'd turn to the nearest camera and ask where they were. He'd get immediate responses on his website. He said it was like having his own Greek chorus.
Facebook has given each of us our own Greek chorus. I can't ask my Facebook friends where my keys are, but I can take something I'm pondering and throw it out there. What are some stories that feature a bad boy with a heart of gold? Which action movies of the last ten years don't have superheroes? Is it okay to use baking powder that's been sitting in the fridge for last six months in a recipe? I've been digging the new albums by Yeasayer, Grizzly Bear and Local Natives - who else might I like?
Not every answer can be found in the public library or on Wikipedia.
I'll ask questions as part of my research for blog posts. Social questions. Mining personal experience from a variety of people. Who's crueller - boys to boys or girls to girls? How do women feel about being read to? How often do guys ask women questions?
Interaction like this has fuelled my curiosity. What a resource, to have instant access to hundreds of people who know stuff I don't!
But I'm adjusting my approach. I used to pose questions in the morning as I'd sit down to do my day's work. Now I'll wait till I'm going off the digital grid for a few hours. Responses popping up yank me out of whatever I'm working on. And steady Facebook posting of any kind can swallow you. It turns into a self-created popularity contest, with no score, no winner and no end.
An important part of developing a healthy relationship with the digital world is knowing when to get away from it. But how do you do that? How do you know when you're spending too much time online? How do you stop yourself from losing your life to the newsfeed and the never-ending succession of links?
Might be something to ask my Facebook friends.