It’s the banal that determines whether social media will succeed in the mainstream, and today I had an experience that I think demonstrates how far away we are from achieving the the ubiquitously useful social media experience we deserve.
Specifically, I got my oil changed.
The epitome of banal, right?
Yeah, except, see, I don’t really know anything about cars (yeah, I’m man enough to admit it… what? What?!), — and so when the Oil Can Henry’s technician suggested that I use synthetic motor oil instead of the conventional stuff I’d been using, I had no idea what to tell him — though the significant price difference definitely put me off.
Within seconds @vark sent me a direct message confirming that they’d received my query and were on the case:
Of course by now the attendant needed an answer — I was there for an oil change after all — and stalling until I got a definitive answer would have just been awkward.
“Sure,” I said, “what the hell.”
Then the responses started rolling in.
The first came from Derek S. on Aardvark 3 minutes later:
I’m far from a car expert, but my experience with my Honda Fit is that Hondas are generally engineered to run on the basics… regular unleaded gas, regular oil, etc. My guess is it’s probably not worth it.
Hmm, okay, that’s basically what I thought too, but it sounds like Derek knows as much about cars as I do.
Then came the first response on Twitter from Kasey Skala:
@chrismessina synthetic is for 75k+
Hmm, well, that’s pretty definitive. Guess I got punk’d.
But then more answers came in. A total of 17 tweets overall:
@chrismessina synthetic costs more, but lasts longer. I always go for it.
@chrismessina For the record, Castrol is 100% owned by BP. Just saying. For the record.
@chrismessina castrol is a bp co
@chrismessina If you go synthetic, keep in mind that time between oil changes can jump up to like 10k+ miles, depending on how you drive.
@chrismessina Started doing 15Kmile synthetic on my 98 Honda. Need to read up more, but think fewer oil changes = less oil used.
@chrismessina Synthetic oil is always a good idea, in my experience. I’ve taken cars to nearly 300K miles with its help.
@chrismessina Only if you wanna keep synthetic for the rest of the time you own the car. Can’t go back and forth.
@chrismessina I’ve heard that’s about the time to do it. Advantage = less frequent oil changes but nary any cost savings in my experience.
@chrismessina I put only synthetic oils in my cars — check your manual you may find you were suppose to be putting that in from the start!
@chrismessina I just looked up your car – every engine that Honda built for it should use synthetic http://bit.ly/aRvtmX
@chrismessina I love Amsoil the most but I’ll use Castrol and Mobile 1 any day — very trust worthy brands
@chrismessina yes, go with synthetic and then only change it once every 5k – 10k miles.
@chrismessina primary benefit of synthetic is if you drive hard or want to go longer on oil changes (e.g. 6-10k).
@chrismessina it’s the only thing I ran in my Mini Cooper S Works Edition (street legal race car)
@chrismessina Mobil 1
@chrismessina Prob too late, but Castrol Syntec is good oil. Good viscocity, temperature range, and zinc. Would use vs conventional.
I’ve captured all the responses here to give you a sense for the variety of answers I received from respondents who were all presumably unaware of each other’s responses.
If you ask me, this is a pretty good range — and is an excellent demonstration of both social search and distributed cognition and illustrates why “social” can’t be solved by an algorithm (this is the stuff that Brynn‘s an expert on).
The reality is that that my social network (including my 22,000+ Twitter followers and extended network through Aardvark) failed me. I probably made a premature decision to switch to synthetic oil — or at best, a decision without sufficient knowledge of the consequences (i.e. that once you switch, you really shouldn’t switch back). It’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything, but this is the kind of experience that I’d expect social networks to be really good at. And it’s not like I didn’t get good answers — they just weren’t there when I needed them.
And it’s all the more funny because I actually tweeted my plans two hours before I left… why didn’t the network anticipate that I might need this kind of information and prepare it in advance? Better yet: why didn’t my car tell me its opinion (I’m half serious — it should be the authority, right?)? Surely the answer I sought was out there in the world some where — why didn’t my network tee this up for me? (And no doubt I’m not the first person to find himself in this situation!)
The network responded, but only after it was too late. So the next time I’m confronted by a question like this, what’s the likelihood that I’ll turn to my network? What if I didn’t work on this stuff for a living?
So far, I’ve received three responses on Fluther, none on Quora, and two on Aardvark. I also posted the full text of my question to Google and Bing but amusingly enough, only my Fluther question came up as a result.
My takeaway? We’ve certainly made progress on the accessibility of social networks in aiding in question answering, but until our networks are able to provide better real-time or anticipatory responses, caveat emptor still applies.
Then again, YMMV.