I read a number of posts in the last week that seem unrelated but ended up making me think about this social media circus we are in. Unless you are deaf, blind, and have been sitting on a deserted island the past weeks you must have noticed the hype the media are now creating around Twitter. Respectable media like the NY Times are running Twitter stories almost on a daily basis. We now know how it was thought out, that investors think loads of money will be made on search, that they turned down an offer by Facebook, and especially that it is now going mainstream. We’ve had a few terrible accidents and disasters and Twitter users were able to beat “old-media” bringing the news. As a result every respectable reporter now turns to Twitter not only hoping to pick up some early scoops as well, but more importantly look really cool at the same time too. And don’t forget about real-time search on Twitter, the next Google killer (yeah right).
Personally, I think it is a load of crap. Twitter is currently flooded by people and organizations “playing the system”. Twitter has embraced the hailed network effect of web 2.0, and that is also it’s biggest tragedy. Twitter has become an eyeballs game, just like any other service that shows unhealthy growth. Twitter isn’t growing with twitter users, it is flooded with bots and spam playing with the weakness in the system and its management. Sorry , if management wanted, they could get rid of the spam and bot excesses easily. But since they are addicted to web 2.0 growth steroids there is no compelling reason to help users not get harassed by spam and bots. Why? Because removing it would also ensure that Twitter shows less growth than expected. Making the “mainstream” bubble pop. So instead of doing what is right for its users, Twitter not only lets bots and spam free but even plays its own game with handpicked suggested users for you to follow.
Then there was this post by the BBC in which they interview smart people from the industry that claim that social networks are the “new e-mail”. Yes, they did call it e-mail 2.0, because that makes it sound even cooler. Digging into the article we find little treasures like one from the founder of Yammer:
Mr Sacks said: “What people want to do on social network these days is post status updates. We think it’s all people want to do.”
Paul Buchheit is quoted:
“I think it’s a new form of communication; not quite e-mail, more lightweight and more real time, often with little bit of a publishing flavour to it,” said Paul Buchheit, founder of FriendFeed, and the creator and lead developer of GMail, while at Google.
And there is this engineer from Facebook that takes it one step further:
Ari Steinberg, an engineering manager at the firm, told BBC News: “It’s been interesting to see the way people change the way they communicate. “You used to e-mail content to people and you had to choose who you wanted to e-mail it to and you didn’t know if your friends even wanted to see it. “Now you can passively put something out there and let people engage with it.”
Notice how each of them highlights their own service strength in these pearls of wisdom that provide insight into our future. Our online future seems to be driven by status updates and passively watching others interact with that. The growth of Facebook, is unprecedented, but as Ari tells us, it’s mostly about status updates. Research from the Facebook data team suggests that we may have loads of friends on Facebook, we interact with only a few of them. The rest are passive relationships.
I’ve always wondered if my personal experience with Facebook is very different from others. There is the first excitement of joining, getting new (and old) friends. But after a while the excitement wears down and I’m left with a service I can’t get any value from, no matter how hard I try. I can’t explain it any better than this hilarious and ironic article written by Matt Labash in the weekly standard:
One by one, my non-joiner friends have succumbed. As one reluctantly joined the world of “poking” and getting “poked” by people he already talked to, people he had no interest in talking to, or people he didn’t know at all–all conducted under the suspect rubric of “friendship” so that they can look at each other’s photos and write dreary “status updates” on their “walls” (brief squibs about what you are doing at that exact moment, usually with emoticons and inappropriate quotation marks: “Matt Labash is wondering how long to marinate human flesh to get out that ‘gamey taste’ “)–he was almost apologetic about it. Within two days of his birth on Facebook, he said, “I have 198 friends. I have never heard of most of them. This is so dorky, I hate myself for doing it.”
Being a true friend, I didn’t allay his guilt. I told him he was a very sad man, that collecting Facebook friends is the equivalent of being a catlady, collecting numerous Himalayans, which you have neither the time nor the inclination to feed. “You have obviously never been on Facebook,” he said. “It’s so much worse than collecting cats.” By this week, however, he’d lost all ironic distance. When I told him that he now took it all way too seriously, that I liked the old, conflicted him better, and that he should take a hard look at himself, he sloughed me off. He was now just another friend-whore: “I don’t need to look at myself. I have 614 Facebook friends to do the looking for me.”
A new generation is learning that the best the web has brought us is the status update. That friends are measured in terms of quantity, and that interaction can be done passively. We need pokens to connect (my brain just melted by this infantile invention). If that is the future of the web, then you can count me out. I spend the last week without any social media tools and concentrated on real-life relations in both my private and working life. There is no online experience that can remotely match those interactions. We are all sitting behind our screens like a bunch of dressed up monkeys, confusing status updates with real interactions, and failing to see the wonders of life as it passes by. It’s pathetic.
What is the root cause of this idiocy? I firmly believe it has to do with the way business models evolved on the web. When eyeballs, page views, CPM, unique visitors, traffic, and network became more important than individual users we took a wrong turn. We let the web evolve into into a big market place where “Advanced Ads Targeting Features” have become more important than individual value. The web has become a marketing play, instead of a place where we get real value when connecting online.
I’m with 37Signals here who openly wonder why the web lost faith into charging for stuff? Our online future is reduced to a status message and a million marketeers are making plans to exploit that nonsense. I can understand that. Marketeers can’t help it, they are just idiots. But to hear the Web finest entrepreneurs reduce the web’s future to status updates and refer to this as email 2.0 is more than idiocy. It’s mediocre. And it is scary to think that all our creativity, technological progress, and plain smartness has lead to this ultimate achievement of mankind.
It is time to end this madness and start charging people for the value that they get. Sure, you will lose eyeballs, traffic, status and all those other destructive measures the web currently brings us. But you will gain something too. You will get happy customers and you will deliver user value instead of network value. You will have fans instead of statistics. There are plenty of reasons to start today with a user centric, or user-driven business model. The question is, are you brave enough to deal with that possibility?