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?
Alexander – along the lines of the BBC post, I have this post “Microblogging Will Marginalize Corporate Email” ( http://bhc3.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/microblogging-will-marginalize-corporate-email/ ). I’m coming at that from the angle of the Innovator’s Dilemma, and the history of lightweight products carving out niches and moving upwards in terms of features and market share.
And just like corporate email, there is a defined revenue model there. Don’t know if you considered the corporate environment, or are only focusing on the consumer web.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not think status updates are totally useless. But I can’t believe that the best we can give users these days is to sit back passively while others interact over our status. Is that the best we can do? If Facebook has become one big status message, then what does that say about the 170Mln people that are “engaging” on it.
I find “web 2.0” thinking mediocre at the very least. Everyone copies the winners, and as a result we are left with people stating that he status message is the most important thing people want to do. I refuse to believe that.
Corporate microblogging will definitely have its place, just as e-mail will (imo) 😉
Alexander I understand your frustration, and just about everything you’ve brought up has been on my mind lately. I do agree with Hutch that there are corporate benefits that you might not be considering. It seems like the new focus of SM is moving in that direction quickly. That still leaves us with this consumer mess, which we are all experiencing. My big concern for twitter as it goes mainstream, (which in my book equates to becoming trendy) is it going to suffer the fate of most other fads. Here today, gone tomorrow. Twitter is going to become a big party line, which will be novel to many at first, but get stale even faster. I like to say, “Mediocrity sucks”, and this is just one reason it does. Everyone wants to make money, but the big dollars that they all want line the pockets of countless millions of customers. The small community, which helped to launch these services, will never be able to shell out enough money to satisfy the greed of investors. I do think that more services should charge a small fee earlier in their growth cycle. It would help good idea’s blossom without having to worry about cash, and help to separate the quality services from all of the garbage that’s out there quicker.
Just to humor you, I saw a girl the other day with over 115,000 followers, and only 15 updates. I’ve never heard of here before this. What’s up with that? She must have been on the recommended follower’s list or a very popular girl. She is only following 15 people too, so I guess they’re not her friends. lol
Michael, I think Twitter could provide users with lots of value. But it is fundamentally and deliberately broken at the moment. The example you provide wiht the 115K followers and 15 tweets says it all. It’s being played, everyone knows it, but because of traffic and eyeballs reasons nothing is done to prevent it. My last 100 or so following requests have been 90% spam and bots imo. I don’t want to deal with that and pretty soon I will end up following no one anymore.
The underlying issue is that the business model prevents Twitter or even Facebook to do the right thing.
great post! i think whats most interesting about fb is the aspect of the value of the service and the # of people you really use it for. the passiveness of the site is mostly for people you could careless about. i do realize there are some values but that totally differs by person.
Noah, sure, eveyone will find different value when using Facebook.
I have to say I’m currently conflicted as to what I feel about status updates and social networks.
On the one hand it is useful to be kept up to date on things. + I am still using Twitter as my main point of contact for new people to find and connect to me online.
But on the other hand I have found that I end up wasting so much time on social networking spaces, and I eventually get bored of them and leave them, meaning I guess I find no real long term value in them. Until the next one comes along and I end up repeating the cycle
I have also massively cut back on anything social network and Twitter over the past few weeks and have found that I’ve had more time to speak to real friends and family offline and have felt much more rewarded by it than briefly conversing with hundreds of pseudofriends I know very little about.
There’s absolutely no substitute for a handful of good quality relationships in this life. Humans aren’t meant to speak to thousands of people on a regular basis, we are more used to close knit (tribal) groups.
In the future, either offline or online, I intend to fully focus on developing more quality relationships than quantity.
@matt, I understand where you are coming from. My experiences are a bit the same. I still see Social networking as play, and my real-life connections as those that really matter. Status updates are nice, but no revolution. And certainly not the spark of great interactions. There is usually no intent in a status update. Intentional sharing is much more powerful and generates better interaction imo.
Intentional sharing via Twitter does exist and I enjoy it more and more by consuming and producing links that are (in my case) relevant for the online publishing community.
Alexander, I resist your view that social networks are different from ‘real life connections’. All the twitter noise does not invalidate, but prove that it is a real conversation going on.
Hugo, I agree that there is intentional sharing. But the bulk isn’t, especially if you break out of the tech balloon and enter the world of non-tech people (check Facebook for examples).
You are free to resist my views on social networks versus real-life connections. I’m glad you think differently and are willing to express that here 😉
It’s my personal view, and everyone will have his/her own view on it. But I know one thing for sure. In the interaction on social networks we aren’t using half of the senses we have when in a real-life conversation. I can express myself in many different ways in real-life with not just words, but also gestures, tone, facial expressions, laughter, etc. I would say things in real-life that I would never say on a social network. The way I would say things can never be captured by a computer screen.
They are different imo. Social networks definitely have their place in life, but they are surrogate interactions and for me they could never provide the same value as seeing someone in real life.
Interesting how you describe social networks as surrogate interactions. They may not be ‘real life’ but they resemble it.
Moreover, models that apply to real life, also apply to social networks, at least for the generation of digital natives.
Rather than attaching moral categories to these developments, we should capitalize/monetize them (which you do with Glubble?).
Hugo, to me they do not resemble real-life interactions (not even close). Example. Having a laugh with a few friends while drinking a beer is quite different from us having a chat via Facebook (we are all alone, staring at computer screens).
I’m not sure what you mean with “moral categories”, but I’m with you when it comes to monetization. My whole beaf with these developments is that they are steered by the wrong business models. I prefer user-centric business model that let users pay for the value they receive. It ensures that the service provider ALWAYS thinks user-driven, instead of network driven. If I do not provide the user enough value, he will simply not pay for my service. It’s the cleanest and most value generating business model for both the user and the service provider.
All I can say is:
“clap – clap – clap – clap”
And this from a “social media marketer”
Alexander, of course you are correct AND they are correct. For so many it is the new inbox, and the data cannot be ignored nor refuted.
But it doesn’t feel like you’re refuting the behavior so much as judging it. And while you explicitly tag this post as a rant, I’ve honestly seen the rant factor on your blog escalate quite a bit over the past 6 months. Your posts used to exude curiosity and positivity, now so often it feels like you’re swimming upstream against the current of mainstream behavior.
Perhaps you need to accept the fact (as I have) that you’re an outlier. The mainstream are going to do what they want, and yes it won’t make sense. But the important thing is that you can do whatever you want too.
You used to promise people on twitter that you’d follow back anyone who followed you. Maybe you still do. While I always wondered “why the hell would he do that”, I never judged you for it.
Social media CAN be just about people you really care about, and clearly the majority of people use it that way. If you used it that way too, maybe you’d feel better about it.
Not sure how to answer this comment. I am certainly taking more of a stand towards certain aspects of the web I personally do not like.
The mainstream web 2.0 business model is such an example. I guess I may be an outlier, not for the sake of it, but because I simply feel/think that way. All I do, and did, on my own blog is think out loud about the things I see and care about. Doing this, helps me form my own view on these matters, and I’m often happy others respond, refute, agree, whatever to it.
About the Twitter thing. I changed it, it now reads “I follow real people. No bots or spam. For anything else look at my blog”. I do not consider myself as a big follower. I have met approx 50-60% of the people I currently follow either in real-life or in a digital way.
On the judging side of things. I tend to be opinionated when it comes to people in the business. I rarely judge or talk about individuals, but I do talk about masses (all marketeers are idiots, it’s true 😉 ). And I sometimes feel a need to counterbalance a certain excitement if I don’t like it.
“Now you can passively put something out there and let people engage with it.”. It may be true, but if that is the best we can give the user, then it sucks. Sorry. We can do much better than that.
Social media should definitely be about people you really care about. That is the way I try to use it, and for that reason I like it. To me it is about interaction.
Thanks for stopping by and holding a mirror up. I’ll try to cheer up a little 😉
Well, if there’s one thing I can count on and appreciate, it’s that your posts are always thoughtful and intellectual.
@Jordan, thank you 🙂
Your use of syndrome suffering looking individuals to prove your point is of bad taste.
Please be inclusive and do not judge people by their appearances.
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