Pushback on Social Media

Mike Phillips on Digg being dead:

The biggest problem with Digg in the past was that unless you devoted serious time to it and knew how to work the system, you had little hope of ever making the front page. The only stories that made the front page were typically those voted up by voting blocs; networks of like-minded individuals attempting to send streams of traffic to each others’ sites no matter the content of the story. And if you didn’t make the front page, the benefits were very little, if any. Now, you still will need to dedicate serious time to the site — only this time you won’t receive near the level of exposure. That is, unless your "friends" vote up your stories at a breakneck pace. Which, for all intents and purposes, puts us right back where we started with Digg. In other words, there’s no innovation here and the real value proposition of Digg hasn’t changed, it’s just become more labor intensive.

In the soon-to-be end, Digg will become known as the first network to die from social fatigue. Facebook and Twitter are booming, LinkedIn is holding steady and even MySpace seems to have settled into a niche. But Digg is in a deadly, unrecoverable tail spin. The fact is, people — real people — are beginning to tire. Submit this, upload that, vote on this, "like" that, be my "friend", check in here, suggest this, retweet that … there’s already so much to do. The only thing left to "Digg" is a grave.

Charles Arthur writes a longer article examining why Digg’s web traffic has been going down. Apparently, the axing of the Diggbar and changes in Google’s algorithm had more to do with it than any social filtering trend.

By the way, I had already predicted Digg’s downfall in 2006 and even expressed the opinion that Digg and Gawker Media  was evil. By now of course, Facebook and Twitter are out-meta-ing everybody.

Joanne McNeil says that Facebook is the new AOL:

when I heard about the “poke” feature that did it for me. It indicated the creators just weren’t serious about making something that could be more than a place for goofing around in a perplexingly formal way. “Poke” is the dumbest and worst feature ever invented for a social network. Even worse than that “suggest a match” thing on Friendster back in the dark ages (I still turn bright red and wince thinking of the time a less than socially savvy pal suggested a match for me with the person I had a crush on at the time.) I don’t really like when people lay out “best practices” for social networking like, “oh, she doesn’t @ reply enough people on Twitter.” And “netiquette” very often neglects the fact that introvert/extrovert classifications also exist in the digital world. But no, there’s never a good time for a poke. (Why stop with the poke? Why not call me and hang up before answering? Why not send me a blank email with no subject? Why not blank @ me?)

…Facebook epitomizes filter failure for me. Yes, there are ways to segment information and keep groups, but there aren’t very good ways to keep worlds from overlapping. Facebook isn’t a more neutral LinkedIn and Myspace. It is the collapse of LinkedIn, Myspace, and a bunch of other networks, while many people want these worlds compartmentalized. I mostly avoid Facebook the same way that I’ll get drinks on a Monday night with colleagues, but not on a Friday or Saturday night. This generation blurs the line between work and play, but there is still a line or else you’re not getting the best out of either.

Now, this is my experience with Facebook. I don’t doubt there’s value to it for lots of people. I like it as a visual rolodex, and if I were a heavy user, I can see the advantage of adding just about everyone you meet at a conference or class as a “friend.” But mainly my use of Facebook is transitionary. I import my contacts to newer, hopefully better social networks as they come along like Foursquare or Quora.

McNeil also talks about how social media collides  with her tendency towards introversion.

I spend a lot of  time on Facebook, mainly as a microblogging platform. That’s right. I’m cheating on this blog by posting a lot of things first on FB. (I eventually catch up though, so you never miss anything on my blog; things just arrive late).

One reason I like Facebook is that acquaintances will actually read the things I post. That is gratifying.  With bloggers you never know if you are being read by anyone (except by other bloggers, and even that audience has been diffusing over time). One reason I started blogging was so I wouldn’t have to clog people’s emails with missives and shareable articles. I wanted the Robert Nagle Show to be a purely optional experience. But with blogging you go to the other extreme.  Friends almost never read my posts except in special cases. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. (People in my age bracket don’t use news aggregators). Or it may be that every blogger overestimates the value of his own postings (and  friends don’t have the heart to break the news to him).  Another  reason has to do with frequency of postings. Nonbloggers don’t have an easy time following infrequent bloggers. I post 2 or 3 times a week normally (if not more). But that is not often enough to make it worthwhile to check here regularly.  It is common for me to completely lose track of certain bloggers for long stretches of time simply because I forget to catch up on their posts in my news reader. . 

With Facebook I get the sense that people actually read my microposts.  About 40% of my microposts are political, but actually, I do it only if I find an unusual news source that nobody is likely to stumble upon. Moreover, I limit myself to maybe one or two microposts on Facebook per day. I’ve been tempted to micropost more often, but I know that  more than that will simply clutter up people’s   friendstreams. The world can take Robert Nagle only in small doses.

Some of my microposts are advocacy-oriented (“Pass a climate change bill”, etc), but I’ve drifted away from those  over time. The main reason is that on facebook you are dealing with acquaintances who don’t share your values. Conflicts occur.  There is nothing more futile or awkward or cumbersome  than trying to have an intelligible discussion on a Facebook thread. An acquaintance of mine who friended me on Facebook posted lots of offensive political comments on my posts.  He did it purely for trollish reasons, but it’s hard to ignore trolls. 

What I like most about Facebook is that you are exposed to people who don’t share your values or curiosities. What things interest them? Perhaps I spend more time online (and find more interesting things in general) than most people. But  having conservative or less-wired friends on my friendfeed give me a glimpse of what kinds of things these people find superficially important.  A few of my conservative friends probably never get a chance to hear about climate change articles. Sure, they probably dismiss everything I micropost about on Facebook (typical eco-liberal hogwash), but at least they are coming in contact with it occasionally. Mission accomplished.

My main complaints with Facebook are not about commercialism or privacy, but the fact that walled gardens can’t be easily  archived. Indeed, that is the point. Facebook has intentionally made it difficult to see items  posted more than a week ago. There is no way you can search old posts, and if you want to view something you or a friend  microposted a few months ago, you have to manually click a lot of hyperlinks to expand your old posts. Facebook (like Twitter) is about conveying ephemera – certain in the knowledge that in a few weeks this ephemera will be gone.

Although this affords a new kind of freedom, it is contrary to the writer’s main mission – to create enduring messages and stories.

Last week I met a meatspace friend  who has been following my microposts pretty closely on FB.  He and I share a lot of interests. He expressed amazement that I had a blog and  2500 posts on it. Even though I micropost fairly often on Facebook, I generally do not link to  my blog (unless there is a special reason – maybe once or twice a month). Generally I am happy keeping those two identities separate. My blog is for writers/intellectuals/geeks. My facebook microposts are for people who are not always wired, who have a family, who just want to share dog photos and snarky remarks.  

Facebook will lose its prominence eventually, but for now I am happy with what it is (and isn’t). It’s conceivable that I could resign from it as a microposter, but I probably would still follow people’s feeds on Facebook – because there is no other way to obtain this content otherwise. 

One final thought. My mother has criticized me on more than one occasion for spending too much time on facebook. I had to laugh. I spend hardly any time on Facebook. Maybe 15 minutes on posting and a little longer clicking on links that interest me.  Perhaps in a later post I could talk about the online activities which eat up my time, but rest assured that Facebook is only a small part of it. 

Postscript: Here’s how to specify that a certain FB friend cannot make a comment on your microposts.  Privacy Settings –> Custom –> Customize Settings. On Things Others Share, select Can Comment on Posts –> Choose the dropdown list –> Custom Edit –> Hide this From and type the name of the individual in the text box. It should prompt you for names. Choose Save Settings. Whew! I didn’t realize it was so complicated!







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