Tag Archives: social


Wired Magazine recently had an article on the rise of “plogging“.

By their definition, “plogging” is “PLatform blOGGING” – or blogging as part of a network/site/service (DZone, LinkedIn, Medium, Facebook, etc) instead of running your own blog somewhere (WordPress.com, Blogger, self-hosted WordPress, etc).

This seems to be a modern representation of what newspapers, magazines, etc used to be (and still are, to some extent) – a place where you can find your favorite authors all in one place.

There certainly are benefits to this model – but there is also a loss of a sense of personal connection in such a model. As I wrote before, the facebookification of society has some pros and cons. One of those cons is that companies increasingly (and now, apparently, writers) are branding on the platform/network instead of via their own site and service.

The instant network aspect of “plogging” has appeal – otherwise why would Sett exist? Or Stumbleupon? Or any of myriad other networking sites and services.

Heck, remember back in the Good Ole Days when you had link sharing and webrings?

This also plays into the walled garden effect that AOL had 20 years ago: as I wrote yesterday, Facebook is merely the new AOL. Writing in an established (or establishing) network makes a great deal of sense – an “instant” audience, the “rising tide” effect, etc.

But it also means you are bound, for better or worse, to the rules and regulations, guidelines and gaffes of the site/service you decide to write on and with. Community building is hard. Administering built communities is hard. And it doesn’t get any easier by deciding to go all-in with a “platform”. (It may not be any harder, either – but it’s not quantitatively eased by any stretch.)

Forum tools have been around since the dawn of time. And every one has had its rules. From the Areopagus to Stack Overflow, synagogues to the Supreme Court, every community has its rules. Rules which you may either choose to abide by, petition to change, or ignore (to your “detriment”, at least in the context of continuing to participate in said community).

I guess it’s like they say, “what’s new is old again”.

“like” problems: social ‘voting’ is a bad idea

The news story making the rounds about Facebook the past few days indicates they’re working on a kind of “dislike” button.

The problem with the Facebook “like” button is the same problem Google has with Google+ and their “+1” button: it doesn’t tell you anything meaningful.

Voting on Reddit doesn’t really convey much meaning, either.

Stack Overflow tries to address this with its up/down voting and being able to see the gestalt votes as a ratio (if your rep is high enough (an admittedly low bar, but still a bar, and an aspect of the gamification of Stack Oveflow)). But that doesn’t really cut it, either.

The problem with online “voting” (or “liking”, or “plussing”, etc) is that it is a dimensionless data point.

Does getting 300 “likes” on a post make it “good”? Does it reflect on its quality in any way? How about getting nearly 400 upvotes (and only a handful of downvotes) on a question about MySQL (along with 100+ “favorites”) mean the question is good? Does it show something is popular? Are people clicking the vote mechanism out of peer pressure, because they actually agree, or because they think it needs more visibility? Or something else entirely?

Dimensionless data that gets used as if it has meaning is a problem – one of many problems of social media and web sites in general.

Of course, you will object, quality is a potentially-subjective term – what does “quality” mean, exactly, when talking about a post, website, question, etc? Is it how well-written it is? Is it how long? How funny? How sad?

Take this question I asked on Stack Overflow, “CSS – how to trim text output?” It’s clearly-written, was answered excellently in 2 minutes, and is a “real” problem I had. Yet in the 4.5 years since asking, it’s only gotten 2 votes total (both “up”, but still only two).

Reddit has upvotes and downvotes – and your comment/post score is merely the sum of the ups and downs; below a certain [relative] threshold, you won’t see content unless you ask for it.

One of the biggest problems with all of these systems is that the “score” doesn’t actually tell you anything. An atheist subreddit, for example, will tend to downvote-into-oblivion comments that are theistic in nature (especially from Christians). Quora‘s voting system is highly untransparent – downvotes don’t really seem to mean much, and upvotes are pretty much just for show.

This derives from the fact that these sites use dimensionless data and try to give it a value or meaning outside of what it really is – a number.

What should be shown is the total number of “votes” a given post has gotten – positive negative, reshare, etc – but never combined. A ratio could be displayed, but the sum of the votes is a poor plan.

Facebook, Google+, and others should offer various voting options – “up”, “down”, “disagree”, “agree”, “share”, and possibly others – some of which may be mutually-exclusive (you cannot upvote and downvote the same thing), but you might downvote something you agree with (or upvote something you disagree with) just because of how it is written/presented, etc.

And the total of each type of click should be shown – show me 10,000 people disagreed with what I said, 15,000 agreed; 20,000 upvoted, and 30,000 downvoted; 12,000 reshared it (with, or without, comment).

Using voting as a means of hiding things (and trying to prevent others from seeing them) can be somewhat akin to online bullying – revenge voting has its problems; as does blindly upvoting anything a particular person says/does. Which is why assigning (and then displaying) dimensionless data anything more than a count is dangerous.

the loss of the shared social experience

On a recent trip I met up with an old friend and his wife for dinner. As conversation progressed, I mentioned my wife and I have been watching M*A*S*H on Netflix. Waxing nostalgic for a moment, he told me that his parents let him stay up to watch the series finale in 1983.

And then he said something that I found fascinating: “you know, there’s nothing like that today – there’s no shared social experience you can expect to talk about the next day with your coworkers, friends, etc.”

And it’s true – sure, there are local shared experiences (NCAA games, etc), but there is nothing in today’s society that brings us all to the same place (even separately) like TV did in the pre-streaming and -DVR era.

There used to be top-rated programs that you could reasonably expect that a high percentage of your coworkers watched (M*A*S*H, The Cosby Show, ER, Friends, Cheers, All in the Family, Family Matters, etc). There still are highly-rated programs – but they’re very very different from what they used to be. Some of this, of course, comes from the rise of cable networks’ programming efforts (The Sopranos, Mythbusters, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Stargate SG1, The Walking Dead, Switched at Birth, Secret Life of the American Teenager, Outlander, and more). Some of this comes from the efforts of streaming providers (House of Cards, Orange is the new Black, Farmed and Dangerous, etc). And there are still great shows on broadcast TV (Once Upon a time, CSI, Person of Interest, etc). But they’re different than what they used to be.

Not different merely because of better acting (sometimes it’s worse), better writing (same critique applies), better filming (Revolution – I’m looking at you as the antiexample of good filming, and why you got canceled after just two seasons), better marketing, or better special effects.

But mostly they’re different it’s because we, as a culture, have decided we do not want to be tied to an arbitrary time-table dictated to us by the Powers That Be™ at The Networks™. With the rise in un-tie-ability given to consumers, first with VCRs, then VCR+, then TiVo, and now DVRs and streaming options everywhere, even though we’ve been getting bilked on film time (an “hour long” program in the early 80s was 48-49 minutes of screen time, today it’s ~42 minutes – that’s a huge amount of added advertising time) from our programs, we have ways of compressing and massaging our watching to our personal schedules. Can’t be home in time to catch insert-name-of-series-here? No problem! It’ll be on Hulu or Amazon Prime tomorrow, or your DVR will catch it for you. Or it’ll be on Netflix in a few months.

And if you get it on Amazon Prime or Netflix, there’ll be no ads. Hulu may have a few, but they’re still shorter than what was shown on ABC the night before.

It used to be that the Superbowl was a major sporting event at the beginning of each year when the culmination of 17 weeks of regular season play, and a few playoff games, showed us just who was the best football team out there.

No more.

Now the Superbowl is a chance to see new commercials from scores of companies – each of whom has spent millions just to get the ad on TV, let alone film it – and maybe catch a little bit of a game on the side. (Unless you happen to care about the Seattle Seahawks – but I digress.)

Before widespread adoption of TV, the shared social experience would’ve had to have surrounded radio programs (perhaps The Lone Ranger, or Orson Welles’ production of The War of the Worlds).

And prior to widespread radio, what shared social experiences did society (not just little pockets) have? Gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome? The Olympic Games?

Which really means that shared social experiences a la the M*A*S*H finale are an historical aberration – something that came to be less than a century ago, and which lasted less than a century. Something as fleeting as the reign of clipper ships in transport, from a grand historical perspective.

And maybe that’s a Good Thing™ – society being drawn together over common experiences isn’t, necessarily, bad: but is it necessarily good? That’s the question that has been bugging me these last couple weeks – and which probably will for some time to come.

What say you – is it a loss, a gain, or just a fact that these shared social experiences are no more?

apps on the network

{This started as a Disqus reply to Eric’s post. Then I realized blog comments shouldn’t be longer than the original post 🙂 }

The app-on-network concept is fascinating: and one I think I’ve thought about previously, too.

Hypothetically, all “social networks” should have the same connections: yet there’s dozens upon dozens (I use at least 4 – probably more, but I don’t realize it). And some folks push the same content to all of them, while others (including, generally, myself) try to target our shares and such to specific locations (perhaps driving some items to multiple places with tools like IFTTT).

Google’s mistake with Google+ was thinking they needed to “beat” Facebook: that’s not going to happen. As Paul Graham notes:

“If you want to take on a problem as big as the ones I’ve discussed, don’t make a direct frontal attack on it. Don’t say, for example, that you’re going to replace email. If you do that you raise too many expectations…Maybe it’s a bad idea to have really big ambitions initially, because the bigger your ambition, the longer it’s going to take, and the further you project into the future, the more likely you’ll get it wrong…the way to use these big ideas is not to try to identify a precise point in the future and then ask yourself how to get from here to there, like the popular image of a visionary.”

That’s where folks who get called things like The Idea Guy™ go awry: instead of asking questions, you try to come up with ideas – like these 999. And if you can’t/don’t, you think you’ve failed.

Social networks should be places where our actual social interactions can be modeled effectively. Yet they turn into popularity contests. And bitch fests. And rant centers. Since they tend towards the asymmetric end of communication, they become fire-and-forget locales, or places where we feel the incessant need to be right. All the time. (Add services like Klout and Kred, and it gets even worse.)

I would love to see a universal, portable, open network like the one Eric describes. All the applications we think run on social networks (like Farmville) don’t. They run on top of another app which runs on “the network”.

Layers on layers leads to the age-old problem of too many standards, and crazy amounts of abstraction. Peeling-back the layers of the apps atop the network could instead give us the chance to have a singular network where types of connections could be tagged (work, fun, school, family, etc, etc – the aspect of G+ that everyone likes most: “circles”). Then the app takes you to the right subset of your network.

Of course – this all leads to a massive problem: security.

If there is only One True Social Network, we all end up entrusting everything we put there to be “safe”. And while some of still follow the old internet mantra, “if you wouldn’t put it on a billboard, don’t put it on a website,” the vast majority of people – seemingly especially those raised coincident to technology’s ubiquitization – think that if they put it somewhere “safe” (like Facebook), that it should be “private”.

After all, the One True Social Network would also be a social engineer’s or identity thief’s Holy Grail – the subversive access to all  of someone’s personal information would be their nirvana.

And that, I think, is the crux of the matter: regardless of what network (or, to use Eric’s terminology, what app-atop-the-network) we use, privacy, safety, and security are all forefront problems.

Solve THAT, and you solve everything.

Or maybe you just decide privacy/security doesn’t matter, and make it all public.

what viability would a subscription-based social networking service have?

You see stories like this one, and you wonder how Facebook is continuing to make it. So many people I know are either leaving, or reducing their involvement (including myself), that is seems it is destined to be the next MySpace.

Over the past couple years, I have seen companies advertise themselves by giving links like facebook.com/MyCompany. When it’s in addition to you “real” website (MyCompany.com), that’s not a bad thing.

But when it’s the only outlet you give people to interact with you? You’re outsourcing your business to someone else, and hoping they don’t screw you over.

That doesn’t seem to smart to me.

I understand Facebook needs to make money – they are a business, and not a charity (and even if they were the latter, they still need to pay for electricity, engineers, and equipment). But I think that the pure advertising model is not as lucrative as it once was.

Which makes me wonder how successful a subscription-based social network could be: call it something nominal – maybe $10-20 a year, but give users much fuller control over their “experience”: a mashup of MySpace’s crazy customizability, Facebook’s interface, and LinkedIn’s professionalism.

It’s a thought. Anyone want to build one with me?

community building is hard

Establishing and building a community around a common interest is hard.

After exhausting your network of friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc – the only way of getting new folks into the community is to aggressively campaign and advertise to them.

Let’s say you’re a technical user group (like a couple of the ones I’m a part of). And every month you have about 5-7 folks who show up on the Appointed Day™ for the regular meetup. You can either be satisfied on the size of the group, or you can try to grow it.

Growing it, however, is never easy: there are scheduling conflicts, personality clashes, lack of contacts, etc.

What are the best ways – or even just “ways”, ditch the “best” – of growing a community after you have gone through everyone you know?

a week without facebook…

…and a week to go.

Normally, I take about one big break for the book of the face every year – generally when my wife and I take a vacation somewhere 🙂

This year we’re upping the ante: while home – and accessible via SMS, email, Twitter, phone, Google+, etc – I’m on a two week Facebook break. And then, excluding some exceptions for special events and the like, both my wife and I are planning to also forgo Facebook on the weekends.

It’s far far too easy to get hooked on electronics and feel like you HAVE to reply instantly whenever that little iOS leash buzzes or your Android tether dings.

As a side note – I have been exceptionally happy with Buffer for maintaining some regularity of social media postings.