Scale in Community and Social Media: Bigger is not Always Better [en]

In his blog post Defriendization is the future of social networks, that I commented upon in Defriending, Keeping Connections Sustainable and Maybe Superficial, Laurent Haug mentions his previous article Openness is difficult to scale, about how the kind of community involvement that worked for Lift in the early days just did not scale once the conference became more successful. This is a rule we cannot get escape from. Scale changes things. Success is a double-edged sword, because it might bring you into a country where the very thing that made your success is not possible anymore.

Clive Thompson explains this very well when it comes to the number of followers on Twitter, for example, in his Wired piece In Praise of Obscurity. Even if as the person being followed, you don’t really care about the size of the community gathered around you, the people who are part of that community feel its size and their behaviour changes. Bigger is not always better. More people in a community does not make it a better or even more powerful community.

This is one of the reasons it annoys me immensely when people try to measure the value of something by measuring its size. More readers does not mean I’m a better blogger. More friends on Facebook does not mean I’m more popular. More followers on Twitter does not mean I’m more influential.

I think that this is one of the things that has happened to the blogging world (another topic I have simmering for one of these days). Eight-ten years ago, the community was smaller. Having a thousand or so readers a day already meant that you were a big fish. Now, being a big fish means that you’re TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb, publications that for some reason people still insist on calling “blogs”, and we “normal bloggers” do not recognize ourselves anymore in these mega-publications. The “big fish” issue here is not so much that formerly-big-fish bloggers have had the spotlight stolen from them and they resent it (which can also be true, by the way), but more that the ecosystem has completely changed.

The “blog-reading community” has grown hugely in numbers. Ten years ago, one thousand people reading a blog felt special because they were out-of-the-mainstream, they could connect with the author of what they read, and maybe they also had their own little blog somewhere. Nowadays, one thousand people reading a blog are just one thousand people doing the mainstream thing online people do: reading blogs and the like. The sense of specialness has left the blogosphere.

If you want to keep on reading, I comment upon another of the links Laurent mentions in Log-Out Day: Victims of Technology, or a Chance to Grow?

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Defriending, Keeping Connections Sustainable and Maybe Superficial [en]

Yesterday I read Laurent Haug‘s post Defriendization is the future of social networks. (Laurent organizes the Lift conference, next month in Geneva — are you going? Here’s why you should.) I’m not sure I’m with Laurent about defriending. I guess I’m more of an advocate of being lazy about friending. That’s why I have 200+ people waiting in friend request purgatory on Facebook.

It is true, however, that with an online social network, you keep on dragging your past connections with you unless you defriend. In offline life, connections loosen with time, you stop seeing people, stop calling, stop writing, lose track of where they live… and connect again on Facebook. We have two movements here:

  • the fact that people tend to drift out of each other’s lives, and online social networks do not really have a way to reflect that
  • the fact that in a way, we like “collecting” our contacts, even if they’re not active anymore, as a way of making present or tangible some part of our past lives.

Sometimes, reconnecting with people who have drifted out of your life can be a great thing. I think that’s because in many cases, there is no real reason (like conflict, for example) for having drifted apart. It’s more a combination of circumstances and the absence of a strong incentive to not let the relationship dissolve.

I think that one of the obsessions with defriending has to do with having excessively high expectations about what one owes one’s connections. One of my keys to social media survival is “you can’t read everything”, which as far as relationships go translates to “you can’t have an active relationship with all your connections”.

It sucks, I know. I do believe that there is a psychological limit to the number of people we can handle in our lives (cf. Dunbar’s number). I also believe that social media, in a way, allows us to cheat with this — but it’s only cheating. It makes it easier to keep loose ties alive, and reactivate old relationships, but it doesn’t fundamentally change how many people in our lives we can really care about on a regular basis.

If you try to keep your online social network connections as meaningful as “regular friendships”, you can only fail.

I think this is part of the explanation of what I’d like to call “social media burnout” and that we’re seeing popping up all over the place. The links I’ve collected in relation to this theme are of high-profile social media people, but this happens to “normal” people too. They go wild about Facebook for a few months or a year, and then drop it all because they got sucked into it too much. Now, the people I’ve linked to above are not doing the “all-or-nothing” thing, and they might very well not be properly burned out, but they have in common that at some point, they have realised that their social media “life” was not sustainable as is. This happens outside social media too — but I think there is something specific to social media here, in the way that it dramatically lowers the energy necessary to establish and maintain connections.

Though one must never forget that the people at the end of our social media connections are real people, we must also acknowledge that it does not automatically entitle them to a deep, meaningful relationship with us. It’s OK to keep things superficial. It’s necessary, or your brain will fry.

Coming back to Laurent’s article, he points to three links that I would like to comment upon, in my typical rambly and disjointed blogging style ;-). I initially wrote a huge long post, and then decided to chop it up. Keep reading (after the lunch break):

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How Do You Personally Define or Explain "Web 2.0"? [en]

On Tuesday I’m giving an introductory keynote at the next GRI theme day here in Lausanne. I’ll be setting the stage for the day by clarifying what “web 2.0” is and is not, where it comes from, how it’s used (and abused). I’m doing quite a bit of research to get my facts straight (and they’re starting to look pretty starched by now) and I thought I’d ask you, readers (or not) of this blog, to contribute a little to my research by answering the following question in the comments:

How do you personally define “web 2.0”? Today, in 2010, what is the meaning of “web 2.0” (the expression) for you, in a few sentences? If somebody asks you what it is, how do you explain (simply)?

I can read the Wikipedia page and the history of the term, and see how various people use it. But what I’m interested in here is the way you use it. Beyond all official definitions, what does “web 2.0” mean when people actually speak the words or write them?

So, thanks a lot if you can take a minute or two to write down what it means to you here in the comments.

It would also help me contextualise if you could add a little info about your background: I’m interested in knowing if you’re a social media professional, or power user, or “just a user”, and also if you were online doing things like blogging before 2004.

Update: I’m not looking for the definition of “web 2.0”. I know how I understand it and use it (or don’t use it). I’m interested in seeing how various people have various ways of explaining something that is often pretty fuzzy, complex, and overused. It’s not about “good” or “bad” ways of saying what it is, it’s about collecting a variety of definitions which will show how multifaceted and ambiguous “web 2.0” can be.

Update 2: If you’re feeling a bit self-conscious about going public with this, you may use this form instead of the comments!

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Liking, Favoriting, Reblogging and Retweeting [en]

[fr] J'ai tendance à trouver que "like/reblog" (Tumblr) et "favorite/retweet" (Twitter) font un peu double emploi. Pas vous? Comment vous gérez ça?

I’m increasingly bothered by what I perceive as a kind of “double emploi” of “liking” vs. “re-ing” features. On Twitter, for example, you can favorite a tweet (see my favorites here) or retweet it (it ends up in your stream for your followers). On Tumblr, same thing: you can “like” posts (that seems to happen privately, though, I can’t find a public page collecting all my “likes”) or reblog them.

So, yes, there are slight differences in functionality. But overall, a pretty big overlap. Should I reblog or retweet something without favoriting or liking it first? I honestly tend to reblog and retweet and neglect the liking and favoriting (though now I’ve decided to feed my Twitter favorites into Digital Crumble, I’m favoriting too on Twitter).

I’d be interested to hear how others manage their likes, favorites, retweets and re-thingies. I expect I’m not the only one with overlap issues here.

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Content Curation: Why I'm Not Your Target Audience [en]

[fr] Je suis trop efficace avec un moteur de recherche pour être très emballée par les divers outils qui visent à organiser la masse de contenu à disposition sur le web, en temps réel ou non.

In Paris, I had a sudden flash of insight (during a conversation with somebody, as often). Most services designed to help with content curation don’t immediately appeal to me because I’m not their target audience: I’m too good at using search.

I was trying to figure out why, although I liked the idea behind PearlTrees and SmallRivers (I tried them out both briefly), part of me kept thinking they weren’t really adding anything that we couldn’t already do. Well, maybe not that exactly, but I couldn’t really see the point. For example: “PearlTrees, it’s just bookmarking with pretty visual and social stuff, right?” or “SmallRivers, we already have hyperlinks, don’t we?” — I know this is unfair to both services, and they go beyond that, but somehow, for me, it just didn’t seem worth the effort.

And that’s the key bit: not worth the effort. When I need to find something I’ve seen before, I search for it. I understand how a search engine works (well, way more than your average user, let’s say) and am pretty good at using it. I gave up using bookmarks years ago (today, I barely use delicious anymore — just look at my posting frequency there). I stick things in Evernote and Tumblr because I can search for them easily afterwards. I don’t file my e-mail, or even tag it very well in gmail — I just search when I need a mail. I don’t organize files much on my hard drive either, save for some big drawers like “client xyz”, business, personal, admin — and those are horribly messy.

I search for stuff. And to be honest, now that I’ve discovered Google Web History, I’m not sure what else I could ever ask for. It embodies an old old fantasy of mine: being able to restrict a fulltext search to pages I’ve visited in a certain timeframe. “Damn, where did I put this?” becomes a non-issue when you can use Google search over a subset of the web which contains all the pages you’ve ever loaded up in your browser. (Yeah, privacy issues, certainly.)

What about the social dimension of these curation tools? Well, I’m a blogger. I blog. When I want to share, I put stuff in my blog, or Tumblr. I’m actually starting to like PearlTrees for that, because it is a nice way of collecting and ordering links — but really, I’m not the kind of person who has a lot of patience for that kind of activity. Some people spend time keeping their bookmarks, e-mails, or files in order. I don’t — there are way too many more interesting things for me to spend my time on. So I keep things in a mess, and when I need something out of them, I search.

I think I’m just not a content curator, aside from my low-energy activities like tweeting, tumblring, and blogging.

It doesn’t mean there is no need for content curation, of the live stream or more perennial content like “proper” web pages. But just like some people are bloggers and some aren’t, I think some people are curators and some aren’t.

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Conversation in Comments vs. Conversation in Twitter [en]

[fr] Twitter n'est pas en train de tuer les conversations dans les commentaires des blogs. Le bavardage s'est déplacé dans Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook -- mais quand certains disent que la conversation y est meilleure, ils ignorent le fait qu'il y a plusieurs sortes de conversation.

Hey, another “vs.” post! It must be because I get tired quickly of people comparing apples and oranges, and saying that we’re not going to eat apples anymore because we now have oranges.

A good year and a half ago there was some talk around the fact that the conversation had moved out of blogs and into Twitter and Friendfeed.

That’s not quite true: some of the conversation has moved from blog comments into the stream. The chatter, mainly.

Just like, when comments first started appearing on weblogs (remember those times, folks?) — well, some of the conversation that was happening from blog post to blog post moved into the comments.

But there was already conversation. Blogs without comments are still blogs.

So, what has happened? The more immediate, chat-like conversation has indeed moved out of blog comments and into Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed-like services. The short one-liners. But the real value-adding comments, those that make the conversation meaningful, those that actually discuss in depth what the blogger wrote, or contribute something beyond “great post” or “load of horseshit” — those are still there in our blog comments.

I see a parallel here with the distinction I make between live-tweeting and live-blogging. I’m not anti-Twitter or anti-anything: I love Twitter, and use it for more than my fair share of chatter. But the chatter of today most often has lost its appeal tomorrow, and will not take the place of deep conversation that one can catch up with even once it has gone cold.

This, by the way, is also the root of my dislike of threaded conversations on blogs.

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Interaction Space [en]

[fr] Ce qui compte, c'est qui est dans notre "espace d'interaction", autrefois délimité par l'espace physique autour de nous. Il n'y a rien de mal à attendre le bus au téléphone avec un ami plutôt qu'en échangeant des mondanités pataudes avec les inconnus qui se trouvent à l'arrêt.

At the bus stop, I’m listening to music on my iPhone and the two other women waiting are talking on the phone, smiling, but not to each other. That’s when I understand: what’s important is who is in your “can interact” space, not who is in your physical space.

Physical co-presence used to be important because it defined who you could interact with. That is not true anymore: your interaction space is not limited to your physical space.

There’s nothing bad about being on the phone with a friend rather than exchanging awkward mundanities with strangers at the bus stop.

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Live-Blogging vs. Live-Tweeting at Conferences [en]

[fr] Live-tweeter une conférence, c'est l'équivalent d'être actif dans le backchannel IRC de la belle époque des conférences de blogs. Il n'y a rien de mal à ça, mais il ne faut pas confondre ça avec le live-blogging: en effet, passés quelques jours, semaines, mois ou même années, qui va replonger son nez dans le fouillis des tweets ou des logs IRC de telle ou telle journée? Comparez ça avec un article sur un blog, qui sera lu, relu, et encore relu -- qui conserve donc sa valeur une fois que l'excitation du temps réel est passée.

One of the things bloggers brought with them when they started attending conferences is live coverage. Unlike the traditional press, which would provide you with a summary of the proceedings the next day, bloggers would be madly photographing, taking notes, uploading, and hitting publish in the minutes following the end of a presentation.

Live-blogging was born.

(For my personal history with it, see my BlogTalk 2.0 posts (2004) about collaborative note-taking using SubEthaEdit and a wiki, and my notes of LIFT06 (2006). Real proper live-blogging had to wait until LIFT’07 and Martin Roell’s workshop on getting started with consulting (2007), however.)

Then Twitter showed up, and everybody started a-tweeting, and more particularly live-tweeting during conferences.

But live-tweeting does not replace live-blogging. It replaces the IRC backchannel, allowing people to comment on what is going on as it happens, and letting people who are not physically present take part in the fun.

(I’m not going to talk about backchannels here: they’re great, but can also have unpleasant consequences in certain situations. A whole series of blog posts could be devoted to them.)

So when bloggers at conferences neglect their blogs and spend all their time live-tweeting, they are in fact fooling around in the backchannel instead of doing what bloggers do, which is produce content which retains value months, sometimes years, after it was published.

Don’t get me wrong: live-tweeting is fine, so is participation in a more traditional IRC-based backchannel. But don’t confuse it with live-blogging.

Tweets of the moment, just like IRC conversations, tend to be great when consumed in real time. But as the days and weeks go by, they become just as pleasant to read as an IRC log. (Understand: not pleasant at all.)

So, dear bloggers, when you’re at a conference to provide coverage, do not forget who you are. Not everybody is a live-blogger, of course, and some produce very valuable writing about an event they attended once they are home and have allowed the dust to settle.

But tweeting does not replace blogging.

Do you think I got my point across, now? 😉

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A Quick Thought on Being Public [en]

[fr] Dans un monde où l'on est des personnages de plus en plus publics, s'adressant simultanément à des publics jadis séparés, on peut pour moi soit se réfugier dans la langue de bois pour ne heurter personne, soit se mettre les gens à dos en leur disant en face des choses qu'on aurait auparavant évité qu'ils entendent, soir jouer de l'équilibrisme en privilégiant l'honnêté exprimée d'une manière qui prend soin des sentiments des autres.

In these days of increasingly overlapping publics, I see three ways in which to deal with the fact that we are all becoming — to some extent — public figures, our multiple faces forced to come together as the publics they’re meant for also do:

  • go all tongue-tied and diplomatic, and dumb down your discourse so nobody can take offence or hear something they shouldn’t;
  • be an asshole, by saying things to people’s faces that one normally would keep for behind their backs;
  • walk the fine line of honesty and respect whilst expressing things in a way that cares for others’ feelings.

The third way, clearly, is the most challenging, but probably also the most rewarding from the point of view of personal growth.

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Twitter @Replies Kerfuffle: Not Just About Discovery [en]

[fr] La suppression de son flux Twitter des @replies à destination de personnes que l'on ne suit pas n'est pas un problème uniquement parce qu'elle entrave la découverte de nouvelles personnes. C'est un problème, parce que cela nous prive d'une partie (parfois importante) de ce que partagent sur Twitter ceux que nous suivons.

A day or so after my blog post alerting you to the change in the way Twitter showed you @replies from the people you are following, Twitter broke the silence with a blog post giving more detailed information on the technical reasons why they removed this functionality. (Don’t see a direct cause-and-effect phenomenon here — I’m not that influential, despite what some may believe.)

Though I appreciate their apology about the communication disaster, there are still a few open points as far as I’m concerned:

  • 97% of accounts did not use this functionality: this does not mean that they had chosen not to use it. Had the default setting been “show all @replies”, you can be sure that more than 3% of users would have been viewing all @replies
  • if I follow somebody, why would the default assumption be that I don’t want to see what they write to other people I don’t follow? Here’s what would make sense for me: default setting should be that if you follow somebody, you see all their tweets. Now, to cater for those who get frustrated by half-conversations or chatty followees (hey, you chose to follow them in the first place), allow suppression of “@replies to people I don’t follow” on a per-user basis.
  • the reason I am mad (and others too) about having @replies to people I’m not following stripped out of my stream is that it is depriving me of part of the public tweets of people I chose to follow. If I hadn’t seen @giagia’s tweet responding the @isntit on May 11th, I would have missed out all the fun around the heated “babies at conferences” debate. This isn’t about discovering a new person. This is about keeping up with stuff somebody I’m following (Gia in this case) is tweeting about, and involved in.

So, please, Twitter: don’t assume that all this is about discovering new people. It’s not. Since you removed @replies to people I’m not following from my stream, everything is more quiet, and I’m missing out on important parts of my friends’ lives.

Edit: oh, and while writing this post, I discovered that Twitter search does not go very far back in time. What next? are we going to discover that our oldest tweets have silently been removed from the database, one day?

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