Uses and Abuses of Social Networking

A lot of people are talking about the downfall of Facebook and the need for newer, better social networks. This talk, roughly coincident with the rise of a new social net called ello, has me thinking a lot about how these social networks operate, what we can hope to derive from them, and why so often things go wrong.

Everyone seems to assume that because social networks start out small, and there’s not a lot of money to be made, the founders tend to be idealistic and focused on human-scale goals, such as creating a solid user experience and giving people a compelling virtual environment in which to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.

Then the story goes, with the growth of a user base and monetization of the attention of millions (eventually tens or hundreds of millions) of members, focus shifts from optimizing user experience to maximizing revenue growth. I agree this is true. Part of what went wrong with MySpace and what’s going wrong with Facebook has to do with what I perceive to be management seeing their user base increasingly as a very large data set, rather than human beings.

The more I think about this and look at how things work on Facebook and Twitter and others, though, the more I become convinced that the biggest problem, the greatest factor which causes the deterioration of the user experience on a social network, is us.

You might imagine that we would primarily “follow” or “friend” a person on a social network because we want to interact with that person, be entertained by them, or get to know them. Increasingly, though, people send out friend/follow requests on a wholesale, indiscriminate basis, not looking for what interaction might be had, but instead seeking what they can gain by receiving that person’s attention in return.

On Twitter, the “follow-back” seems to be almost a given for most people. They follow you, not because they want to see what you post in their Twitter feed, but because they expect you will follow them back, and they can then impose their promotional efforts upon you in spam-like fashion.

At the very least, even if they don’t think you’ll see or notice their posts, you’re increasing their “followers” number, which actually seems to be important to many people. I’ve seen self-published writers, or “indie” bands, whose work clearly is not widely-known or “bestselling,” yet they have a number of followers in the tens or hundreds of thousands. There is simply no way to achieve that number of followers, if you’re not a famous person, except by gaming the system. These people either “buy” sham followers from services who sell them, or they mass-follow huge numbers of people with the expectation of receiving an automatic “follow-back.”

On Facebook, the problem is different, because the “one-way” connection is almost unknown. If you send me a friend request and I accept it, then we are BOTH friends. So if someone reaches out to you and sends you what seems like a friendly gesture, seems to say “I want to know you,” the friendly thing would seem to be acceptance. Then you’re friends. The problem is, most people are not sending you friend requests because they want to get to know you. In many cases they’re doing it because they want to promote themselves and want a large audience to receive their message.

The problem of accumulating numbers of followers as on Twitter is less of an issue on Facebook, because personal accounts can’t have more than 5,000 friends. What happens a lot, though, is total strangers sending out lots of friend requests, then as soon as the request is accepted, firing off a request to “like” their page. Again, the transaction feels very much like spam or junk mail, nothing like what a true social interaction is supposed to feel like.

The newest thing is ello, a new, comparatively small and minimal social network. I was an early member there, and during the first week, it felt like such a breath of fresh air. I only had a few “friends” there, but everything that I saw posted in my friends feed was interesting, relevant, funny, or something. Generally, it felt like socializing. We goofed around with ello, posted things, talked about the interface and features. It was so refreshing, I felt tempted to believe that the problem was the system itself, and not the users.

But with the initial success of ello, much publicity has followed. Suddenly there’s an influx of spam type accounts, mass-following everyone in sight. If someone has an account just 8 hours old and is already following 3,000+ people, that’s a fairly good clue that the person didn’t create an account to socialize. They’re finding random lists of people and clicking “friend, friend, friend, friend” all the way down the list, for hours on end.

These people are operating completely in bad faith, hoping the tricks that allowed them to game the system with Twitter and Facebook will apply with ello. In fact, it could be worse, as there’s no 5,000 friend limit. It’s my intention not to follow anybody who can’t approach ello like a true social network, trying to get to know people and communicate with them one on one, rather than just harvesting a huge mailing list to spam their self-promotional bullshit.

This lesson learned through ello is something I’m taking back to Twitter and Facebook. I’ve been going through Twitter and unfollowing several dozen people every day. On Facebook, I’m doing some unfriending, some un-liking, and some un-following. It’s partly my own fault that the experience on these networks has become so unpleasant. My news feed is full of garbage and spam because I have allowed people like that to hook me into their “I’ll follow you, so you follow me” game. That’s a recipe that ends up ruining the whole thing for everyone. From now on, I opt out.

Advertisements

Places Where My Book Reviews Go

I always read a lot. Lately I’ve been writing reviews of almost everything I read, and posting those reviews in several different places. Here’s where they go, in case you’re a reader interested in seeking out other places to read book reviews, a writer whose work I’ve reviewed who wants to see all the places those reviews appear, or an amateur book reviewer looking for places to put your own reviews.

GOODREADS – (Goodreads profile)
In most cases I post the review first to Goodreads. Serious readers and book lovers who don’t know about Goodreads should check it out. It’s a place to see what other people are reading, and many members post reviews, which in some cases are useful. There are lists, suggestions, book groups, all kinds of stuff. Some of it’s good, some of it’s self-promotional and lame (lots of self-published people spamming groups with announcements and sales efforts) but I really like Goodreads.

AMAZON – (My reviews on Amazon)
I crosspost the same reviews to the book’s Amazon product listing, assuming it has one. If you see a review of mine that you like, remember to mark my review “helpful,” which increases Amazon’s ranking of my reviews’ influence. This way my review will be shown more prominently, with other reviews considered helpful. One way you can help influence how the books you like (or don’t like) are perceived is by rating Amazon reviews “helpful” or “not helpful,” which will make them more or less likely to be viewed by other shoppers. I prefer my reviews to be seen by as many people as possible so I like those “helpful” ratings.

BLOG – Livejournal – (griffinwords.livejournal.com)
This began as my main blog, the one I usually told people about, but I’ve gradually evolved to having the same blog entries cross-posted to three blog platforms. More and more, I’m pointing people to my WordPress just because it looks better. That, and Livejournal seems to be a dying community.

BLOG – WordPress – (griffinwords.wordpress.com)
As mentioned above, this has the same entries as my Livejournal, but WordPress looks better and has nicer tools for announcing posts to Facebook and Twitter in a nice, automated way. Increasingly I direct people toward the WordPress blog, and I may eventually narrow it down to just this one blog.

BLOG – Dreamwidth – )griffinwords.dreamwidth.org)
Dreamwidth began as an offshoot of Livejournal, and there was some indication that DW might carry forward some of LJ’s community or “social network lite” benefits. In the old days, the real benefit to LJ was the “friends list” and the centralized way it let you review all your friends’ recent blog entries on one page. Not many people ended up switching over to Dreamwidth, though I suppose it could still happen.

FACEBOOK – (Facebook profile) and TWITTER – (Twitter profile)
I don’t post the reviews themselves here (at least not in full), but links to some of the above do appear. I have fun with these things, make smart-ass little remarks, post pictures, but neither one of them is really built for posting serious or even half-serious writing. Obviously the benefit here is reaching a larger number of people quickly, so I use these for announcements and links to heartier content at the various places above.

I welcome “friends” and “followers,” especially people who share similar interests.

Tidbits better suited for Twitter

I don’t have any one subject I want to focus on here at the moment, but a few things are going on.

My wife is out of town this week, and I’m not with her. This situation is common for lots of married folk, but we almost never travel separately, so it feels weird, and I don’t like it!

Here in Portland we finally broke free of over a month of rotten, lousy un-summer-like weather and for a few weeks now it’s actually been sunny and warm. This would not normally be considered “news,” but this summer at least, the sun coming out has allowed some fun stuff like hiking and trail running and even just lying out in the back yard with a book.

This coming weekend I’ll be traveling to the “Writers Weekend” event in Moclips Washington, which I believe I mentioned here around the time I signed up. (Edit: original post on this event is here) I’ve been reading the stories of other participants and making notes, getting ready. It’s something I’m looking forward to, but this week has been such a strange one (see above story of wife-lessness) that it doesn’t seem quite real. Still, I’ll have more to say about that just before, or during, or after, or maybe some combination thereof.

My own writing has been going well, too. I’ve tried some new things recently, including another effort at a story that can only be called horror. The biggest thing here is that I find the one thing I miss now that I write SF almost exclusively is writing about this world. Not that I’m considering a big shift of emphasis, more like something I’ll dip into a few times per year as a change of pace. I can write all kinds of horror-like or at least horrific stuff within SF, so the only real reason to break off and write a “real world, present day” story is that it’s fun to write about a people and places, for a change, closer to the people and places I see day to day.

Other than that, I’ve pulled back two of my short stories that I had previously been sending around, having decided they weren’t quite up to the standard of my more recent stories. Very often I find that if I’m not careful, my stories default to a sort of introspective, low-energy grasping at poetics and philosophy, short on plot and conflict. I’ve been working to address that in my more recent stories, but sometimes I crack open one of these earlier ones and say “gosh, the first scene doesn’t accomplish anything, the story doesn’t really start until page two or three, and the ending just trails off.” So back to the drawing board with these two (one of them is almost completely reworked with a much more compelling and satisfying turn of events at the end, not a twist, but certainly a kick to the protagonist’s groin, figuratively).

At the moment my “now reading” and “now listening” are Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Dreamcatcher by Stephen King, respectively. I went through a month-long stretch of listening to book-related podcasts rather than actual audiobooks (really enjoyed Jonathan Strahan’s podcasts particularly) but I felt like listening to a good, old-fashioned “grabber” of a story.

Stephen King is great for listening while driving. His voice is so informal and conversational (talking about writer’s voice here, not the speaking voice of the guy reading the audiobook) that it’s like having friends in the car telling me the story.

Forever War is just fantastic as well, though it’s taking me longer than usual as my reading time has been short recently. Technically, I suppose, this is considered Military SF, but it just doesn’t have that feel. It’s much more restrained and literary in feel, like a quiet, regretful cousin of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Really a very fine book, and it makes me want to read more Haldeman though it doesn’t seem people really talk about any of his books other than this and Forever Peace. I’ll have to do some research on this guy. I do know he just won a Grand Master award at the last Nebulas, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice. Of course, Gene Wolfe doesn’t have a Grand Master award, so what the hell?

I’m also starting to re-read Again, Dangerous Visions in little bits. I had forgotten just how much I love Ellison’s introductions and little lead-in essays for each story. Is it just me, or are there more people in this book whose careers never really went anywhere, than there are established writers with significant careers?

It’s fun sometimes to just blog about a few random little tidbits. I suppose I could Twitter this stuff, but for some reason I’m still using Twitter more to quickly check up on a number of people I’m interested in, than for something to broadcast my own particular brand of whatever. In other words, consuming rather than producing, Twitter-wise. At least I’m blogging relatively consistently. Yeah, I know you’re thrilled! More soon.

Rocking the World 140 Characters at a Time

I’m now on Twitter, though not using it too terribly much yet.

twitter.com/mgsoundvisions

Eventually I’ll just post stuff on my blog about Twitter and post stuff on my Twitter about my blog, with occasional digressions into Facebook, MySpace, the Hypnos forum and all the other social network thingies that have ever wasted occupied my time.

Here’s a brief, worthwhile guide to utilization of the Twitter thing, if you’re confused by it or hating it:
A Minimalist’s Guide to Using Twitter Simply, Productively, and Funly. Link goes to Zen Habits.