Are Social Networking Experts Going to Eat the Internet?

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Summary: As I see more and more blogs about blogs, more and more tweets about tweeting, and more and more social network experts being self-proclaimed on social-network sites: I can't help but ask, will meta-net eat the Internet?

Monday, 17 May 2010

(20:51:59 CDT)

Are Social Networking Experts Going to Eat the Internet?

Ok, I don't really think that the self-proclaimed social networking experts are really going to eat the Internet, but I do sometimes wonder. It might be more the types of friends I have, and the friends they have, but it does seem to be on the rise. I've followed a few links lately, or friend-of-friend browsed blogs and Twitter profiles and heard variations on the term at least a half dozen times in the past two days, and this is incidentally stumbling around people in a friendly and not altogether widely-cast group. They have their own little pidgin language, too: helping clients to achieve brand success in the new social sphere; dynamically maximizing social potential across cross-network viability; developing coherent social strategies for continuing heavy search dynamics. Et cetera. Buzz word this, buzz word that.

These are people with Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace accounts and a blog and most of their expertise consists of talking to others who also claim to be experts and making sure every profile they have gratuitously points to every other profile. And posting a lot. And linking a lot. And posting links. And linking posts. A lot. We are talking about dozens of status updates a day, maybe multiple blog posts, and a score of tweets; all of which are mostly reposts of comments left on their profile, links to others mentioning them, or reposting of other soc-net folk. If there was an allegory for it, it would be...hmm. Picture a baseball field. And there are trainers. They have not spent years of careful study and schooling with tons of charts and science, they just, you know, play baseball. Or well, rather than actually play baseball, they train in baseball. Or, I guess you should say, they tell others how to train and then gauge feedback. They sit around in a dozen concentric circles (there are hundreds of them in these circles) and shout tips at each other, and they, in term, reshout the tips on down the line and if anyone nods, they point and say "Hey, this one is nodding at what I say" and then they sell pills and tell you to buy their book. The people who are actually training in baseball are not so much told how to play, or how to play better, but are allowed to look in on the trainers training themselves and checking themselves against other trainers. Then, toss in a few buzzwords like "Managing a given strategic swingstyle focus across a dynamic pitchset, with calculated hitbacks used to cross determine future umpire-sourcing."

What you have is a loose confederation of blogs, tumblogs, Facebook profile pages, LinkedIn pages, and Twitter feeds indefinitely cross-linked and set to autopost content on the others and mostly responded to by other people inside of that confederacy. And the whole confederacy is aimed at generating content for non-confederates but this is not really served because, frankly, non-confederates fail to appreciate the nature of the product. Non-confederates do not understand the need for constant rebranding, cross-linking, or cloud-working. Non-confederates do not play the game of tag-tweaking, networking, mentioning, or tracking-back properly. Confederates will talk you up for days, constantly relink and repost what you say, and, thanks to the degree you have done the same for them: generate traffic for you. A non-confederate expects a product out of you. We are in a world where mentions determine your web-cred; and non-confederates will give you a single thanks and a paycheck. Confederates, though, they will cycle you in the same way you cycle them. Back scratching for the sake of future back scratches. Imagine a group of consultants who, rather than sell their services, try and give them away for free in exchange for being talked about incessantly, because they are always trying to monetize the "talked about" into a palpable resource. Not tangible. Not practical. But existent. Only other confederates can generate that sort of link-strength in the potential mention-sphere [am I making up too many buzzwords? This is what an afternoon of reading blogs about blogs and tweets about tweets will do to you...]

I get ranty about it, I know, and I think its mostly the tendency towards buzz-wording things that we already had words for and the weird mix of desperation and elation that many in the circle wear. They are in a field in which a positive attitude and a claim that you are doing well meands you will do well, and there is only a limited time before the world has moved on this mostly vapid strategy stops having any value. It's the Prayer of Jabez and The Secret rolled into one timed stage. If a meta-netter claims his blog is successful, that means he is successful and that means if he mentions you, in exchange for you mentioning him, you will be successful. That irritates me, that and the fact that they could sit down with tons of text about actual market research and demonstrable models but few of them seem to go beyond personal anecdotes and talks about logs versus themes. The real research does exist. People in suits with huge paychecks and powerful computers makes it for companies with net-worths in the let's say mega-blogs. I sometimes have to look them up at the reference desk to share with people. Hard facts, though, are so 1995, am I right?

If they had a price tag and a game plan, maybe it would be ok, but that's the old game. That's pre-Google talk. The bottom-line is no longer the end-game, instead you are looking for momentarily sustained time-sink quotients with a promise of return and a friendly click through count. It's not where your blog is going, it's how people will talk about it when it gets there. A giant spider web of links, personal opinions, advice, and a three-inch deep stack of call signs and portmanteaus. Content is not as important as reaction and all content in such a tight field is reusable; so many use repetitive blog entries with aggressive track-backs and fancy graphics, relink to their older articles and to other articles written by people on their network, or write articles about how earlier articles went over, and tweet a lot. For a field that uses the words "dynamic" and "strategy" more than most of us indefinite articles, they seem really unable to break outside of the same box they started in.

Recently, I did a tweet count of a handful of Twitter feeds with the phrase "Social Network Experts" and similar in their info and found those counted tweeted about 18 times per day on average (some were way higher, but few were way lower). They also regularly had hundreds or even thousands of friends. Imagine the noise their account must be under. If you follow a dozen of them—and keep in mind that they each follow dozens—that's 216 tweets on social-network mastery alone. Not only does that devalue the tweets by the impossibility of reading them all, but it encourages frequent tweeting and regular retweeting and repeating to try and drive up visibility for the few seconds that their words might flow to the top of the stew. No wonder they are rushing to create neologisms and trying to schmooze up to the big-dogs. In their world, information is gone about as soon as you hit send. It must be terrifying.

I guess my beef that sort of thing started about a decade, a little more, ago. In the late-90s, I was doing some design work for local webpages. Nothing too fancy, but practical and to the point. One of which was a website for a community college. I spent hours formatting documents like the catalog and such into web-formats so that it could be posted. Then, right about the time my friend and I got finished, the school went and paid a guy hundreds of dollars to come in for just a few hours, toss out all of my work, most of the functionality of the site, and to make pretty buttons. He also had a long list of meta keywords and page summaries and search engine tricks and the like. Most of what he spouted was absolute bogus, but he dressed his bullshit up in the veneer of oncoming success. Got his money. Left. Not only did his intervention, and advice, lead to things like the site losing its .edu domain name due to timing (it has it back now) but it got rid of 90% of the reason to have a site. What good is a college site that only tells you about the college? Sure, you can look up addresses and phone numbers and see a couple of pictures but you could no longer investigate programs of study, get cross comparisons, or submit feedback. The original site even had a community spot for students to hang out and talk about the school and the area. That was lost, too, in his version.

Keep in mind, though, this was a point in time when web-designers (and all the variations they called themselves) were making in the upper double digits per hour, while honest-to-goodness programmers were often making half that. I believe one of the reason the dot-com bubble popped is because so much of it was based on the fiction that you would always have a mark to purchase your wares. That someone would always consider a five-hundred dollar, three-hour consultation about color schemes the make-or-break issue of the day. About the time we got sophisticated enough to know that HTML was a matter of formatting and that even active content tends to use only a few algorithms that had been published since the early 90s, we realized that this was not some mystical frontier and *poof*, it was gone.

Likewise, I cannot imagine that social networking will be considered mystical and aloof and the new frontier for much longer. Grandmothers and eight year olds can hang, online, how much expertise can it take? Especially when the two biggest pieces of advice are link like mad, post often, and mention others doing the same. In the mean time, signal is getting chewed up into noise, people that should be enjoying themselves online are worrying about brand and market strategies, and companies with deep pockets are buying up data on our friends and paing us fractions of a penny per transaction. Real advice is undermined by reposted positive adages, and actualy strategy is underplayed for rapant who-you-know-isms. It's a brave new sucky world, I suppose.

ok, old man rant mode is now off...

Si Vales, Valeo

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Written by Doug Bolden

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