I have this niggling hatred of social media I can’t nail down the cause for, and I keep running into clues about why. Chris Brogan just made a post about the almost Lovecraftian abstractness of the web. He’s posted about this kind of thing before, but this I think is the first time I’ve managed to make the lateral jump from something he’s said to anything that means much to me. And this is a big one: real contribution – real growth – is of massive importance to me.
Social media is not always growth.
Facebook, Twitter, Delicious. Retweets, reblogs, social bookmarking, Tumblr. How many of the millions of people that are active in these channels actually build something new with them? There’s an opera being composed by crowdsourcing on Twitter, which is wonderful – but how many of the billions of tweets on record right now are retweets? How much of this is actually new?
As a disclosure, I have three twitter accounts, I’m signed up for Delicious and Tumblr – I have a Tumblelog function on my blog. I’ve been Facebooking for just over a year. All of this is useless, at the end of the day.
I got my first free website on Geocities in the middle nineties. I’ve had numerous Angelfire, Tripod and Freewebs websites, owned a total of almost a dozen TLDs, of which five are currently still active. I got my first blog in 1998 – I’ve been writing consistently for more than eleven years, now, my current entry count on this site alone is just over 1400 at this point, and I’ve cropped a huge amount of infantile drivel from my logs before 2004 that never made the tansition from LiveJournal to my own WordPress installation because they were useless.
Find me ten people on the entire web who have been willing to delete bits of their persona-record because it no longer fit. Please. I promise you they’re more interested in contribution than aggregation. People who add content to places – real, honest content – have a bias toward meaning. Bookmarks are not, of themselves, meaningful.
Are you contributing or are you collecting?
I write. A lot. In February, I’ll be going live with a web novel, which will put more than one thousand new words on the web three to five days a week. That’s what I call contribution; new material, new perspective. Even commenting is perspective, sometimes, adding your own weight to a conversation. I know that Brogan’s point about the fragmentation of the web addresses this – that conversations about real content bleed from WordPress (and it’s associated comment love systems like Disq.us and Intense Debate) through to Twitter and Blogger and any of a few dozen venues. But the venues aren’t what I’m talking about, they aren’t the problem. The retweets are.
Retweets are ripples in a pond. They aren’t the content, they’re just the aftereffects of it, but because it’s so popular, so vogue to retweet and trackback and reblog and bookmark, ect ect ect – it’s too much! And none of it’s any good! Why bother?
I get the attraction. By repeating this content, by acting the part of the ripple, you are taking part. You’re adding the weight of the masses to the threat of the king – but it needs to be treated this way, doesn’t it? Fragmentation is not a problem, but you have to call apples apples. Treat the collection as what it is; a collection. Counting your friends on Facebook or MySpace doesn’t mean you’re popular, it just means you convinced a large number of people not to ignore you. Counting your tweets is worthless unless Twitter places in some method of separating the replies and direct messages from the retweets – how else are we to know which are the rocks and which are their ripples?
Your legion is not your own. You’re not as charismatic as you think. I’ll play the broken record and agree that content is king – because at the end of the day, half a billion ripples will never take the place of even a single rock.