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13.2 Reasons I don't like Social Media

© February 2008 Anthony Lawrence

I am thoroughly disenchanted with "social media". I actually started feeling this way before I read Getting Creative With Your Content where James Chartrand complained:

I'm disillusioned these days. It takes a lot to get me interested in anything, and as each day passes, I scan more and read less. I don't care.

I've been feeling the same way. I'm fed up with "me too" posts, "Subscribe and get a free..", "Build anticipation", "Increase your social media contacts" and all that.. so many people parroting the same vapid advice. But mostly what is getting under my skin is this whole "Social Media" thing: Digg, Technorati, StumbleUpon, Sphere.. all of it.

Here's why: recently Skellie of skelliewag.com wrote a guest post at ProBlogger entitled How to Write Posts That Set StumbleUpon on Fire. There's nothing wrong with Skellie's post. The suggestions are valid and they would work. I'm not complaining about the post per se: it's just reporting on reality.

The main suggestions are summarized at the end of the post. I'll reproduce them here for your convenience:

(these are from Skellie's post referenced above)

  1. Start using StumbleUpon and voting up content from other blogs and websites in your niche.
  2. Friend those who Stumble your articles and thank them. This will start a dialog that could turn them into a loyal reader of your blog.
  3. Write about SU and encourage readers to add you as a friend.
  4. Swap Stumbles with other bloggers.
  5. Link to your SU profile on your About page.
  6. Befriend active StumbleUpon users and stumble and review some of their content if they have a blog or website. Active users command more traffic and they’re more likely to repay the favor because they’re Stumbling all the time anyway!
  7. Add a Stumble button/link under each of your posts.
  8. Add a Stumble link to your Feedflare (find it in your Feedburner control panel).

Notice this: nothing there implies that the content you bless with your Stumble vote has to be unusually good. Now of course you wouldn't "vote up" pure crap - but you can hardly wait for true excellence, can you? No, you'll vote for "acceptable", anything reasonably not junk.. and you'll expect your mediocre efforts to get the same votes in return..

Don't believe people do this? Do a Google search for "swap stumbles" and "swap diggs".

Point of reference: I've written a little less than 6,000 articles for this site. A handful have attracted attention on StumbleUpon or Digg. A small handful at that. Those posts weren't voted up because somebody owed me tit for tat: these were honest appraisals of value devoid of motive. But it's just a handful, just a very few.

And that's exactly as it should be, right? Nobody hits home runs every time at bat, but in the new world juiced by social media, you can bat 1,000 with the help of your pals.. all it requires is that you help them as they help you.

The system stinketh unto heaven.

I used to use StumbleUpon to find good content. I don't bother any more, because it's now full of ho-hum content. Not "bad" content, but not exceptional. Not good enough for StumbleUpon to remain of interest to me.

Again, please understand that I am NOT saying StumbleUpon or Digg or any of the others are full of junk. I'm simply pointing out that gaming the system as is now common practice produces mediocrity. I also realize the increase in Internet users, the democratization that began around 1995 or so and brought illiterates of all stripes into a world that formerly belonged exclusively to geeks; that growth has quite naturally lowered standards. What I'd consider a very basic and unnecessary "Unix shell" article is apt to be seen as major geekery by a large number of current Netizens. That devaluation is somewhat inevitable, but social media boosts that trend to new heights - or actually new lows, from my point of view.

O Tempora! O Mores! Yes, the grumpy old geek is bitching about how the old days were so much better. Put a cork in it, Gramps..

Ok, fine. But I'm simply stating the truth: these mutual stroking arrangements are not as satisfactory as the real thing: organic linking to valuable and truly interesting content.

That DOESN'T mean there isn't good stuff posted. It doesn't mean there is less good stuff than there used to be. It doesn't mean that somebody with a lot of Stumbled pages doesn't actually have a few gems with in them.

And it doesn't mean that you or Joe P. Blow doesn't think carefully about their votes and promote content that actually is superlative. But it is obvious that a lot of people are trading favors and voting up content that never should be promoted.

That's my opinion, anyway. Please don't Stumble or Digg this post. Seriously - it's not of interest to the social media promoters and will only tick them off. We'll get hundreds of insipid comments from troglodytes who haven't read the actual post and wouldn't understand it if they did.

In fact, as of this minute I'm removing all those "Stumble this" links and others that used to be here. I do not want to be part of any of that nonsense any more.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> Social blogging creates bland popularity


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Thu Feb 14 00:50:38 2008: 3640   TonyLawrence

Before someone asks "Why 13.2?" or points out that there's really only one reason..

Yes. I know.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Tue Feb 19 13:05:44 2008: 3670   YungChin

Thanks for some interesting thoughts - I feel the same sometimes, but like you say, it's very much an "o, tempora" sentiment...

One practical objection: if you don't play the system like some others do, they'll get all the attention.

The other thing I'm thinking is that the right use of a tool like StumbleUpon will actually still give you a fairly good signal to noise ratio (note: I've only just started using it, so I'm not sure about this). Probably the trick is to only keep users who are selective enough in their liked-content as friends (rather than choosing the most highly networked users - which seems a good strategy to promote your own content, but a bad one to get you any interesting stumbles).

Tue Feb 19 13:06:57 2008: 3671   TonyLawrence

Sigh.. of course you are correct about "playing the game", but I just don't want to play..

Wed Feb 20 16:53:31 2008: 3682   TonyLawrence

After thinking this over for a week, I wonder if I am underestimating the effect of democratization.

I'm sure some of the ho-hum I object to comes from friends voting up friends, but probably most of it is just general ignorance. Because "anybody" can get on the Internet now, standards naturally lower toward common intelligence and (unfortunately) common ignorance. So the fact that I find not-so-hot posts in StumbleUpon et al. may be mostly due to the fact that the great unwashed think these really are marvelous creations worthy of great praise..

Either way, I don't want to play.

Thu Feb 28 23:39:14 2008: 3734   Rudy

Here's the problem with StumbleUpon:

People do not thumbs down!

They simply click stumble again and move on. This is not the case for Reddit where they will vote you down as soon as they see a mediocre article. It's no surprise that Reddit is not a popular social networking site.

Fri Feb 29 03:48:10 2008: 3735   Trisha

In your comment on Skellie's site, you noted that your blog is "so niche" that it wouldn't really gather much interest.

Have you ever bothered to notice that the top performer on Digg is technology related news? Unix and Linux is HUGE on Digg. You just gotta do it right.

And why should you care?

Obviously you're writing because you have something to say. Most people who have something to say want to be heard.

Search engine traffic is notoriously horrible for creating return visitors unless you're just that awesome at snagging someone's attention. In order to attract the kind of visitors you want - the kind that want to listen - you need to be referred by a trusted source.

Be it Digg, another blog, or someone Twittering about a post you wrote, it is absolutely beyond essential to harness social media and use it to your advantage - if, that is, you want to be heard.

Fri Feb 29 11:30:25 2008: 3736   TonyLawrence


Yes, I understand the value of social media. I'm just not willing to play that game for the reasons I have tried to explain above.

By the way: most of Digg's technology section is news. That's nothing related to me.

Tue Mar 4 16:11:45 2008: 3778   sensationaltropics

If you read the SEO blogs, and I do some because I want to promote my web site, lots of the "hey here is a GREAT web site" is all part of the rankings game. "Build it they will .com" If you have great content you don't need to promote. Given your Alexis ranking of 69,968 you certainly are doing something right.

Tue Mar 4 16:18:42 2008: 3780   TonyLawrence

Well, I don't know that Alexa means much by itself.. it's biased toward web developers and seo/sem types. But yes, content is important: quality and quantity. I still insist people are gaming the system: look at www.slightlyshadyseo.com/?p=217 (link dead, sorry) as an example. That guy got caught because he was really dumb about it, but look how easily he could have gotten away with it, especially if he had a few friends involved.

Wed Mar 5 23:46:35 2008: 3785   Dee

Yanno, I agree with you. In an effort to let others agree, too, I even submitted this post to StumbleUpon.

Wed Mar 5 23:51:24 2008: 3786   TonyLawrence

Now that's funny, Dee :-)

Somehow I don't think Stumblers are going to like it, though.. and of course their ARE legitimate hard working Stumblers who would never think of voting up anything but the best content - my gripe is not with them.

Thu Mar 6 15:15:23 2008: 3789   Jem

It's not even as hard as making a few friends on StumbleUpon - go to any popular forum and you can swap stumbles with random strangers for nothing.

As for the mention of Alexa ranking.. well, that's even easier to forge than Stumbles!

Thu Mar 6 15:39:03 2008: 3790   Jon

blogging about blogging

Like poetry about poetry, or movies about movies, I could go on forever--which would only further illustrate the justice in it all...

Your blogging ABOUT blogging is the same self-sustaining type of system and not qualitatively different than what you're railing about--Digg exists so that Digg exists--and I hope momentum isn't as evil as you make it out to be since it's the driving force of history.

Good luck rising to the higher planes!
(found your article through a Digg linked to LJ)

Thu Mar 6 15:43:17 2008: 3791   TonyLawrence

I think you are misunderstanding: I'm complaining about "gaming" - swapping favors, voting up your buddy, that sort of thing. Digg/Stumble etc. aren't the problem in and of themselves - it's people using the systems illegitimately.

Try a Google search for "swap stumbles" - see what I mean?

Thu Mar 6 16:46:55 2008: 3792   TonyLawrence

You know, I would think that the honest Stumblers, Diggers etc. who really do work hard to find really good content would object to the favor trading as much as I do.. why haven't we heard from them (or maybe they do gripe and I just haven't seen it?)

Fri Mar 7 17:56:14 2008: 3799   TonyLawrence

Another example, this from (link)

"There are so many submissions to Digg, that most new submissions just get lost without anybody looking at the article.

To have any chance you need a submission to attract 20-25 votes pretty quick. This means it will then show up in the upcoming section of your chosen category and then at least you have a chance.

To get 25 votes means you will need to ask friends for favours to vote for you. This can be done through either digg shout system or emailing friends asking for votes. Alternatively, you could become a power digg user, who gets loads of friends and so people are more likely to vote for your submissions."

Notice that there's no mention of quality..

Sun Mar 9 03:37:27 2008: 3822   JonR

I've seen such a decline in the quality of Web news sites in the past few years, that I've simply removed most of them from my bookmarks, and there will probably be fewer yet this time next year. The dumbing-down of the Internet is a sad thing, but inevitable with mutual-admiration systems in place such as (misused) social networking sites. I withdrew from Flickr because the lavish praise of mediocre photos made me dread going there.

While interesting in terms of an evolutionary process, the degradation of all manner of sites on the Web is enough to make me want to cry. Social networking is not a bad thing; in principle it's a very good thing; but when it becomes a matter of cliques, competition, and "bigger is better," its positive values are lost. And that's what I see happening. I think you took the right step.

Sun Mar 9 11:51:15 2008: 3824   TonyLawrence

Thanks. I just noticed that all that stuff is still in my RSS feeds; I need to get it out of there alsp.

Mon Mar 17 22:51:20 2008: 3854   TonyLawrence

I just saw this: www.scribblesandwords.com/supercharge-your-technorati-fanbase-technorati-favorites-exchange/#comment-716 (link dead, sorry)

That is unbelievable, disgusting, and proves my point absolutely.

Wed Mar 26 22:17:26 2008: 3905   anonymous

Just came upon this when looking up some technical info and had to throw my $.02 in: you mention a lot of great reasons for not liking social media, but I'm surprised that "preferential attachment" hasn't been called out more explicitly (one of the other comments alluded to it). This is the phenomenon where people only look at the top-ranked articles on Digg, or the top-ranked videos on YouTube, or the top-ranked whatever, and give it a good vote. As a result, the top-ranked items get higher, and the low-ranked items don't get seen to be ranked up if they're deserving. In graph theory, this is called preferential attachment and is easily observed in the Web: popular sites get linked to more often, making them more popular (compounded by PageRank style search algorithms). The usefulness of this for the Web is debatable (Google is certainly better than anything that predated it), but I think it's rendered these social media sites completely useless.

Wed Mar 26 22:50:40 2008: 3906   JonR

Thanks for introducing a new term into my vocabulary. One effect of this ever-onward boosting of only the most popular sites is that sites which are not dumbed-down, which are low-key, and which contain more technical information about subjects, get trampled in the process. Eventually some of them cease to exist.

I make it a point never to look at "the most popular" anything when offered a choice on a site. From experience I know that 90% of the time the findings would not be popular with me. And more important, I object to the bias pointed out above taking place due to the thirst for "the popular." Not that popular sites and topics may not have interest and worth; it's just that value, not popularity, should be the determining factor in attempting to make a choice.

By the way, I looked at the Technorati suggestion alluded to a few posts back, and was appalled, saddened, and angered, in no special order.

Wed Mar 26 22:53:44 2008: 3907   TonyLawrence

I'm happy to see a few folks agreeing with me - seems most of the world thinks this sort of wheeling and dealing is perfectly fine..

Sat Apr 5 13:50:41 2008: 3949   TonyLawrence

The walls are crumbling: (link)

Thu Oct 9 23:27:09 2008: 4637   WaveyDavey

While I don't disagree with any of the critical comments above, I do have one minor gripe ... as a tech support drone who is cursed with supporting *ancient* systems - COBOL 85 on SCO Openserver 5.0.5 - this site is *critically* important to me, and I keep forgetting to bookmark it. I *need* links to here!
(I have two old customers who simply will not go away. My karmic burden is that I supported them well, back in the old days, and there is literally no-one in their sphere of contacts who could do it better than me - not that I'm that great, I'm just the best they can get <grin>. When you get a support call for SCO printing, and the last time you even looked at SCO was four years ago, where else is there ti turn but here)

Sat Dec 19 11:09:58 2009: 7768   richslxh


I know it's a late arrival, but I agree with the quality of Stumble. I have found some good links on it, but the novelty soon wore off and I no longer use it to stumble. I do however add links to my own sites/forums etc.

I also Digg articles and add them to other bookmarking sites.

The reason is that I am a Linux user with Linux forums. We currently cover about only 2% of the entire worldwide computing community, and that's why I stumble and digg and whatever. Not for recognition of my blog posts (they are just basic howto's and news), but the need to attract more users to our little "community". Once something becomes so big that it attracts the masses, quality always drops. Hip Hop music, Facebook, Linux forums. I don't want to criticize too much, but compare Ubuntu forums to a smaller forum of a couple of hundred members. You get 10,000 quality posts compared to 10,000 crap posts on a larger forum

At the end of the day, I decided to play the game, to attract like-minded computer users to Linux and it's community.

I have just added your rss to my Google Reader, great blog. Maybe I would have come across it sooner if you used Digg or Stumble Lol!

Sat Dec 19 14:05:49 2009: 7769   TonyLawrence


That's an interesting way to look at it - I hadn't thought of it from that angle.

You've given me something to think about and yes, I just added you to my reader also.

Thu Jan 21 11:44:25 2010: 7937   Werbemittel


What do you think about other forms of social media such as twitter and facebook? Would find your view fascinating, thanks!

Thu Jan 21 13:48:10 2010: 7938   TonyLawrence


I use Twitter and Facebook - the point is what you are using them for. I won't add you to Facebook unless we really do know each other. I won't follow you in Twitter if you are using it for nothing but promotion or if you follow more than a few hundred people.

Fri Jul 23 14:40:44 2010: 8852   TonyLawrence


Some reasons why you might want to think about gaming Google: (link)

Thu Jul 29 14:34:04 2010: 8866   Fern


I am self-employed. Sometimes I love it, sometimes not but determined because I want to always love it. I also love your articles. We think alike.

I am in the computer business which makes me also in the Web business. I have clients that repeatedly ask me "What about Twitter?" "What I about Facebook?" I tell them this. I hate Twitter, it is an empty presence and Facebook is for me to communicate with my family that lives hundreds of miles away. Social media STINKS for marketing, I don't want to be befriended by a bunch of businesses on a place that I want to talk just to my family (and I would think that most ordinary people feel this way). If I want to find information I use Google. If I want to look for people I use social media like Facebook and MySpace. I want to say to most businesses, get out of mine. I would respect you more if you just stayed off my personal life.
I think you being too kind though. Social media is definitely full of junk because so many people have jumped on the bandwagon.

Great articles! Keep it up!

Fri Feb 24 18:11:29 2012: 10637   MichaelTBabcock


Unfortunately, I do want to +1 or share good posts on the social media I use for legitimate reasons, and so not including those links is just irritating to someone wanting to spread good content around.

The problem you describe exists but personalized ratings would help a lot. Some decent algorithms exist to filter out the noise and show you what's going to be interesting to you based on things you've enjoyed in the past and users you yourself enjoy the sharing of -- there's no reason (beyond laziness) for these sites to continue to share content that's popular for false reasons. After all, that's what Google page ranking is all about.

I understand being jaded, but lets all work with the system and share each others' content when we find it interesting and ignore it when we don't.

Fri Feb 24 18:27:19 2012: 10638   TonyLawrence


I know. I just get so angry about all the fakery..

Sat Feb 25 15:57:25 2012: 10644   BigDumbDinosaur


I understand being jaded, but lets all work with the system and share each others' content when we find it interesting and ignore it when we don't.

There's a "system" to it? Could've fooled me... And to think I've made it this far without all these so-called social media sites.

Sun Oct 7 03:00:08 2012: 11368   StevePringle


I do not like them as one form one reason and that is duplicate content. The content posted will have to compete with those sites and to make thins worse, as the post gains attraction, those who create scripts to lift content from websites will start to pick off information from a site that they feel will benefit them. Thankfully, sites like CopyScape and Tynt are a bit helpful to see what copied and where it ends up after it is stolen.


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