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Social Redundancy
20h19 Thursday, 07th July 2011

I was thinking of titling this, pinky toes, but I went with this 'coz it sounds more business like. I am sure you have seen social sharing buttons all over the web: facebook's like, twittter and now with google +1. Strangely these have replaced the old school ones, delicious; stumble, muti, ping-o-matic, etc.

I suppose social media is reflecting what happens in life, big companies dominate the spectrum.  Alas, this post is not about that but about the tiny obscure numbers attached to a twitter, facebook and google +1 sharing buttons.  I beg any being to explain to me this simple question:

what is the point of those numbers?

Yes, they show us how many people (or entities) have shared a specific content across those specific platforms, but what value do they add to the consumer? What additional valuable information are they adding to my consumption of that content? Will they make me read the content based on the grand total of those who have 'read' it before? Do they indicate if I have actually read and agree to the content?

In face value it might appear so, but in reality — all that happens is:

It shows up on my profile that some random person I have a random connection with has liked or 'plus-ed' something or in the case of twitter somebody tweets what they have just consumed, we assume.

In the context of the platform, that is if you are on facebook, you get to see on your stream that something was liked by somebody, same applies to twitter I see a tweet — I don't know about "google +1" it seems to want way too much personal information attached to the action.

A few question arise when I thought about these numbers:

  1. will I be compelled to read, view, open or click-through the the item based on the amount shown?
  2. have the people actually read or viewed the item being shared?
  3. and lastly, how honest are these shares? Take for a example a beautifully crafted, composed photograph of a naked woman or man (frontal nudity). Are you going to share that or will you first calculate who will see it?

The third question is important, because it begs the question about honesty, about being true to yourself.  It does not only apply to nudity, take religion, if you found an article that humorously portrays one of the deities, would you share that?

this then, could, suppose the notion that, what is actually being shared is most likely what is felt to be 'digestible' by your network — which is nothing new, considering in the real world there is jokes you can only share with separate types of networks you have: friends, acquaintances, family, etc.

All that being said, it doesn't answer the question:

what is the point of those numbers?

For the person or company owning the space the content is based, those number have value — it allows them to know, to some degree, who has shared their content and to whom but outside of that those numbers don't matter, so then, why show them to the public?  But, in their defence, facebook, twitter and google make it quite hard to hide those numbers to the point it is not worth trying to, and yes, I have tried, and failed.

I do think there is a caveat to this:

… it is game theory — twitter, facebook, google want us, content creators to focus on moving our content to as many people as possible, so their system can harvest that information.

It seems illogical for me to find this at fault, well it taps into social behaviour: wanting to be heard, but the question is, what is your focus: creating compelling content or selling it?

I could ask the same question about seeing 'people who tweeted this article' as part of the comment section of an article. Again, what is the point? Am I supposed to read those tweets? Are those tweets part of the conversation? They are not, not in anyway part of the narrative that might actually be taking place within the article, which means, they break the narrative, which is most likely going to force me as a reader to ignore the entire comment section,

… which is counter productive, because, within the dialogue in the comments, you are most likely to get the best rebuffle of any false assumptions made by the key story, well, if we ignore the South African news website comments.

I am of the school of thought, that nothing should be placed on an interface, especially one that is interactive such as the web, that does not serve to enhance what that specific interface wants to achieve.

 
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