Tuesday 27 Feb 2007
Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
There are 3 quick things I want to preface this article with.
1) I am a complete novice to the web 2.0 social bookmarking/tagging/media/marketing world. This article is written through the eyes of a complete newcomer.
2) My intention in writing this is not to put down the services in question, but rather to state my novice impressions upon trying to understand the hype about social media.
3) Again, I am a novice. As such, I would genuinely appreciate feedback on this that explains why you, the reader, might like any of the following services.
On Being socially maladjusted
In my industry, the advent of a host of social bookmarking sites is currently one of the biggest topics of discussion. SEOs and Internet Marketers have taken to these new social sites as a way to get abundant traffic for their clients, by tapping into the membership groups of these websites. Chances are, you’ve heard names like Digg, Del.icio.us or Reddit. However, if you are running a small business, as I am, you may simply have been too busy during the past year or so to even make a passing visit to any of these popular new places on the web.
In this article, I am standing in your shoes. Unlike higher-level SEOs, I know next to nothing about these sites beyond the fact that they tend to be about people submitting articles, photos or videos that then obtain popularity by virtue of how many people vote on them. So, that’s all I know going into this. What follows is my novice, first impressions of my first visit to 10 of the best-known social sites.
Front page headlines: War, Politics, Technology, Video Games
By reading one of the most popular articles that has been voted onto the frontpage of Digg, I can also view members’ comments. Here is a brief, random sampling of the users comments: (I will remove profanity from any comments in this article to keep my post family-friendly)
“rumble is so last gen”
“Is this the new slimmed down ps3 they were talking about?
“persistent? you replied to your own comment twice, I don’t think we’re the ones that are persistent. And really, there are plenty of idiots that wouldn’t get that joke, me being one of them.”
I don’t know how accurately the above presents a picture of the quality and insightfulness of user comments, but it was what I saw at first glance.
My comments: Assumedly, this site is popular amongst people who like politics and technology and wish to discuss these topics with strangers. I don’t feel very excited by any of this.
Front page Headlines: War, Politics and something about paper airplanes
Like Digg, I’m seeing popular articles people have voted for, and I can also read members’ comments. Here is a random sampling of comments:
Me too. I’m reading his book right now and it’s enlightening and refreshing that someone who has obviously thought deeply about most if not all of the issues that face the US is actually in a position to run for president. Someone on reddit once said he might be the smartest guy in Washington and I can’t disagree with that.”
“profanity…it’s been so long with the current profanity in the whitehouse it’s hard to imagine anything positive emanating from there.. 7 years now, it’s hard to imagine how the country was before he arrived”
My comments: I recently heard someone say that Reddit has a more mature readership than Digg does. While I agree that it did seem slightly less ‘youthful’, there was still a great deal of nonsense and profanity in the comments. I am left asking myself what wisdom I could possibly gain by reading endless lists of comments, all of which are from people I don’t know, and many of which are scarcely intelligible. Nevertheless, it seems a bit better to me than Digg.
Front page Headlines: War, Politics, Technology, Business
I hope a more experienced Del.icio.us user will correct me if I’m wrong here, but I didn’t see a comments feature on this site. Rather, it appears to function by virtue of users simply tagging things. The more tags an item gets, the higher up it appears on Del.icio.us
My comments: This website does not do a good job of explaining what the point of it is. Without me coming to it with an understanding of the point of it, or hunting for some kind of introduction to it, I am lost. Again, I see a heavy emphasis on the same subjects that are being covered by the other 2 websites. At first glance, nothing is exciting me about this.
Front page Headlines: Something about a church, something about Finland, something about computer security, a recipe for cooking with pepperoni…it appears very random
My comments: It’s a pretty-looking site. I like the flower. The frontpage doesn’t really explain to me what the point of it is, and I had to click the “Discover” link to get to articles. The type was really small on my browser, which made things difficult for me, and I couldn’t really figure out on my first visit how things are voted for. I did get the impression that Ma.gnolia hosts interest groups. Perhaps because they appear to be more diverse in their popular topics, one could find a worthwhile interest group here that would be good to join. But, at first glance, I don’t feel ‘welcomed’ or educated about how it works.
Front page Headlines: Entertainment, Technology, Recipes
My comments: It’s apparently another voting system. In this case, if you read an article, you can see how many other people have ‘furled’ it. You can then see what other articles the ‘furlers’ have ‘furled’ in relation to the one you’ve read. At this point in my new acquaintance with all of these social sites, the question that keeps hitting me is “Why do I care what these other people like? Who are they?” The presentation of Furl is very bare bones, which I actually like. Yet, I’m not seeing why their byline is An easier way to save and share your online discoveries.. Easier than what? Digg, Reddit, etc? How is it easier? It looks the same to me, at first glance.
This one is weird. I clicked on the video and whispering man explained to me that I can use blinklist to email my friends about things I like. There aren’t any articles on the front page. There are some words in weird fonts that seem to focus on Entertainment and Business, Pornography and Technology (do you have to list the word AJAX three times to prove you are cool these days?)
Comments: By clicking deeper into the site, I see that they have some interesting categories I might hunt for articles in, and that, per usual, these attain popularity via a system of votes. As a novice, I wonder why it’s a selling point that I can email my friends. Can’t I already do that? Why would I need to email oodles of people about the same thing, if that thing is just some article I read? I don’t like it when people I know send me bulk emails that go out to everybody. I find that impersonal and annoying. However, at the same time, I am becoming confused about the use of the word ‘friend’. Do they mean my real friends, or my Internet ‘friends’ (rather akin to Mister Rogers’ television neighbors). I am beginning to get it that you’ve got to make ‘friends’ to win votes. At any rate, Blinklist may contain some good content, but it struck me as a bit confusing, and their front-page sell of pornographic content does not win my vote. In fact, no one making it easier to share pornography with their ‘friends’ wins my vote. Creepy.
Front Page Headlines: Politics, War, Entertainment, Crime
Sample User Comment:
“I think any discussion regarding the economics of “cap and trade” markets requires the mention of economist Ronald Coase, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1991 for the idea of “The Problem of Social Cost.” His work on assigning cost to externalities, therefore allowing their trading, is widely regarded as the foundation for the cap and trade emissions scheme; one which has a proven track record in reducing acid rain from SO2 emissions in this country.”
My Comments: This whole website has a completely different look and feel to it than any of the others on my list. It feels more like a ‘regular’ news site. Apparently, the selling point of it is that it gives you access to all of the works of the Associated Press, not just the articles that get published in mainstream media, so I can see that this would be nice for people who really like reading the news. My brief look at the user comments showed less juvenile behaviour and profanity than other social sites, and this gave me the impression that the users are probably more serious folks who throw around words like “The Dow” and “Free Market”.
The one odd thing about this website is that their claim to fame is that they don’t edit the news you get. But…if it’s the popular vote that determines what’s on the front page, isn’t that a kind of editing that could lead to the biased, narrow worldview that I’m assuming Newsvine is trying to get away from? All in all, however, the site seems to be in a different category of professionalism than the others on my list.
I finally figured out the point was just to see random stuff. By clicking around, I was shown something about the Hindenberg exploding.
When I clicked on the Websites category, I saw that recent stumbles are Politics, Health, Technology. A lot of the article headlines were ones I’d already seen on other sites, by this point in my social search.
Sample User Comment:
Another fake grass roots organization which is funded by Grover Norquist style tax dodgers and cheats who simply eat from the hand of the republican elite.”
My comments: Well, I guess if you’ve got nothing better to do, you could find something of interest here. The website is nicely presented, but for me, the randomness of it makes it feel kind of pointless. Remember, I’m a novice. This is my first impression.
Frankly, I couldn’t figure out what any of this was. Something about a sunflower print, someone’s writing being rejected and something about celebrities.
My comments: I clicked a link to their most popular story which was an item about a male singer. The comments were a combination of profanity, gibberish
and immodest remarks about the singer in question’s physical person. I will refrain from printing
the comments. Was this just a bad day for Blinkbits? Do they normally have insightful readers sharing worthy wisdom? My first impression made that very hard to imagine, and I was embarrassed by the language of the users.
On the front page:
“We are currently forced to offer reduced functionality due to heavy spam attacks. The lists with New and Hot spurls are therefore disabled until further notice.
Our apologies for the inconvenience.”
I tried clicking through to their Newest Spurls, but there was nothing there. Quite frankly, at this point, I feel a bit relieved!
So what is this social stuff all about?
It has been well said that wealth can best be measured by the amount of leisure time a person has. My overwhelming impression of my first sortie into the realm of social bookmarking sites was that the users must have nothing better to do all day than sit around hoping that someone else will present content to them that they have pre-judged as being good. I am left asking the following questions:
a) Couldn’t I find all of this stuff with a quick Google search? On my own? Without help from my ‘friends’?
b) Why do people place value on the opinions of strangers? I’d be more inclined to read about something because someone I know or trust said they thought it would interest me. Are the users so lonely that they have to rely on people named red_dog and crazybaboonman to tell them they will be ‘cool’ if they read these popular items? I am not trying to cast aspersions on the users here. I simply don’t get the psychological implications of this behaviour. What is this all about? Insecurity, narcissism, curiosity?
c) Are these websites succeeding mostly with people who are tied down to office jobs and who desperately need to find more creative ways to waste time because it is so horrible to have to do data entry for 8 hours a day? Or, are people using these sites during genuine leisure time?
What I think I’ve understood from this foray into Society
None of the social media sites made it easy enough for me to understand what they were about, quickly enough. I formed a vague impression that it might be handy to be able to bookmark a bunch of stuff for myself so that I could find it later, but not why this would be superior to using that good old ‘favorites’ button on my browser.
If the draw is that I can then share what I’ve bookmarked with people I don’t know, I don’t get it.
THE BIG POINT
If I don’t get it, how can I ‘sell’ Social Media as a great thing to small business owners who are already putting in 12 hour days sewing baby blankets? Do I really have to tell the small business owner that I want them to go sign up for Digg, submit lots and lots of articles about video games so that they can make ‘friends’ and then, hopefully, we can eventually submit a post about their company that will bring in 10 million new customers? I can just see myself trying to explain this, and I feel all weak inside.
You see…I’m not getting it.
What I do get is that belonging to an online interest group can be enriching, after a time. I am wary, and the few forums I belong to I simply visited for a long time, trying to determine whether the content of the forum was valuable. When I was really impressed, I signed up. This experience has made me understand that there can be value in talking to others on-line, so I am by no means writing off the social media sites.
However, I am very concerned that because the industry I’m in goes hand in hand with technology, my more experienced colleagues are seeing these heavily-technology-oriented sites as being awesome while I am left trying to figure out how I can put such resources to use for small business owners who don’t want to talk about George Bush, Playstation or Global Warming.
This is one exhaustive post. The main point of it has been to get this all written down, to document for my own good what my initial feelings are about this new world of online communications. I hope the cursory nature of my investigation hasn’t led me to be unfair. I am trying to be honest, and do have the realistic qualities of a user’s typcial short attention span and general lack of education when it comes to this facet of the web (the things I spend hours trying to cope with and design for when I develope a website). A year from now, perhaps I will have memberships in all 10 of the above websites and be tagging away. But for now, I am sitting here, wet behind the ears, wondering what it all means. I really dislike this feeling of being behind the times when it comes to anything to do with the Internet. My ability to serve my clients depends on my ‘getting it’. But I am in the same boat as most working folks – I am toiling from dawn ’til way after dusk getting tasks done. My time to learn new things is limited, but I am making the first efforts in this direction tonight, and I hope this post will be useful to others who are new to this, as well as to others who are old hands or even producers of social media sites. In this area of the web, chances are, my first impressions may be the same as average Joe’s.