Social Bookmarking through the eyes of a novice.

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.

1)Digg
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.

2)Reddit
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.

3)Del.icio.us
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.

4)Ma.gnolia
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.

5)Furl
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.

6)Blinklist
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.

7)Newsvine
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.

8)Stumbleupon
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.

9)Blinkbits
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.

10)Spurl
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.

10 Responses to “Social Bookmarking through the eyes of a novice.”

  1. on 02 Mar 2007 at 12:24 pm lori

    Great post, Miriam! I too wonder why these sites are so popular…although I have occasionally found a really interesting article on Digg that I probably wouldn’t have on my own. Do you think they will die a natural death after the novelty wears off?

    Did you try surfing Squidoo? That seems to attract people who put a decent amount of thought into the sites they recommend.

  2. on 02 Mar 2007 at 6:45 pm admin

    Hi Lori,
    Thank you. Far from dying out, I do believe the future of the Internet is going to be socialization like this.

    The smart fellows I’ve talked to predict that it will become more fragmented, though, with whole sites being devoted to a specific interest group, rather than big directories of groups like we have now.

    The reason I’m trying so hard to get into this is that I can see this trend becoming big and mainstream, and want to stay on top of it.

    I have been meaning to setup a Squidoo lens, just to check it out, for about 6 months now, but time is what I seem to have the least of these days!

    Have you set up a lens there? Is it easy/hard? If you’d like to write a how-to about it, I’d be happy to give you a post here with a link back to you, the author. Just a thought!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.
    Kind Regards,
    Miriam


  3. [...] And for a different look at social media, don’t miss Social Bookmarking through the eyes of a novice from SEO Igloo. This one is what it’s like out in the trenches with small businesses, gang…. [...]

  4. on 03 Mar 2007 at 11:01 pm lori

    Yes, I’ve made a Squidoo Lens. It’s really quite easy – they make it extremely user-friendly. I’d love to write about it, but I’m super busy right now so it probably wouldn’t be for awhile. Here’s the URL of the one I made (no surprises as to the subject!): http://www.squidoo.com/montessoriforeveryone/

  5. on 06 Mar 2007 at 12:09 pm AnneB

    Miriam, I totally agree with what you are saying. I visit these sites once in a while so I can be part of the “in” crowd, and I am also totally missing the point. I never see anything in these sites that makes we want to come back and visit any time soon. I seem to get all the content I want just by regularly visiting my favorite sites and by generously using the Google search tools. When I visit Digg, Del.icio.ous et al, all I see is a bunch of articles that don’t interest me in the least.

    I’m a new fan of yours. I discovered you when I was reading comments about Google’s personalized search results in Danny Sullivan’s post at Search Engine Land. I loved your comments at Search Engine Land plus your post about it in this site.

    I am an ordinary mortal who is simply trying to find the best search engine results. As such I just happened to come across this whole new search engine optimization world. I think a lot of these Web 2.0 people are more interested in the delivery of the information than the end product. You bring a lot of common sense to this technology, and I like your emphasis on what all of this means to the actual user.

  6. on 06 Mar 2007 at 2:55 pm admin

    Dear Anne,
    Welcome to the SEOigloo blog! It’s such a pleasure to have you here.

    Your insightful comment here certainly confirms what I have been guessing that many, many people feel when they try to get a handle on the Social Media sites. I don’t think the creators of these sites are doing a very good job explaining what the point of them is, and like you, I have yet to hit upon one that made me get excited and say, “I really want to join this!”.

    As you say, it would seem that a direct Google search would get you to what you want to read about more quickly, without the added bother of whether so-and-so likes it.

    So, here then, is the question: Do social media sites appeal to a particular type of ‘user’? It may be that I’m simply not sociable by nature, in that if I like something, it’s enough for me that I enjoy it – I’m not terribly concerned whether what I enjoy is popular with others. Perhaps you are a bit like me in this, Anne, and feel confident about choosing reading materials for yourself regardless of who else likes them.

    Nevertheless, if you are running website, ignoring the potentials for getting the word out about your website via the Social Media world could result in overlooking something of benefit. This is why I’m setting myself the task of learning about this…not because I can see myself using these SM sites for my own pleasure, but because my clients’ customers may be using them.

    I’d be interested to hear more about your business, Anne, and how you’re getting along in the SEO world.
    Thanks again, so much, for your kind comments.
    Miriam

  7. on 07 Mar 2007 at 8:23 am AnneB

    Oh, no! I feel like such a fraud! I’m not in the SEO business at all. I’m just a housewife who’s very active in volunteer causes who uses search engines quite often. I became interested in SEO a two years ago when I became vaguely dissatisfied with my Google search results. I came across an article at Search Engine Watch that compared different search engines. I thought learning about SEO techniques would help increase my knowledge about using search engines in general.

  8. on 07 Mar 2007 at 3:19 pm admin

    Why, Anne, you’re not a fraud at all! You’re a very smart person, in my opinion, and have come into the SEO world in the most natural way possible. I’m not quite clear if you have a website, or when you say you became dissatisfied with your search results, you simply mean you weren’t happy with the results your queries were returning for things you were researching. Your search results could mean your search engine rankings, or simply the results you are given for queries you are making. It’s a little language issue that’s confusing me here, and I’d love to have you explain this.

    Like you, most of our clients who run small business websites did not understand any of this before they started learning about it. We teach them, “This is a title tag, the reason it’s important is that, etc. etc.”.

    One of the things I like best about SEO is that most of it is common sense, once you understand how a search engines views a document. The very best websites out there are the ones that take this into account, while putting most of their focus on pleasing their human visitors. Best practices result in nice, clean, search-engine-friendly pages that are truly useful to humans. It’s really a thing of beauty to achieve this.

    If you ever have any questions about what you are studying, please feel free to post them here and we’ll do our best to help you along your path to gaining SEO smarts!
    Kind Regards,
    Miriam

  9. on 11 Mar 2007 at 2:49 pm tknoppe

    Hi Miriam
    I’m a first time visitor to your site and also a web designer. I must say, I agree with your comments on the social bookmarking. This business is ever changing and evolving and honestly, I’m too busy *working* to find time to read crude ramblings from strangers on topics of no interest or direct bearing on what I do every day.

    I do take time to read several SEO related blogs every day, to try and at least have an inkling of what’s going on in this business; but my Wonder Woman cape is getting thread bare and I have to pick and choose what I spend my time on – and the snippets of comment postings above revealed that those sites do not offer anything worth my time and attention.

    However, I have added your blog to my RSS feeds and I have enjoyed my time here today. I’ll be back!
    Traci

  10. on 11 Mar 2007 at 4:46 pm admin

    Dear Traci,
    I greatly appreciate you taking the time to comment here. It does seem that the feedback this article is getting would indicate that others are feeling mystified by the huge hype of Social Media.

    However, I am hearing some good things from my colleagues. Most of the fellows I speak to are predicting that the big, umbrella social media sites will be replaced in popularity by smaller niche sites.

    How could this be good for small business-oriented folks?

    Well, imagine if you ran an antique store online, and someone developed a small social site dedicated entirely to the subject of identifying and dating antiques. Joining such a site could prove of benefit to you in your work by assisting you in identifying unfamiliar pieces, by giving you the opportunity to help others do the same, and by promoting your brand as a business that is a smart choice for customers to come to when buying antiques.

    On this level, I can see how such sites could be of serious assistance to small business owners, and I really hope the predictions I’m hearing come true, as this will bring this down to a level I feel that you and I will be able to make more sense of!

    Thanks again for commenting, and I’ll hope to hear from you again.
    Miriam

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