Monday, June 20, 2011

[STATING THE OBVIOUS] The current state of the Social Web (or: why the bubble is about to pop)

A fellow Buzzer wrote lately a very thoughtful post about Google's social strategy and asked:
Why does Google start to push their social features right now? Now that facebook's usage drops remarkably for the first time? Now that social startups are founded almost every day?
People call this the "time of social fatigue" and they are right.
People are tired.
Growth can't be infinite, that's for sure and it doesn't matter which attributes you think of:
User Numbers, social connections, Features, Options, Amount of Content...
When a site reaches a critical mass and it isn't properly prepared to counteract the flood of information, the usage drastically drops.

It is difficult for a platform that offers user-generated content to keep the attention of their userbase.

The Classic Approach to Growth

The classic approaches of social networks to keep up growth were:

  • offering more content
  • broadening the variety of content types
  • introduce more features
  • push the users to recruit new users ("I'm not on facebook" is the new "I don't own a TV")
  • create a environment that constantly changes (so there is always the feeling of "there's something new")

But let's take a look at those points:

More Content:
So if you have to hide 10 new applications every day in your facebook stream, have to block your little sister because she posts 50 supercute kitten videos a day, have 40 new Tweets while you didn't look at the screen because you dropped a pen... you don't see a problem here? It gets exhausting, frustrating and generates apathy. The interaction stalls and everything that is left are tweeting marketing bots.

Content types:
Users join a platform for a certain reason. For example: They join Flickr for photos, eBay for auctions, facebook for gossip and YouTube for videos.
If the growth of the platform stalls, you might think that it would be a great idea to offer something new to gain new users that look for this or that but you should never forget that your original userbase joined for a reason. They will get frustrated over the new content they are flooded with and the usage of the platform will stall.


Recruiting Users:
So, you have your Grandma, your ex-girlfriend, your bro and 7000 people you hardly know following you on Twitter or (5000 of them) friended on facebook. After rethinking what is suitable for who and ruling out everything that might cause a stirr, you don't post anything at all and play Super Mario on your retro GameBoy classic without telling anyone.

The Camelionvironment: (hah! how witty)
Will drive you users nuts because they never have the chance to really get used to something. And if something's not broken, don't try to fix it! If you have to start looking for basic functionality (like: where is this goddamn groupbutton now!?!?) because someone very clever thought it'd be time for a change, you have already lost.

The problem is that most social networks want to grow infinite and want to expand the worlds of their users to the max.
But users are just human. So if you follow 3000 people on Twitter... how do you find the information that is valuable for you? Via hashtags... via Google Realtime... Via other 3rd party tools
And how do you want to discover something new if you have to know already the term you are looking for?
The amount of social generated content has become so overwhelming, so aggressively increasing, that the users are scared away. If you don't resist all those pushes from the platform, from the people you know, to follow the trends and rules of social media, social media becomes unusable. (Hah, look at him, he has just 30 friends on facebook and only 16 followers on Twitter, what a loser.)

As for me... I've currently (only) 273 friends on facebook. I've regular contact with 30 of them and I know about 20 of them personally. WTF?
The ugly truth is, that the pages I liked encounter more interaction with me than my "so called" friends on facebook.
So I ask you: If I socialize with advertising companies more frequently than with my "friends" and provide more useful information, might this be the point where the so called Social Media / Social Networks went wrong?
Twitter has a better solution to that:

The Follower System.

This has quite a few advantages over the friending system: You are "officially" not required to do a "follow4follow" or "follow back" to every weird troll that just rants about everything and ditches gMail because he can't endure that he can see an icon he doesn't like.
Things get worse when someone gets pissed at you because you don't want to read his/her shitty tweets about useless crap. It's even worse if it's your girlfriend... Nah just kidding :)
This system is practically very anti-social because when the platform offers "fast consumable content" at a high output rate, we tend to follow more and more people to get valuable content. The huge amount of information blurs our sight and when we miss a certain topic, we rather follow someone new who got retweeted instead of checking on our existing Follower-Base.
The interaction gets lost. We just shout (tweet) into the eternal void, in the desperate hope that someone will answer (in a somehow useful way). That's true microblogging, but lacks of the real social interaction. To socialize means also that you bind to a certain group of people. Just arguing with a bunch of random strangers that are all "panta rei" isn't the best principle to base the social web on.

The Like Generation and how it killed Knowledge

As the growth of social media platforms progresses, the worthless the information gets that they produce.
The lifespan of content is in direct relation to it's quality. Would you invest 2 hours of work into something that no one cares about anymore in less than 30 seconds? No? Clever. Me neither.
But leading social networks have a solution for that: restrict the maximum length of the content. Wow, genius.

So, a lot of people say that Blogs became obsolete because Twitter and Facebook have way more value for spreading information and for marketing purposes.
It might be true that information spreads faster through facebook and or twitter, but Information becomes "disposable". Content isn't written anymore to be remembered. All these snippets of information disappear in a giant hotpot of information garbage. Content gets just reshared, replicated and loses it's substance.

The web has Alzheimer's.

The inflationary use of little bits of information made information worthless. A lot of clever people try to counteract that by creating tools like memory lane or tweet-archives... but they are just temporary fixes that can't cure the illness.
You reshare articles without reading the whole thing (on facebook), retweet stuff where you don't follow the shortened URL attached... In the end-phase of this illness, you are just "liking" everything. It's like "check, saw it, moving on".

Relying on likes is the cancer of the web.

Reshares are kinda better, but don't improve quality as the content gets replicated and feedback will spread over all the instances generated of one item.
There is no interaction anymore.. And users become sick of it. The web moves on way too fast and it is accelerating. The only people that are left, defending the current structures are those who probably have issues with self-exposure, narcissism and don't need any constructive feedback, they just need a like to know, that others think they are awesome for the crap they are posting. (mostly teenagers and egomaniacs approve)

The inflationary socialization has lead to the death of "social 1.0".

The bubble is about to pop.

Discuss on Buzz


Horst said...

There's no need to be that pessimistic about social startups. The universe is quite big and there are still some countries out there where the population grows without the need of immigration. Maybe the bubble will burst for now, but there will be still room for growth in the future. And hey, there is a good chance that we're not the only life form in this universe with a voyeuristic attitude. But maybe it's only time to create the master of all social networks, the one to rule them all, where you can create and maintain one single profile and all the information will be automagically shouted through the whole socialsphere...

Florian Rohrweck said...

@Horst: Nah it isn't pessimistic... It is more about the "big players" that are about to die... and they will make place for new ones :) /like my stuff, maybe ^^

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