Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A friend by any other name could be a spam bot

I've been trying to get better lately about commenting on other peoples' blogs. It's a bit of a challenge for me, not because I'm an egotistical maniac (hi there peanut gallery) but because most of the posts I read are so thought-provoking that I feel like I need to write a book afterwards. Books tend not to be appreciated in comment sections. I don't know if they're appreciated in blogs either, but at least this is my space to soil as I might!

I mention this because yesterday I read a post by Julien Smith (co-author of Trust Agents and an amazing mind in general) about follower hyper-inflation. I was inspired not just to write a book. I was ready to write a series.

I can't really do any justice to Julien's post by trying to review it. What I can do is tell you what his post made me think about. So, here we go.

I just passed you on the sidewalk. Are we friends?

I have been pretty suspicious of the "fan/follower/friend" thing for a couple of years now, and I can tell you exactly why. When I first joined Facebook, it was really fun. I got to catch up with old friends, including some folks I went to nursery school with (!!). But then I started noticing some things. For example, people who had never given me the time of day in high school were asking to "connect" with me. Adding to my suspicion was the fact that none of these "friend requests" came with any message. You know, like, "I know I didn't talk to you much during the ten years we were in school together, but I realize now that you were the missing piece in my puzzle, the balm to my soul's wounds, and all I can ask is that you accept this request so that I may gaze upon your visage."

No, nothing like that. Just a friend request. I gave people the benefit of the doubt. I would comment on some of their stuff, but they'd never comment back. THEN, all of my doubts were validated. People who had been in completely different social circles were now "friends"on Facebook. Now, I know it's rude to assume that people don't grow up, but to think that everyone suddenly had adopted John and Yoko's Bagism philosophy was a little too much. I realized that a lot of these folks were just collecting people. I cut a ton of these mysterious people from my past (some of them allegedly from my past). I realized that the online definition of "friend" was kind of misleading.

Twitter is something different altogether. You're not making friends, you're collecting followers (talk about ego). As Julien points out, in order to be relevant in the world of Social Media, you need to be "popular." Otherwise you just kind of fade into the ether. This drives competition, pressure, and guess what else? It drives authenticity away.

The power of Kevin Bacon

I've noticed something kind of interesting on Twitter (I seem to learn something new every week). Getting your first 100 followers can take forever if you try to do it the "high road" way, aka follow only people you're really interested in and try to build connections/relationships. Once you get to a certain point though, your followers keep increasing at increasing rates of speed. I am now averaging about 100 new followers a week. Yippee, right?


If I had all the time in the world (thank goodness I don't) I would examine my "follow" versus my "follower" list to see how many people I follow are following me back. I would further dissect my follower list to see how many of my devoted fans are offering me "free iPads," "great blog posts," "1,000s of followers," and more. The numbers that you see for my followers category are, I can assure you, inflated.

The problem with this is two-fold. First, as you get more followers, some cool and interesting people feel more secure in following you. You might look more legit. This increases the number of people you wish to interact with. Have you ever tried to have 27 meaningful conversations at once? It doesn't work. As many Social Media "influencers" have discovered, you end up with a better chance of ticking people off because there simply isn't time to respond to everyone.

The other problem is that you become a target for more malicious spam bots. I had a message a couple of days ago that said, "For really good blog posts, just RT these people." My Twitter handle was included. "That's really sweet!" I thought. "I wonder if it's real."

Ah, cynicism. Saves me every time.

Turns out the link that was also included was malicious, meaning my name is now associated with a link that could cause people problems. This makes me very, very unhappy. There's also nothing I can do about it.

Numbers are meaningless. Friends are priceless.

The general jist of Julien's post is that the people you want to really nurture and connect with are your real-life friends. Sadly, we are now in an ecosystem where meaningless big numbers create an environment where you can't actually do what you want. I hope to goodness that I don't end up having to sacrifice the nice chats and asides that I enjoy with several people right now. But if influence = numbers, that's the path that we are all on. Kind of depressing, isn't it?

I just passed you on the sidewalk. Can we be friends? Well, sure. You're lucky number 1,572.

First image by Svilen Milev. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/svilen001


dannybuntu said...

The world is obsessed with numbers.

I have 74 friends and most of them are relatives. I've only lately added people I only met on the Internet recently. I should be adding more like crazy but I tend to add only the ones whom I think I could have a healthy interaction with.

:) Thank you for adding me :)

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I followed Maya to get here. Twitters a strange world, and it's best to be cautious. Do I follow everyone who follows me? I've blocked 100 + that are obviously spammers or at least suspicious. Maybe I'll meet the one person who can do something for me. Does that make us friends? I doubt it, but I try to be sincere. Social media is about platform for me and occasionally I meet some cool people. Tweet ya soon!

Kerry Rego said...

I call it "the American complex of bigger, better, more". We are set up to have follower envy, to compare ourselves to others and the sizes of our friend list. I have to remind myself every day that even though my numbers are whatever they are today, I still have only a handful of good conversations with the same consistent people. For all the bad stuff, it is nice to make friends with someone (someone you'd visit in the hospital, I mean) even though we may never see each other's faces.

Real Life Mad Man said...

Hi Kerry,

Couldn't agree more. Surprised I haven't seen "Can you supersize my follower list" now that you mention it :)

Thanks for commenting!