Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 12, Number 4: May 2012

Social Networks

The Social Network Scene, Part 3

This third and final (for now) catch-up effort on social network situations that don’t cluster neatly into a group begins in April 2011 and brings us pretty much up to date.

Tumbler and danah boyd

How’s this for a lead paragraph?

People wonder why I have control issues. I refuse to use third party email services because I’m terrified of being locked out of my account (as I was when Yahoo! thought I was a part of a terrorist organization because I was working with Afghani women in 2001). I maintain a blog on my own server because I’m terrified of it all just disappearing. So I shouldn’t be surprised when it actually happens but it doesn’t stop me from being shocked, outraged, and disappointed.

Really? danah boyd a terrorist? (You know how it is with those PhDs working for Microsoft—especially ones who lowercase their names!) The title of this April 27, 2011 post at apophenia makes it clearer: “Tumblr disappeared me…”

Without notifying her, Tumblr caused her posts to vanish—and “a company who also uses the name zephoria is now posting at that Tumblr page (and seems to have been for the last two days).”

My guess is that they removed it because a company out there declared they had the right because of trademark. This kills me. I’ve been using the handle “zephoria” online since around 1998 when I started signing messages with that handle while still at Brown. It’s actually a funny blurring of two things: zephyr and euphoria. Zephyr was the name of the instant messaging service at Brown and the name of the dog that I lived with in 1997, two things that I loved dearly. And talking about euphoria was a personal joke between me and a friend. I registered the domain name to create a private blog that would be separate from what was at I chose .org because I liked to see myself as an organization, not a commercial entity.

A few years ago, I learned that there is a technology consulting company called And apparently, they’ve become a social media consulting company. In recent years, I’ve found that they work hard to block me from using the handle of zephoria on various social media sites. Even before the midnite land grab on Facebook, they squatted the name zephoria, probably through some payment to the company. But this is a new low… Now they’re STEALING my accounts online!?!?!? WTF?!?!?!

She’s a little upset with Tumblr as well, and since she’s an excellent writer I’ll refer you to the link for that discussion. It’s a good’un—even with inserted caveats and updates. For that matter, one of the updates makes me suspect someone with a lower profile than danah boyd would not get this kind of response:

John Maloney, the President of Tumblr, wrote to me, confirming that the issue was indeed one of trademark. He sent a screenshot of the customer service request, indicating that they had tried to email me but that I did not respond. They apparently emailed me on Passover and turned over the account 72 hours later. I responded that I did not believe that this protocol was appropriate. I argued that they were in the business of brokering reputation and that trademark isn’t an acceptable justification for allowing a company to overtake an individual who isn’t trying to pretend to be the company…

She had a “lovely conversation” with Maloney. I trust Maloney is similarly outgoing to an ordinary person who gets caught in this sort of trap. Comments include this charmer from Marshall Kirkpatrick:

If one of the chapters in the Social Media Consulting 101 handbook was “piss off world-renowned social media thought leaders like danah boyd” I sure missed that one! Ooops!

A Customer Service Nightmare: Resolving Trademark and Personal Reputation in a Limited Name Space

That’s boyd’s thoughtful next-day commentary on this situation (she did get her “identity” back along with an apology). It appears on April 28, 2011 and it’s (naturally) well-written and worth reading in the original, but I’ll offer a few excerpts.

In some ways, I feel really badly for Tumblr—and all other small social media companies—because brokering these issues is not easy. In fact, it’s a PITA. Who has the legitimate right to a particular identity or account name? What happens when the account is inactive? Or when the person who has the account is squatting? Or when there are conflicting parties who both have legitimate interests in an account name? Or when the account owner has died?

As she notes, it’s not a new issue. Domain name battles began in the 1990s. “People have spent millions of dollars buying domains from squatters and there have been countless lawsuits over who has legitimacy in these situations.” But social networks (she uses “social media”) take “the identity battle to an entirely new scale.”

…Once an entity has a trademark, they work hard to protect it so that customers don’t confuse their competitors with them, especially when they’ve worked so darn hard to build up their brand. As with most things law-related, trademark law is complicated and gnarly, impenetrable for the average person who often lacks the financial resources – or incentives – to go out of their way to protect their image with such a formalized method.

And here’s where the internet makes everything messy. There are all sorts of people roaming around the internet, building their reputations and associating them with nicknames, handles, and pseudonyms. They aren’t necessarily building businesses or engaging in commercial acts, but they are building a public reputation no less…

The typical rule has been “first come first served,” but that’s neither adequate nor always fair—especially when you have “squatters” grabbing major names in the hope of getting Big Bucks selling the name. Then there’s the situation with “zephoria” on Tumbler—which she doesn’t use all that much:

…If a hipster band came to me and begged me to have that account for some legitimate reason, I probably would’ve given it up. But I don’t believe that the consulting company wanted the account for anything other than an opportunity to try to downgrade my pagerank. They haven’t updated their corporate blog in years; they haven’t updated their Twitter account in over a year; and they have no content (and no likes) on Facebook. They may have the trademark, but in social media land, they’re squatters. And they’re probably pissed that they’re a search engine optimization company who has failed at the SEO game because, without any explicit effort to do so, I’ve managed to be a more relevant result in search engines than they are. All because I’m actually a legitimate person who doesn’t have to pretend to be authentic to gather an audience.

danah boyd knows she’s atypical:

Because of my work, I’ve built a pretty powerful reputation. This gives me a shitload of privilege (and is most likely the reason why companies are willing to call me when I bitch loudly online). But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try to use that privilege to challenge the status quo. I recognize that most people don’t have the privilege to protect their reputations when more powerful institutions go after them. And since posting about this yesterday, I’ve received countless emails from individuals who have been screwed over by every social media site you can name and struggled to assert their rights (e.g. girlgeeks). This is a problem that is bigger than me. So what can we do about it?

She suggests a five-step process for dealing with account name conflicts, and it strikes me as an excellent start. Briefly: Try to contact the account holder and give them enough time to respond; post a message on the account indicating that there’s an issue (and asking for help in resolution); ask both parties for comments (and maybe the user community); deal with cases individually; publicly explain the process. I’ll quote the final sentence from the fourth step: “Don’t simply reinforce existing power by assuming that the company is more legitimate than the individual.”

Are those steps foolproof? Of course not. But they’re a step in the right direction. (Assuming that you want to prioritize creating a community over turning a profit… which may not actually be true for some social media services…) Public accountability and discussion is a critical component of creating a digital environment where people are treated fairly. Trademark on the internet isn’t a black-and-white solution. And we have the opportunity to set the standards, to tease out how we resolve personal reputations and institutional authority. And we have a responsibility to do so because we are creating digital spaces in which reputations are made and broken. It’s time that we recognize that with great power to control the attention economy comes great responsibility to create a world that we want to live in. And that means that we have to think about fairness, not just legality.

Did I mention that you should read the whole post in the original? There’s even a reading list. Comments includes boyd’s note that the company Zephoria has never contacted her. There’s another comment that’s a little too telling: A person informs her that paying attention to individual cases isn’t “realistic” for internet companies—it “would be very time consuming and take away from other critical company functions that produce a greater return on investment.” Since us poor schnooks with accounts on these networks are not the customers, this reads clearly enough.

An item by Adrianne Jeffries at betabeat on April 28, 2011 summarizes the situation—with a notable slant. There’s a picture of “Tumblr President and customer service special agent John Maloney”; the infrequency of boyd’s use of her Tumbler account is accentuated by giving the actual date of her last entry; the piece accepts as gospel Maloney’s claim that there have only been four cases of such difficulties—and that the best-known previous case was “a case of squatting”; oh, and she’s Danah Boyd throughout, even though her strong preference for “danah boyd” can’t be that obscure. To me, the piece reads as a puff piece for Maloney’s wonderfulness in dealing with a “miffed” well-known user. (When the person involved in the earlier incident objected to the way it was characterized, the writer responded “Just quoted him, didn’t state it as fact.” Except that the article doesn’t put the claim in quotation marks, unlike almost everything it attributes to boyd.

Have social networks and blog companies gotten better about balanced handling of trademark claims? I’m guessing the situation is somewhat like YouTube’s handling of the millions of copyright infringement claims from Big Media: Suppress first, ask questions later.

The Lies Social Networks Keep Telling Themselves

That’s the title for this Bobbie Johnson piece on April 28, 2011 at gigaom. Johnson links to a post by Tom Hume at his eponymous blog (on April 19, 2011) written after hearing Robin Dunbar—of the Dunbar number, the idea that we can’t cope with more than about 150 actual acquaintances—speak. He notes that the Dunbar number “pops up everywhere.” For reasons that aren’t clear to me, this leads him to collect “lies of social software” based on his experience with blogging, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook. Without the commentary, here are his four lies:

·         Your friends are equally important

·         Your friends are arranged into discrete groups

·         You can manage hundreds of friends

·         Friendship is reciprocal and equal.

Portions of Johnson’s commentary on those lies:

Almost every service offers you a way to make a connection with as many people as you want, and tools to help you categorize that connection into one of a few buckets. Many of us have started to adopt this way of managing our online friends, to try to eke some efficiency out of the system, but let’s be honest: Very few of us manage our lives in this way. We have siblings who are friends, and siblings who are not; we have co-workers we’d share intimate secrets with, and those we just can’t stand. We have friends who are closer to us than we want, and acquaintances who are further away than we’d like. In short, people are messy—and very few pieces of social software are able to reflect the complexity of real relationships.

As Johnson notes, when a social network does break away from a lie, it’s not always recognized. Johnson gives Twitter credit for asymmetric relationships: You can follow anybody you like (unless they have a private feed), with no corresponding expectation that they’ll follow you back. I like that about Friendfeed as well—and it’s one that’s improving in a number of places. Facebook now lets you follow a person without having to be their friend; Google+ goes bizarrely in the opposite direction, letting you tell people to follow you without their permission. There have been other improvements, to be sure.

I’m not sure I’m wild about “improvements” that Hume suggests, such as this one:

I bet Google or Facebook could take away much of the pain of creating these lists by analysing my flow of communications. I bet they could notice and prompt me to confirm changes (“you’re emailing Freda a lot at the moment—working late or is she a friend outside work nowadays?”).

Seems to me Facebook tries to do that to some extent already, and I don’t care for it. What about you?

Johnson concludes:

In many ways Facebook is not a great deal more advanced than it was when SixDegrees and LiveJournal helped set the standard: and it still, by and large, subscribes to these same mistakes about how human relationships work.

Johnson asks whether that’s something that will ever be fixed. I wonder what “fixed” would actually mean. Admission: I haven’t found Google+ “circles” all that useful except to identify those who I actually want to pay some attention to, but that’s me.

Which may lead naturally into…

What Will You Do About The Age Of Anti-Social Media?

That’s the provocative question asked by Ilana Rabinowitz in this May 24, 2011 piece at Social Media Explorer. She notes the extent to which “we” choose to be “distracted on a monumental scale” by following blogs, scanning Twitter, checking Facebook and so on—and notes the studies showing that “being connected” all the time is “detrimental to our ability to focus, to make good decisions, to be productive and to be creative.” And here’s what she says about it, in a one-sentence boldface paragraph:

There’s a movement afoot to convince us to change the way we relate to digital media.

Expanding slightly:

The message is that we need to step away from it to refresh, relax and recharge by unplugging on a regular basis.

The movement is being led by an unlikely group—the upper echelon of connected people—people at places like Twitter, Facebook, and Google. By the very creators of the tools of this onslaught. The message is that we need to spend less time online.

She claims it’s a “movement with a lot of momentum,” based largely on a February 2011 conference (“Wisdom 2.0”) that many people viewed when it was “livestreamed.”

A memorable moment at the conference was when a panel of people spoke of the long hours and constant computer time being logged at places like Facebook and Twitter, and mention was made that “everyone at Twitter was doing the work of twenty people.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, world-renowned mindfulness teacher, laid a simple, but obvious truth on us, that can be applied to the way we are connecting today in four words:

“This is not sustainable.”

There’s more—and it’s worth noting that Rabinowitz self-identifies as a person “active in digital marketing.” She assumes people will start filtering more and connecting less and offers suggestions for “connecting” (here without her commentary):

·         Don’t reach as desperately for quantity. Focus more on quality.

·         Just because there is unlimited space on the internet, doesn’t mean you should use it all.

·         When you write a blog post don’t repeat what you’ve read hundreds of times.

·         Get outside of a narrow area of interest and learn from people who you don’t usually read. (In this discussion, she says “if you are curating,” using what seems to be the new hot word on the web.)

·         Take breaks from the computer to spend time doing the activities that you personally find restorative…

·         Remember that a post works best if what it conveys is drawn from the life you are living.

·         It’s always been true, but now and for a future where content is going to be consumed more selectively, only the most creative, inspiring, helpful and fascinating content (and its authors) will be embraced.

I wonder. Some of these are the platitudes we’ve heard over and over, and I’m frankly not wild about most of the ultra-pithy writing I’ve seen (which frequently seems to sacrifice complexity, nuance and thought for brevity). I’d love to believe that last bullet (quoted in full), but that’s so wildly improbable that I can’t. It has never been true that only the best “content” will be embraced, unless you really believe Thomas Kincade and James Patterson represent the pinnacles of art and writing. Still, the fourth and fifth points do need repeating, and I think the sixth (“Remember…”) is excellent advice as well.

Special Report: The Social Web

This set of seventeen articles—plus another handful of web-exclusive articles and podcasts—comes from IEEE Spectrum and dates from June 2011 (although podcasts date as early as April 15, 2011). I’m pointing to it and saying “may be worth perusing, and it can’t be that outdated yet”; I’m not going to comment on each article.

The lead essay, “The Social Era of the Web Starts Now,” calls this the “third great era of the Web” (following browsers and Google), the era of social networks—and the report came out just as Google+ was getting started, thus making it a good time to posit a battle of the titans (that is, Facebook and Google). (Along the way, I see an example of IEEE’s orientation: previous “great conflicts” include RISC vs. CISC and Windows vs. Unix, not Windows vs. iOs/OS X.) That essay makes it clear that “ads are what makes this cockeyed caravan go”— both Facebook and Google are essentially ad agencies, although it doesn’t use those words. Two key paragraphs look even better a year later:

What Google and Facebook have that old media don’t is information about you—data that they collect and process with a barrage of advanced technologies, software, and math to wring money out of you with far greater efficiency. They do that by using the information to target you with ads that can be so specific and relentless that they seem a little creepy at times. Use Google’s Chrome browser to search for a fruit-flavored green tea and you will probably find yourself hounded for days or weeks by ads from tea sellers that pop up to the side of other pages that Google points you to. Writing the code that does that is how some of the greatest mathematical minds of the current generation make their living these days.

That’s Google’s edge: It is in the enviable position of benefiting from having users online in almost every way (but it greatly prefers to keep them at sites available to its scrutiny through the Chrome browser and Android apps). Facebook, on the other hand, can learn about people and profit from them only when they’re on the site (a fact that helps explain Mark Zuckerberg’s fervent desire that we all just get over our archaic notions about privacy). So now Facebook’s triumph is emboldening the network to take on more and more services in the interest of keeping users within its walls.

That last sentence and Instagram—and the growing interconnectedness of the Google universe. Sounds right to me. There’s more to the essay, with most of its second half introducing the range of articles in the special issue.

Notes on one of the articles follow—all of which appear to be freely available, for which a big hat tip to IEEE. These aren’t all techie articles. The first, for example, is all about money. I’m leaving the rest of them for your reading pleasure (or not). It’s an interesting, broad look at the situation less than a year ago; I hope the special issue will remain available for years to come. (Am I recommending all of the articles? Certainly not, but who am I to say what’s worth reading? You think I’m going to recommend an inane “manifesto” from a writer who I regard as having reached his peak as a second-rate TV Guide reviewer? Think again.)

The Revolution Will Not Be Monetized

Bob Garfield argues that “Stratospheric valuations for social media titans assume vast advertising revenue that will never arrive.” He begins with a remarkably fresh and humble paragraph:

First thing you do, tear this article out of the magazine and carefully set it on fire. It’s about the jockeying for position and revenue among the big players in social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube. And the analysis isn’t bad for—whaddyacallit—history. But it wasn’t written in the past 12 minutes. So more likely than not it’s already hilariously out of date. (“Google?” you may be asking, perplexed. In case the brand has in the interim disappeared from the scene, like Webvan and John Tesh, listen up: “Google” was a search engine.)

OK, you really need to read this one directly—Garfield’s funny and to the point, and I think his point is strong. It’s becoming clearer that, while online ads can be extremely targeted, they’re also far more intrusive than print ads and may not be as effective. I don’t tolerate magazine ads: I enjoy some and ignore others, but they’re always there as long as I’m reading the mag—I don’t start up apps to prevent them from appearing.

When this article appeared, online ad revenue was about 15% of all U.S. ad revenue even though people supposedly spent 31% of their “media-consuming time” online—and a study of actual numbers suggests that online time was valued at one-tenth that of magazine time (with TV at more than twice online but one-quarter magazine time). [Update: The 15% appears low. According to reports for 2011 as a whole, online advertising was up 10% to $32 billion in the U.S., but that made it 22% of overall U.S. advertising. Worldwide, online ads represented about 17% of all ad expenditures in 2011.]

Why is online advertising such a poor stepchild? Well, extremely delightful and informative books with pale-blue and white covers have been written on this subject, but let’s reduce the problem to its essence: The endless supply of online content means an endless supply of places where ads could go, which by definition depresses demand and, with it, price. Period.

The second problem is more basic still. Ever click on a banner ad? Have you? Ever? Of course not, because why would you leave what you’re doing—especially socializing—to go listen to a sales pitch? The click-through rate, industry-wide, is less than 1 percent—and chalk some of that up to mouse error and click fraud. Some advertisers deal with this problem by popping ads into your face, blaring audio, or subjecting you to “preroll” video messages before the video you actually wish to see. As Anderson sagely observed to a Madison Avenue audience, that was an acceptable quid pro quo in the days of passive TV viewing. Online, though, users are active and in control. “If you take control away from them,” he said, “they will hate you.” Or, put another way: Online, all advertising is spam. These two structural problems leave two possibilities: Either advertising will never be the force in new media that it was in the five predigital centuries (a theory to which I personally subscribe), or someone will crack the code.

Online’s big advantage is personalization, until we find such personalization creepy (those of us who haven’t already reached that point). Some true believers say personalization is everything—that social networks and specifically Facebook will conquer everything else. But I’m guessing this writer is with me:

On the other hand, that very lucrative targeted messaging has another undesirable effect: It gives us, the target, a condition that experts call the heebie-jeebies. A word about data mining: It is automated and essentially anonymous, but it engenders a creepy sense of privacy invasion and personal violation.

There’s quite a bit more to this article. Go read it.

Pixie Dust & The Mountain of Mediocrity

How could I not cite an essay with a title like that? It was posted at gapingvoid on June 7, 2011—and it’s by “the world’s most famous ex-blogger,” Kathy Sierra.

We’re always searching for that secret formula, that magic pixie dust to sprinkle over our products, services, books, causes, brands, blogs to bring them to life and make them Super Successful. Most marketing-related buzz­words gain traction by promising pixie dust results if applied to whatever it is we make, do, sell. “Add more Social!” “Just need a Viral Video!” “It’s about the Story­telling!”. “Be Authentic!”

Well, maybe not all of us, but never mind. Here’s Sierra’s version of “most Marketing 2.0”:

“If you can­not out-spend the competition, you can out-friend them!” He who has the most Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and blog commenters Wins! It’s all about Social Capital now!

She doesn’t think this makes sense—and notes that “social media rock stars” can’t necessarily turn their followers into paying customers unless they had great products. And now she gets to the heart of it: Social media won’t help if the product’s terrible—and it’s not needed if the product’s great.

And then someone I trust said this: these [insert favorite new buzzword] approaches are not about saving a crap product or marketing an awesome one… where these tools really DO make a difference for a brand is when the brand has little or no other compelling benefit over the competition. If the product is mediocre, or even really good but with too many equally good competitors, these things can make a difference. If you have little else to compete on, then out-friending/out-viraling/out-gamifying can work.

Until a competitor out-networks you, that is. Sierra discusses that more...and then gets to her real target, the latest buzzword (last June): Gamification. She’s not wild about using it as a way to gain brand recognition. Instead, she says, “Just make people better at something they want to be better at.” What a notion! (From what I’m seeing, “curation” may be the new buzzword, but it doesn’t brandify as well as “gamification.”)

Bubble Trouble

That title for Jacob Weisberg’s June 10, 2011 piece at Slate is humdrum, but the tease is great: “Is Web personalization turning us into solipsistic twits?” He recounts a conversation with Robert Wright at The New Republic from 1993—one in which Wright offered some possible negative aspects of the growing use of the net (remember 1993?):

One was that it was going to empower crazies, since geographically diffuse nut jobs of all sorts would be able to find each other online. Another was that it could hurt democratic culture by encouraging narrow-minded folk to burrow deeper into their holes.

Weisberg links to the article that spells out these concerns—and while that link doesn’t take you to digitized 19-year-old magazine pages, it does take you to a fascinating 4,500-word essay. (The .txt file you get is almost 5,700 words because Wright’s essay is followed by a brief and amusing discourse on emoticons by Neal Stephenson of Snow Crash fame.)

That link alone is reason enough to cite this article, but I’m not going to comment directly on the 19-year-old piece. Weisberg thinks Wright’s first concern has been borne out but the second (“about the Internet fostering mental rabbit warrens”) remains an open issue. This leads him to Eli Paariser’s The Filter Bubble, which argues the solipsistic case.

The dark side to personalization has special relevance to those of us working at the intersection of journalism and technology. While the Web has provided consumers with a means to individualize their commerce and entertainment choices, it hasn’t, until recently, done so with news per se. But investment is now flowing into just this kind of personalization filter…. [Examples offered.]

Extrapolating from all this activity, and from expanding efforts to customize search and social media experiences online, it’s now possible to imagine a world in which every person creates his own mental fortress and apprehends the outside world through digital arrow-slits.

Pariser thinks that’s happening. I think it can happen, especially if you’re a true believer who’s jettisoned boring old print newspapers and other broadening media in favor of your customized feeds and customized Google searches (whether you intended to customize them or not, most folks won’t bother to go to Settings and disable personalized searching).

Weisberg did an anecdotal experiment: Taking five friends and followers, from a wide variety of political viewpoints, and asking each of them to search on four ideological terms and send him screenshots of the results.

There were only minor discrepancies in the screen shots they sent back for these queries. The [independent] insurance consultant from Dubuque got Wikipedia entries for the two congressmen ahead of their own official websites, while all the others got the official sites first. But none of the minor variations aligned in any apparent way with anyone’s political views. For Boehner, for instance, all of the testers—and I—got the same hostile site as the fifth return.

Google says that’s not surprising:

“We actually have algorithms in place designed specifically to limit personalization and promote variety in the results page,” a spokesman emailed me. Independent analysts aren’t seeing a problem, either. Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of law and computer science at Harvard, who studies Web censorship, agrees that Google isn’t doing what Pariser says it is. “In my experience, the effects of search personalization have been light,” he told me.

Not to take sides here, but if Zittrain says “not much of a problem,” my instinct is to think there may not be much of a problem. Weisberg thinks that’s partly because really effective personalization is damn hard to do algorithmically. I’m generous enough to believe it’s also partly due to deliberate limits such as those Google claims to use.

Pariser is also dead wrong, it seems to me, in assuming that personalization narrows our perspectives rather than broadening them. Through most of history, bubbles have been imposed involuntarily. Not so long ago, most Americans got their news primarily through three like-minded networks and local newspapers that reflected a narrow consensus. With something approaching the infinite choices on the Web, no one has to be limited in this way.

There are studies suggesting that conservative and liberal bloggers cross-link to surprising degrees. Weisberg thinks good personalization can mean more diversity of views. What starts out as a possibly negative story turns out, I think, to be reasonably positive. After all, those who want a nicely walled right-wing garden can watch Fox News and subscribe to The Weekly Standard and any number of “news”papers; they don’t need the web to do it for them. (I didn’t use National Review; in my limited experience, that magazine isn’t narrow enough for the Beck/Limbaugh crowd.)

I only looked at the first few comments, a mixed bag, but find this one from George Arndt both telling and a little worrisome, although it’s probably even more true of traditional media than of the web:

Most people who live in the real world have to work with people with different politics. But, if someone is unemployed for a long time and or, doesn’t have an active social life, the echo chamber effect is a real issue.

Tumblr is Killing WordPress

Now for a little comic relief, one of those items that fairly screams CONSIDER THE SOURCE—in this case Smedio, the “digital marketing guide for businesses and entrepreneurs.” The piece itself appeared June 21, 2011, written by Douglas Idugboe, a “Canadian bestselling author” who’s founder and chief editor of Smedio.

The story, once you get past that Ellison-style headline (“For us to win, everyone else must lose”)?

In this fast-paced environment influenced by 140 character tweets, unless a social media platform uses the word “micro,” it’s no longer cool. The fast-growing micro-blogging platform Tumblr is the latest example of the “micro” craze. Tumblr has now surpassed WordPress, the archetype open source blogging platform that hosts some of the largest blogs on the Web. As of this writing, Tumblr is hosting 20,873,182 blogs compared to WordPress’ paltry 20,787,904. This is an amazing turn of events, considering the fact that WordPress has been in existence four-years longer than the upstart Tumblr.

Well, hot damn. If you ignore the millions, probably tens of millions, of WordPress blogs that are not hosted at (I’m guessing more than a hundred just at LIShost), Tumblr had 0.4% more blogs: Clearly, WordPress is doomed, since there can only be one of whatever. I assume y’all have long since abandoned those doomed WordPress blogs and moved to Tumblr, right?

This being Social Media marketing, the next subhead should be obvious: “Everyone is Tumblelogging now.” Not only is Tumblr hot shit, “all signs point to continued growth,” since we have such short attention spans and have embraced “short texts and tweets as our primary means of social communication.” Oh, and it’s easy: “blogging but without the commitment.” The message is straightforward: Your business has to be on Tumblr, and that means it needs “video and colorful photos, in other words, eye candy.” To do otherwise is certain doom—after all, WordPress is already dead.

In amongst the “you’re right, high-five, wonderful article” comments—and SEO spamments—are gems like this one from Kim Vigbo: “Trying to compare Tumblr with WordPress does none of them any justice. I can’t wait to see what you will be comparing next? Maybe rocks and the color yellow?”

Reality check in April 2012: says there are about 72.767 million Wordpress blogs, about half of them on There are about 46 million Tumblr blogs. As for visitors and the like, Alexia shows as #18, Tumblr at #38—oh, and Blogspot at #10. Quantcast shows 54 million unique visitors in the last checked month for (again, leaving out some 36 million other WordPress blogs), 45 million for Tumblr…and 57 million for Blogspot, which of course died long ago. Wordpress software is apparently now the most popular content management system for new web sites, not just blogs, being used for 22% of new sites. Too bad it was killed off by Tumblr, at least for those with short attention spans.

We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Social Media Gurus

So says Professor Rob Kozinets (BBA, MBA, Ph.D.), “a globally-recognized expert on social media, marketing research, and branding” (according to his own description on his Brandthroposophy blog, at which this appeared on July 2, 2011. Hey, he’s a professor—at York University’s business school—and he’s edited a book. Published by Elsevier. So we’re talking serious credentials here. (I’m being snarky, but his About page makes it a little hard not to. And an academic who coins a grotesquerie like “brandthroposophy” deserves some snark.)

He spoke at a “Social Media Day gathering” in Toronto. After he spoke and “assumed a position within the audience, beer in hand,” a woman began talking to him, saying she just got involved with social media, that she’d driven all the way from Niagara Falls for this event, and [emphasis in the original]:

“I want to become a social media guru,” she said to me, with a big, winning, business-y smile.

To which he responds (in this post):

Gotta tell ya, Jennifer. That’s just about the last thing the world needs. That, another horndog politician, and four bucks will get you a Starbucks latte.

He continues in a similar vein, discussing Bhagwan Shree Rhagneesh and concluding:

I mean, come on. “Guru?” Guru? Really? In the West? In 2011? Without irony?

If he’d stopped right there, I’d applaud, say “Good on you,” and go on. But he doesn’t. Because, well, he’s definitely not a social media guru. Oh, no, not him. Let him explain:

Me, I am a Ph.D who studied social media in my dissertation and a Full Professor now, and I have had a strong social media component to my classes since 1999. That’s twelve years ago, for those who are counting. I began teaching the first social media course in Canada, and one of the first in the world, in 2007, calling it “Word of Mouth Marketing.” I have developed multiple courses at undergraduate, graduate, and PhD levels to teach Social Media Marketing and Management. Those course outlines are being used by dozens of other professors around the world right now.

He tells us he’s definitely not a social media guru. “I much prefer to be known as a Still-Learning Social Media Expert-in-Progress. Or a Social Media Researcher. Social Media Pioneer? I think I have probably earned that one.” and so on for another paragraph about this True Expert’s Credentials. Hey, he’s been studying “social media” for 16 years! So he’s “more than a little ticked off” by all these wannabes.

The rest of the post could be cute, except that his “expert-in-progress” sure sounds a lot like Mitch Joel’s “humility” about being only between #20 and #30 on some worldwide list…and, of course, this professor believes Social Media is a meaningful term. Not me. It is always good to see a multi-degreed faculty member providing a one-fingered salute to those who are less credentialed and use terms he finds silly, though: Warms my heart, that does.

6 Scientific Reasons Social Networks Are Bad for Society

I have mixed feelings about linking to Its brand of snark frequently reminds me of Walt Crawford at his worst (that’s not a compliment), albeit with better writing. But this one, posted July 18, 2011 by Luke McKinney, is a gem: For each of six statements he links to a scholarly article, which he then summarizes or excerpts. You’ll have to go to the link to see the articles and McKinney’s commentary; here are the six “scientific reasons”:

·         #6 Everyone (Correctly) Assumes You’re an Egocentric Asshole

·         #5 Thousands of Friends Means None

·         #4 They’re Reinstalling Sexism

·         #3 They’re Full of Psychos

·         #2 Social Networks Are Full of Whiners

·         #1 Social Networks Prevent People From Being Social and Networking

There are 641 comments. I did not read them. That would take too much time away from Friendfeed. And Google+. And Facebook. And Twitter…

My Online Social Profile, 2011

Interesting mostly because it’s thoughtful and a somewhat special case: John Scalzi, writing August 4, 2011 at Whatever. Scalzi’s no social marketing guru or SEO; he’s an award-winning science fiction (and blog-related nonfiction) writer with an outstanding blog that gets thoughtful comments. So, y’know, worth considering.

It’s a ranked list, starting with Whatever itself, since it’s “the largest repository of Scalzi Being Scalzi anywhere online.” He agrees with the general belief that “the Blog Moment has passed,” since for most people Facebook, Twitter and the like do what they need done better and more efficiently. But “for most people” isn’t for everybody, which is why there are still millions of active blogs, even as many blogs have become ghost towns. Also,

The site has also been around long enough that it has its own community of people, evident in the comments section, where there is (as the masthead of Mad magazine would put it) “the usual gang of idiots” who talk amongst each other on a usual basis. The composition of that gang changes slowly over the years — people come and go, depending on their own interests, time commitments and whether I’ve pissed them off sufficiently that they decide to stop talking to me and others — but overall there’s a day-to-day consistency which for me as the proprietor is both nice and useful. Nice because a gang of regulars means we’ve gotten out sitcom-like timing down, useful because by and large everyone understands the community standards and are willing and able to impart the knowledge to newcomers. It’s why Whatever gets noted elsewhere online as a place where people actually have conversations about contentious topics, rather than just yelling past each other as they bellow cue card talking points out into the cloud. It makes my job as Malleteer much easier.

It’s one of two reasons I look at Whatever whenever there’s a new post, the other being Scalzi himself.

Second is Twitter:

I really like Twitter now but I didn’t really get it when I first started using it, which I chalk up to blog tunnel vision, i.e., “if I want to post something short, I can just do it on my blog.” But the fact is I hardly ever post anything that short on my blog, other than to say something like “I’m not here today; see you tomorrow.” So it actually addresses an entirely different way for me to be online…

As he notes, it’s also mostly a different audience, currently a little over 26 thousand strong in his case. (He doesn’t push the blog on Twitter but has a separate “@blogwhatever” Twitter account for that purpose, with 999 followers.)

Third? This one’s interesting, especially in August 2011: Google+

This particular social network has been around, what? Less than a month? But even so it very rapidly became my preferred non-Twitter social network because of its esthetic, its functionality, and because (at least for now) it doesn’t do all the annoying things that Facebook does. Google+ is definitely getting some mileage out of the fact that it’s not Facebook, but, hey, you go with what works, and it’s Facebook’s fault that its product is go aggressively mediocre that Google could come along, do what it does slightly less obnoxiously, and have people fall over themselves rushing to get to it.

He’s not wild about Google+’s policy on pseudonyms (which I believe has changed somewhat), but he finds that Google+ works well “in between Whatever and Twitter” for casual socializing with friends and fans. 12,553 have Scalzi in circles.

Then there’s Facebook, where he now has a page to avoid all that Friending nonsense (since then, to be sure, simple Following handles this). 6,252 Like his page. And then there’s “everything else”—accounts at LinkedIn, Goodreads and elsewhere where he’s basically inactive. He does note pretty much everywhere that if people really want to talk to him they should visit Whatever or send him “actual e-mail.”

Good self-analysis. Thirty-one comments. It’s Whatever, so they’re mostly worthwhile. As sometimes happens, one commenter doesn’t read the post very carefully:

I’m fascinated by this idea that blogs are passé, and have been replaced with Twitter and FB/G+. More specifically, you stated that you largely agree with this premise, then go on to detail exactly why it’s completely wrong (IMO): blogs work for longer thoughts/essays/screeds, while Twitter and social sites do not…. [another paragraph about why Twitter and Facebook don’t replace blogs]

Ummm…but saying “the Blog Moment has passed” is not saying blogs are passé. It’s saying they’re no longer the Big Thing That Everybody Must Have. Most folks have neither the need nor the focus to write long, thoughtful essays, the kinds of things blogs do best; their needs really are better served by social networks.

But applause for this from “htom”:

I must most strenuously protest our being labeled “the usual gang of idiots”; we are, in fact a most unusual gang of idiots. Look at our behavior, I beg of you!

Duly noted.


Two related items on a recurring theme: The virtues of taking an offline holiday—either a partial one (just avoiding social networks) or a full one (staying offline). The first, with the one-word title above, posted October 2, 2011 at Llordllama’s Llibarian Lleanings. LL, as we’ll call this readily identifiable blogger who chooses to remain pseudonymous, took “a bit of a holiday.” For a week, they avoided social networking. Actually a bit more than that: They describe it as taking “a break from all things social and online” to “refocus on the things around me.”

There’s a day-by-day summary, and it makes clear that “things around me” doesn’t necessarily mean the real world: On the first evening, they watched TV instead of being online. And on the second day they were on “the Beeb’s news pages,” so I guess “social and online” is the Boolean AND, which I wouldn’t normally assume about normal English usage. Or is it? They say they “slightly broke my rules” by uploading something to YouTube (ah, but I guess some consider YouTube to be part of social something-or-other). And did a “quick sneaky look at Twitter,” so the rules by day three are apparently “don’t actively participate.”

By Day 4, the rules seem to be pretty threadbare: They’re not only glancing at Facebook but also sending email to people. So email isn’t social (but is online) even though it’s person-to-person, while YouTube is social even though it’s mostly publishing-and-viewing…man, I’m getting more confused by the minute. And, of course, Day 7 includes scanning Facebook, since it’s now clear that the “vacation” is a lurker’s vacation, not a real focus on, you know, the real world.

This odd experiment yielded six lessons for Llordllama—and you should check the original for those lessons.

Jake Reilly’s ‘Amish Project:’ 90 Days Without a Cell Phone, Email and Social Media

Here’s a whole different animal, as written up by Brad Sylvester on January 31, 2012 on the Yahoo! Contributor Network (you may have to try the link a couple of times to actually be able to read the story, as Yahoo! seems intent on getting in your way). A 24-year-old college student did something radical for the last three months of 2011:

From October to December, he unplugged from social media, email, texts, and cell phones because he felt that we spend more quality time with gadgets and keyboards than we do with the people we really care about.

He was serious about it. He suspended his cell phone service, deactivated Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Spotify “and anything where there was a social component” and put not-available messages on his email accounts. Other than bank verifications via email, he says he didn’t cheat at all. This person was a heavy social networker. Before the break,

It was pretty bad. I was reading every single Tweet and I follow 250 people. Then, I would waste a good hour and a half on Facebook. I was sending more than 1,500 texts a month. I never really counted minutes on the phone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 600 to 900.

Initially, he was only going to turn off his phone, but he knew that would just lead to more email and Facebook messages:

It’s kind of a hard thing, because we’re getting to the point where if you’re not responding to people’s text messages within an hour of when they send them, or within a day for emails, it’s just socially unacceptable. It’s been hard for me since I’ve been back. I’ve been bad with my phone and people are, like, “What the hell? I text messaged you…” So I haven’t been up to social standards in terms of responding and people don’t really understand that, I guess.

He was inspired by going to a college basketball game with friends he only sees a couple of times a year—and noticing that “every single person had either a laptop or a cell phone” and they were all doing stuff online instead of focusing on the game.

That’s the thing that drives me crazy. People go out to dinner with a crowd and everyone’s on their phone. I mean, what else are you looking for?

He started the experiment without having a landline, and I’m not surprised that his mom got a little freaked out. He added a landline. He also started leaving chalked messages for people on their sidewalks…

In this student’s case, he really was offline almost entirely, not even watching TV, with interesting results:

I had so much free time on my hands. I also wasn’t watching TV, because that felt sort of counter-productive. I would go to school, and then there was really nothing for me to do at home, so I would just ride my bike to people’s houses, all these people that I would usually text or just see on the weekends or whatever. I would just ride by and chat with them, face to face. So, that was really cool, reconnecting, doing things you’d never normally do like having breakfast with someone’s parents.

[I guess college, or at least certain colleges, must be a lot easier these days. Having “nothing to do at home” after a day’s classes was never an issue back when I was at Cal, and in 1962-68 spending time online or texting wasn’t an option.]

There’s a lot more to this fairly lengthy interview, and it’s worth reading. I may be a bit snarky here, but it sounds like Reilly found the experience quite positive. He reconnected with a girlfriend he’d sort of fallen out with, he read more books, he started meditating, he “did a lot of things that I don’t know…other people would say they want to do. But I think, if they actually did them, they’d be of incredible value.” All in all, an interesting discussion—including the older relative who noted that he’s been living that way for 69 years.

More than four thousand comments, some as recent as yesterday. The most recent few (all I read) were mostly either from old farts like me noting that we all lived that way until recently, or otherwise approving—with one noting the irony that we had to read about this online.

If Your Website’s Full of Assholes, It’s Your Fault

Another case where the title alone may be reason enough to cite this—written by Anil Dash and posted July 20, 2011 at his eponymous blog. Dash is a pioneer of sorts: he’s been blogging since 1989. He notes classic examples of asshattery:

We can post a harmless video of a child’s birthday party and be treated to profoundly racist non-sequiturs in the comments. We can read about a minor local traffic accident on a newspaper’s website and see vicious personal attacks on the parties involved. A popular blog can write about harmless topics like real estate, restaurants or sports and see dozens of vitriolic, hate-filled spewings within just a few hours.

But that’s just the web, right? Shouldn’t we just keep shrugging our shoulders and shaking our heads and being disappointed in how terrible our fellow humans are?

Wrong, says Dash: “This is a solved problem.”

As it turns out, we have a way to prevent gangs of humans from acting like savage packs of animals. In fact, we’ve developed entire disciplines based around this goal over thousands of years. We just ignore most of the lessons that have been learned when we create our communities online. But, by simply learning from disciplines like urban planning, zoning regulations, crowd control, effective and humane policing, and the simple practices it takes to stage an effective public event, we can come up with a set of principles to prevent the overwhelming majority of the worst behaviors on the Internet.

If you run a website, you need to follow these steps. if you don’t, you’re making the web, and the world, a worse place. And it’s your fault. Put another way, take some goddamn responsibility for what you unleash on the world.

Dash says website owners have moral obligations for what appears on their sites:

Hell yes, you are responsible. You absolutely are. When people are saying ruinously cruel things about each other, and you’re the person who made it possible, it’s 100% your fault. If you aren’t willing to be a grown-up about that, then that’s okay, but you’re not ready to have a web business. Businesses that run cruise ships have to buy life preservers. Companies that sell alcohol have to keep it away from kids. And people who make communities on the web have to moderate them.

So what should you (you blogger, you library, you company, you Personal Brand) do? The topic sentences:

You should have real humans dedicated to monitoring and responding to your community.

You should have real humans dedicated to monitoring and responding to your community.

Your site should have accountable identities. [By which Dash does not mean forcing real names; he thinks “persistent pseudonyms” are fine.]

You should have the technology to easily identify and stop bad behaviors.

You should make a budget that supports having a good community, or you should find another line of work.

He notes reasons some people are cynical about the possibility of real, relevant, worthwhile conversations on the web:

Because a company like Google thinks it’s okay to sell video ads on YouTube above conversations that are filled with vile, anonymous comments. Because almost every great newspaper in America believes that it’s more important to get a few more page views on their website than to encourage meaningful discourse about current events within their community, even if many of those page views will be off-putting to the good people who are offended by the content of the comments. And because lots of publishers think that any conversation is good if it boosts traffic stats.

There are exceptions—lots of them. They should be in the majority. I’ll quote the last two paragraphs:

So, I beseech you: Fix your communities. Stop allowing and excusing destructive and pointless conversations to be the fuel for your business. Advertisers, hold sites accountable if your advertising appears next to this hateful stuff. Take accountability for this medium so we can save it from the vilification that it still faces in our culture.

Because if your website is full of assholes, it’s your fault. And if you have the power to fix it and don’t do something about it, you’re one of them.

More than 200 comments—and I’m guessing they’re free of asshattery, since Dash must follow his own rules. One poor fool objects to the “obscene” title (really?). A number of people make useful additions. One pseudonymous commenter thinks it’s hopeless because of dynamic IPs (Dash writes a quick response). A lot of people cite past experiences with online communities made up of literate adults. A few, um, idiots, and one case whose solution is that sites shouldn’t have comments at all (just like good newspapers never publish letters, right?) and basically says comments just don’t ever work (saying so in a comment). A couple of jerks completely misread the post and pile on him for saying “delete any comments that don’t agree with you,” which Dash never says (and doesn’t believe). One blogger says “but I can’t afford moderators!”—which gets the only appropriate response, namely “do it yourself.” Yes, I did read the whole stream—including Dash’s comment that he hadn’t deleted anything.

A Survival Guide for Beating Information Addiction

To end this ramble, here’s one by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, posted March 9, 2012. I have mixed feelings about using “addiction” broadly, but never mind. Babauta’s definition has seven bulleted items, and while I’d agree that showing signs of all of them means you have a problem, I’m not sure I’d say the same for showing signs of one. The one that might be most innocent is the first “You know you’re an information addict if you:” bullet:

Check email, Facebook, news, or some other social network first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

If Babauta adopted Jeff Foxworthy’s wording and said “You might be an information addict if you…” I’d withdraw my caveat. He redeems himself somewhat:

Now, if none of these seems like a problem for you, even if you do them, then they probably aren’t a problem. But if you see yourself in one or more of these and want to change, this guide is for you.

If you don’t think it’s a problem (and if those around you don’t think it’s a problem), then maybe it isn’t.

He offers three first steps—assess your habits, introduce “the pause,” take a break every hour—and four ways to change habits. They strike me as plausible. In brief: Start with your biggest trigger; pick a replacement habit; do the new habit after the trigger, every time; use positive public pressure. (Go read the explanations in the actual article.)

The crucial addition here is his discussion of “a balanced life,” since he’s not saying “stop using social networks.” Again, I’ll cite the topic sentences and suggest that you read the full discussions

·         The goal isn’t to eliminate all information sources.

·         Schedule time for non-Internet and non-media activities.

·         Work without distractions.

·         Schedule a limited time for your information sources.

·         Choose your sources wisely.

·         Get some sleep.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 12, Number 4, Whole # 148, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced irregularly by Walt Crawford.

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