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Social Networking is Broken

social networking

I never thought i’d say it but i’m getting a little bored of social media. Average content gets over-shared, automated ‘content’ gets shared whether we like it or not and businesses are becoming predictable in their marketing efforts online… It’s a real problem for the internet as a whole. It’s losing its value as a ‘community’.

We must learn from Digg.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Digg story because it was the first real mainstream ‘community’ in the true sense of the word. Support & loyalty to Digg could only be described as ‘fanatical’. These days you have a similar situation at Reddit. These are social communities that create real value. They’re places where people go out of their way to help other people. Real life meet-ups, secret santas, charity donations… there’s a lot of goodwill floating around and as a user, you can only have tremendous respect for communities like that. You get sucked in to that mentality. It’s somewhat similar to a ‘tidy towns’ atmosphere – everyone does their bit to improve or maintain the community so you’ll think twice about posting up some spam. Post something uninteresting and you and your content will be swiftly be shot down. It’s survival of the fittest. Fittest brains, fittest content.

Digg was eventually infiltrated by power user ‘sell outs’ who sold their influence to advertisers and betrayed the community. Dodgy / average content ended up becoming popular and people couldn’t understand why. It didn’t help when the Digg team tried a few times to dictate what could and couldn’t be posted, which resulted in a few community backlashes. When Digg tinkered with the design and introduced some backwards features, the community lost faith and bailed… most of them, including myself, ended up at Reddit which is now multiple times the size Digg ever was.

If you compare early Digg or today’s Reddit to Myspace / Bebo  / Facebook / Google+ or any other traditional ‘social network’, there’s a big difference in terms of the value being generated. In general, that ‘value’ is original content & discussion based around questions, photos, videos, articles…

That value all comes from users of course but more users doesn’t equal more value. Facebook is a perfect example. They’ve 900m real people on board. If your feed is similar to mine, you’ll probably agree that while the volume of content has increased over time, the same can’t be said for the quality of content. Rather than take a top down approach of Facebook users, i’ll take a bottom up approach and start with my own connections on Facebook.

I get information from:

  • Friends
  • Relatives
  • Businesses
  • People i’m subscribed to
  • Lists i’m subscribed to

The problem is though, that ‘information’ could be hearing about how someone won a badge in a game or what they liked on youtube. It could be hearing what movie somebody wants to see on rotten tomatoes… is that valuable to me? No, not really. In that bullet point list, the most important content to me is content from the first two – friends & family. These are trusted contacts that i can trust in real life. The other 3 are people or things i vaguely know or have an interest in… most of them don’t know me or care about me. Generally, they post more stuff and that stuff is of less interest to me than stuff friends & relatives post.

The problem with my entire news feed as a whole is that there’s very little original content on it. It’s all automated or semi automated. People no longer post status updates… once in a blue moon they’ll upload photos directly to Facebook. Events / questions are usually designed to promote something rather than create real/genuine value.

The Problem

Problems
The problem we face today with social networks is that there is virtually no original content being exchanged (in comparison to content that’s reposted). Why? Because our feeds are full of links to sites we’re not interested in, promotional photos, stuff a distant relative has liked on youtube etc… don’t get me started on games or apps that don’t seemingly do anything other than grow their userbase. I can safely say that whilst my Facebook profile may be busier than ever before, i’m publishing less and less original status updates / photos etc…

I feel Facebook is running in to the exact same problem Digg did. It’s been infiltrated by too many people who’s primary agenda is to get users to buy stuff or sign up for stuff or visit 3rd party websites. Strong social ties have been eroded and it’s become more a louder, more public place.

Logging on to Facebook today is like walking down a street with buskers, chuggers, homeless people and shops surrounding you. Where are my friends? This isn’t a ‘social’ experience. It’s not what i signed up for. It’s become a tacky nightclub where you lose sight of everyone you care about and can’t hear what those you care about are saying because there’s so much noise.

The Solution

1. Get Priorities Straight

Facebooks biggest problem isn’t mobile, as we keep hearing. Facebooks biggest problem is stopping people from walking away from the site. If they fail to do that, they’ll have a much bigger problem than trying to figure out how to monetise mobile. I feel they’re losing focus and falling in to the Digg trap… i feel the value of Facebook to end users is in rapid decline…

Let’s go back to basics… people like people… they like seeing them, hearing about them, talking to them… it’s the reason why most of us signed up years ago. Sure, we might be interested in reading the same article our friends are reading but that’s not ‘news’… i shouldn’t be alerted to that, it should only be there if i want to go looking for it.

2. Ban ads that link to external sites

This is high risk strategy but hey, this is me owning facebook for the purpose of this blog post and calling the shots so we’ll run with it 🙂 i feel it’s in the community’s best interests. The problem with ads right now is that not many of us click on them. Why? Because we know they’re ads and most ads are boring, repetitive or selling stuff. Plus unlike on Google, they’re less targeted. Google know i’m searching for cars, so there’s a good chance i might like to buy or sell one.

facebook ads

Facebook can only serve me ads based on my interests which at any given time could be wildly inaccurate. For example i might have liked a few web hosting companies in the past and listed by job as IT manager. Maybe now i’m unemployed, broke and no longer own websites so serving me hosting ads doesn’t make any sense. It’s a waste of money for advertisers and it only serves to annoy me because the ads aren’t relevant so any time i do look at them i’m reinforcing my opinion that facebook ads are rubbish and are therefore less likely to even glance at them next time.

  • *If* i knew that all ads linked to Facebook pages, i’d know that;
  • The page design will be the same and i’ll still be on facebook (good for me, good for facebook)
  • Advertisers will be forced to maintain their facebook page (good for the community & good for customers becomes businesses can’t ignore them)
  • Facebook could lower the price of ads for advertisers based on their page’s value (more likes, more content, more interaction with community = more value for end user therefore advertiser should pay lower price – it is in effect rewarding advertisers for adding value to the facebook community)

3. Threaded Comments & Comment Sorting
This is a pet hate of mine. Why bother having likes on comments if you can’t sort the comments by the number of likes? And why bother having comments if they’re not threaded? Introduce these two simple features and you instantly add more value to end users. Top comments get rewarded with more exposure, spam comments don’t get a look in. By threading comments it’s also easier to figure out who replied to who and what comments are related to the original content and what are related to another comment. YouTube are another social giant who get comments all wrong imo.

On Facebook i know that if i comment on a popular article, the value of my comment is almost zero because nobody will read it. It will get lost in among the hundreds of other comments. It’s slightly different on youtube because you can sort by ‘newest’ and the top rated comments stay fixed in position, that acts as a reward for commenting although youtube don’t allow you to view all comment easily and rank them all by top rated, which is what they should do. Does it take things off topic? Yes. That’s not a bad thing… it’s a natural thing. If somebody leaves a stupid comment or a controversial comment, that’s much more likely to prompt me to respond. But on Facebook you can’t dislike comments nor can you respond to comments (maintaining the context) so i just won’t bother…

4. Dislike Button
Give the people what they want. Allow them to punish poor content. Allow them to dislike businesses (disliking users would be a step too far, although i’d like to see that too). Take Ryanair. Do you like or dislike them? Does that opinion change from time to time? Sure it does. You should be able to like & dislike them and monitor their popularity over time… This is more ‘real’ than the current cotton wool rating system that protects companies that at times don’t deserve to be protected. If more people dislike a company than like it, let the records know that.

This bold move would cause instant mayhem and inject a huge amount of energy in to the community. It would rattle advertisers, businesses and send a message out that nobody messes with the community. If they do, they’ll face a backlash. That empowers users. Rather than a simple dislike button, you should only be able to dislike something provided you give a reason, simply to stop abuse of the system and to stop competitors buying 50,000 dislikes for their rival 🙂

Sean MacEntee

Web Developer. Technology Addict. Swimmer. Man Utd Fan. Writer. Designer.