The antiquated, “eyeball” media model is screwing with our online behavior.
I had a fun brainstorming session recently with Pierre Omidyar (@pierre). One of the things we talked about was how social software’s design has impacted how we behave online. The metrics companies choose to put in front of us are really meaningful since people optimize their behavior around those numbers.
In the consumer space–because most companies decide to follow Google into “free” land– they fall trap to optimizing for the dusty, century-old media business model: get a ton of viral, sticky eyeballs, then sell ad space.
Number of friends, is the metric on big kitchen sink networks like Facebook, Myspace, etc. On Twitter it’s number of followers. And you can see the resulting behavior every day. As soon as someone joins Facebook, it’s a race to add as many friends to cart as possible to get that number up. Just look at Follow Friday. There are even applications developed to help you game your Follower numbers, so you can quickly achieve the status of 23,083 meaningless followers.
Here’s why Friending and Following doesn’t work
Besides not actually being part of an environment tailor made around meaningful connections, the other reason that Friending, Following and other social number don’t work is that no one wants to give you negative feeback. Sure, Robert Scoble stopped following 106,000 people but most of us don’t want to unfriend, unfollow, or unanything that would send a negative message to someone else. So, while we focus on driving our social numbers up as high as possible, those numbers end up being meaningless. They don’t reflect reality. In real life people come in and out of our life. People we vouch for at one point, we can’t vouch for at another point. Our friends change. People we want to meet change. Because the kitchen-sink networks optimize their numbers around mass-use in order to sell advertising, they can’t solve this problem.
The numbers we track in our online/offline life
After my conversation with Pierre, it got me thinking about the numbers we track in our online and offline life. Since, Blackbox Republic is focused on fusing online/offline realities together, arriving at measurements that help enable meaningful relationships has been at the forefront of our development. The chart below is a visual representation of the delta between how we currently account for our online and offline social. As you can see, it’s pretty huge. I’d be interested on your ideas on how to bridge it more effectively.