What’s the rest of it? There are really only two areas that I haven’t delved into: Groups and Notes (and keep in mind, FB changes constantly, so these could go away).
Groups: a lot more self-explanatory than you might expect.
They are, of course, a means for people to gather themselves together. Facebook is enormous and so, instead of looking through several million people to try to find someone who likes, say, Star Trek United, you can hunt for a Star Trek group, join it and, voila! Instant collection of people with an interest similar to your own.
Joining in a group affords few obligations. Get invited to a group event? Well, it’s nice to RSVP, but not necessary. New discussion in the group? Well, it’s nice to participate, but you don’t need to. Add photos? Again, lovely, but no one’s holding a gun to your head.
Managing a group differs a tad because it’s good to keep it lively. I’ve already talked a bit about groups before in this series, so I won’t repeat what I’ve said. However, mainly you want to keep discussions going (if any) and interest up. Gathering an enormous number of fans (yes, I know they are called Likes now, but what’s the human term? Likers? That just sounds weird, Facebook) helps with that.
This helps because it’s a somewhat objective means of showing interest in your group or cause or company, but since there’s a proliferation of dual accounts, that’s not necessarily much of an achievement. Plus, since it’s so easy to toss a share or Like button on any site, and Liking is so easy, having a lot of fans often just means you got your group in front of a bunch of people who are fine with clicking on a Like button, and nothing more. A group with 1,000 fans is not necessarily going to be easier to monetize than a group with only 100.
Notes became yet another means of getting across information. The main difference between them and discussions? The replies seem more like subordinate-appearing comments versus discussion replies.
Yeah, it’s a difference without much of a real distinction.
The main usage I’ve seen for Notes consists of old-fashioned “getting to know you” kinds of notes. You know, the kind where you’re asked your favorite ice cream flavor or the name of your childhood pet. I’ve been on the Internet for over a decade and a half and, frankly, I think I’ve seen all of these by now.
The last bit about Facebook is its very ubiquity. One of the reasons why it is so successful is because it’s, well, so successful. E. g., a long time ago, it hit a tipping point and started to become famous for the sake of being famous, and got bigger pretty much just because it was already huge.
It is well-known to be a world-wide phenomenon. Mentioning it is so obvious, so simple and so well-known that it practically isn’t product placement to talk about it any more, much like mentioning a telephone in a movie isn’t really product placement to give a profit to Alexander Graham Bell’s descendants.
See you online. And, yes, I will friend you if you like.
What would we do for the love of communities? What is it about an online community?
Just what, exactly, draws people together online? Perhaps that is the better question.
So when you look at Groundswell, the authors have the thing all figured out, or at least it seems that way. Internet users are divided into various social technographics profiles.
First of all, people who join online communities are called Critics (about 25% of the United States). People who create content, including not just making and contributing to discussion topics and blogs but also uploading photographs and other media are called Creators (approximately 18% of the US).
And the lurkers, the folks who watch but don’t participate, are Spectators (48% or so of America). People overlap and can be members of any or all of these groups, or of other groups I won’t get into here. Furthermore, of course, this only covers people who are online. Note: this is a tool created by Forrester, based upon extensive research, and can be found: here.
This is in our nature, or at least in some people’s natures. But there may be more to that so what follows is my own personal story which I hope will be of interest.
My Own Background
I first really got online socially (although I had used computers offline for years before then) in 1997. Princess Diana had just been killed, and for whatever reason I wanted to discuss this with someone, and my husband was not being too terribly cooperative. We had a fairly new computer with Internet access. I don’t know what possessed me — I just felt the need to talk to someone about Princess Diana, someone I hadn’t even been a particular fan of before. Perhaps it’s because her death, at the time, was so shocking.
I found mirc, a chat client. There wasn’t anyone to specifically discuss the matter with, but there were people to talk to. And so a love affair with social media and online communities began.
By 2000, I wanted a more challenging group of conversationalists. The Presidential election was so close and so interesting that I wanted to talk to someone about it. A colleague from India was even asking me: Are all American elections like this? and I did not have a good answer for him. I wanted to learn. Plus, it was the same feeling as in 1997 — I just wanted to have a conversation. I found Abuzz, which was owned and operated by The New York Times and The Boston Globe (the Globe is important to me because I live in Massachusetts). Here were intelligent people who were just as fascinated by the extremely close election! It was exciting.
By 2002, Abuzz was losing steam and my friend Robert Gentel contacted me. He told me he wanted to teach himself PHP and create a forums website, but that he didn’t want to manage the community. Would I do that? Would I become the Community Manager? Of course. And so Able2Know was born. I’ve been managing it ever since.
In 2005, I joined Trek United — again, with the username Jespah. I even did some moderating there, but it was too much to do that, my regular work, Able2know and also work seriously on my own health. I wrote a column for the original Hailing Frequencies Open ezine, and enjoyed it, until it, too, became just one more bit of overwhelm and so I put the column to bed, in 2009 if I recall correctly.
In 2008, when I joined SparkPeople, it was obvious to me that my username would be Jespah, and that I would actively participate.
In 2009, after my Reporting Analyst job was outsourced and I came to a personal understanding – given that I already had over seven years of Community Management experience under my belt and hence had more to say about it than many experts – I decided to shift gears in my career and go into Social Media marketing.
I began attending Quinnipiac University for an Interactive Media (Social Media) degree in 2013. I wanted to learn about communities, and about why some things in social media work, and some just plain fall flat. And I graduated in 2016.
What does this all have to do with the price of tea in Poughkeepsie? Well, perhaps nothing and perhaps everything. My Internet identity was forged over a decade ago, and in a very different set of circumstances than one that is seen these days with online collections of users.
Working in Social Media
As a professional Community Manager and Social Media Specialist
(I worked for a startup called Neuron Robotics, and now work in the Trek area), there was much more of an emphasis on staying on message and keeping the talk within the confines of what the company needs. However, that startup had a looser feel than in a larger corporation but the principle was the same: get people their information and then move on to answering the next inquiry, or at least get someone who can answer it. Socializing, per se was not totally out, but it was limited, and not just on the company side of things. It was the users, as well, who did not wish to socialize. After all, do you go out for a beer with the guys manning your local Help Desk?
And so online communities become far more specialized and almost scripted. User asks question. And user receives answer. In addition, sometimes, another user offers a second opinion. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I occasionally used to get together with fellow Community Managers to talk turkey. And it surprised when I mentioned I’d written perhaps a dozen user obituaries.
Yes, really. I have done that (for Abuzz and Able2know).
And I’ve written user newsletters, not only for Trek United but also for Abuzz (we called that one AARON – An Abuzz Regular Online Newsletter – I loathed that acronym, still do).
What Are Users Doing?
Users go to communities and find that they have their own intrinsic values. One of the things that online communities have over Facebook (at least for now – never underestimate the power and ingenuity of Facebook’s IT staff) is that you can still carry on a truly sustained conversation here. People talk, and not just for a few hours or days or weeks, but for years! The Trek United Countdown Club started back in 2005. Yet in 2010, it continued. On Able2Know, word games and political discussions can go on for years.
Online communities have shared values and in-jokes which other communities do not have, either on or offline. It’s like the Masons’ secret handshake, or wearing a Mogen David around your neck. You subtly tell others who you are.
Trek United had the countdown and Hailing Frequencies Open. Abuzz had nutella and a mysterious green Chevelle. Able2know has capybaras and Asian carp. SparkPeople had (or at least my little corner of it had) the Top SparkPeople Pick Up Lines and diet haikus. Those who are in, understand. Those who want to be in, make an effort to know. And those who don’t want to be in, can never seem to understand.
It is a small jump from this kind of enclaving to creating one’s own community, and then the process repeats itself and, like all good little processes, it winds down and then winds back up again as users come together, break apart and reconfigure like so many amoebae in a petri dish.
But it is more than user cycles and outside determinism like access to the Internet which drives this dance. It is the music of the spheres and the essence of what it means to be a social creature. It is hard and soft, slow and lightning fast, familiar and different and a billion more things.
Merrily we roll along, for it is love which, to misquote The Captain and Tennille, brings us together.
Pegasystems’ technology was able to extract tweets that mentioned certain companies, but was unable to filter anything beyond that. With the purchase of MeshLabs, this ability has been enhanced. Now, according to the article, “a social media post can be analyzed to figure out how viral it could go based on the social influence of the user, among other things.”
In the areas of social mention and sentiment analysis, this kind of more granular filtration is key. To simply see where and when a certain phrase has been mentioned online is all well and good, but the absence of context makes such captured data virtually useless. If, for example, the New York Mets are mentioned one thousand times in the New York Times in June of 2014, that sort of a vanity metric does not say much to the person reading it. Are these a lot of mentions? A few? Average, more or less?
Then there is the matter of sentiment analysis. Are the mentionings, overall, positive? Or are they negative? Or are they, perhaps, merely neutral? Why does this all matter? It matters, in part, because we marketing types want to know if we are loved by the general public. In addition, though, when thinking about whether a post will go viral, strong sentiments (positive and uplifting, or outraged complaints) seem to have a better chance of going viral. Without understanding the emotions within a post (if any), the answer to the question of whether a bit of content will go viral is an unknown.
This combination of different types of software promises exciting information, in the field of social sentiment analysis. I’d stay tuned, if I were you.
Polarization, Partisanship, and Politics. The Internet has brought a lot of people together in communities. At the same time, it has also driven people apart. Or has it?
Y2K and Bush v. Gore – That was the Year
Close American Presidential elections are nothing new.
The Hayes-Tilden election of 1876, after all, was settled by the House of Representatives. But Y2K was the first year within living memory when the popular vote was so close, and the margins so razor-thin that a great political divide could readily be seen in this country.
But back to Y2K. With less than half of the country online, and neither Twitter nor Facebook (the Huffington Post didn’t exist yet, either), people turning to the Internet for their news were mainly getting it from sites like the New York Times Online. But it was more likely that citizens were getting their news from offline sources, including the paper version of the New York Times. According to Kreiss, D. (2012).Innovation, infrastructure, and organization in new media campaigning. InTaking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama,(pp. 3–32). New York: Oxford University Press. [PDF], there was a small presence of candidates online, but it didn’t get too sophisticated until the Howard Dean campaign of 2004. Per Kreiss, “During the 2000 primaries, Bill Bradley and John McCain demonstrated the potential of small-dollar online fund-raising. McCain raised record amounts of money online after his New Hampshire primary victory over George W. Bush. During that electoral cycle, political staffers also began to recognize for the first time that the primary users of candidate websites were supporters, not undecided voters seeking detailed policy statements. To take advantage of this, campaigns began encouraging supporter participation instead of just presenting ‘brochureware’ designed to persuade those who sought out information on the candidate.” (Page 5)
Hence with only a limited online presence for candidates, and readerships that mainly consisted of already convinced supporters, it does not appear that the political divide was caused by Internet access or usage. It seems to instead predate the ubiquity of Internet access and usage that we see today.
While it seems that there is a gulf between the two sides in American politics (and that gulf is currently getting wider due to various hot button issues such as gun control and the Middle East, both of which lend themselves well to snappy soundbites and infographics online), a bigger gulf is amongst individuals.
Preaching to the Choir
Facebook in particular automatically culls and curates what we see. We express our preferences every single day by either hitting like, or following, or selecting “I don’t want to see this.” We also make our choices in terms of who we add as our friends, and whose content we respond to.
Facebook engagement is declining, but a lot of that has to do with the amount of information that is thrown at us every single day. Statistic Brain says that the average amount of time spent on Facebook is 18 minutes, and the average number of friends is 130. Hence for every minute online (on average), you are potentially reading about the activity of a little over seven friends (48% of all users check Facebook every single day). With so much activity, it’s no wonder that users would seek to cut out the noise. Furthermore, much like we don’t purchase every single publication at a newsstand, users select what they want to see.
According to Sunstein, C. R. (2007, December 14). The polarization of extremes.The Chronicle of Higher Education 54(16), B9. [Library Link], “In 1995 the technology specialist Nicholas Negroponte predicted the emergence of ‘the Daily Me’ – a newspaper that you design personally, with each component carefully screened and chosen in advance. For many of us, Negroponte‘s prediction is coming true.” But why wouldn’t this happen? Time is a finite commodity. As the number of Facebook (and other social media outlets) users continues to rise, the average number of connections is bound to rise as well. The average amount of time on any given site probably will rise, too, but it will eventually butt up against a brick wall. Day length is finite, and people have lives outside of Facebook. Even with tablets and smart phones, there is still plenty of time spent not engaging in social media-style activities.
With limited time and attention, the flood of information has to be stopped somehow. We build dams and divert it or dry up some of our sources. We unfriend people, we leave certain sites, and we become more parsimonious with our time. As for what remains, we understandably choose what we want to see and hear – because we are able to now. But diverse and even opposing viewpoints do creep in. According to Manjoo, F. (2012, January 17).The end of the echo chamber: A study of 250 million Facebook users reveals the web isn’t as polarized as we thought.Slate.[Link], “The fact that weak ties introduce us to novel information wouldn’t matter if we only had a few weak ties on Facebook. But it turns out that most of our relationships on Facebook are pretty weak, according to Bakshy’s study. Even if you consider the most lax definition of a “strong tie”—someone from whom you’ve received a single message or comment—most people still have a lot more weak ties than strong ones. And this means that, when considered in aggregate, our weak ties—with their access to novel information—are the most influential people in our networks. Even though we’re more likely to share any one thing posted by a close friend, we have so many more mere acquaintances posting stuff that our close friends are all but drowned out.”
For Cass Sunstein, having an average or typical consumer, reader, listener or viewer in mind means that everyone is fed every bit of political information. He feels that’s better, that people can become informed about more than just their own immediate personal interests. Separation concerns him. And it’s already here. But the truth is, the typical consumer never really existed. I feel he’s pining for a past that seems a bit too golden and fuzzy, wearing a halo that it does not deserve.
Are we more separate today? Yes, absolutely. The United States is far from homogeneous these days. But we’re not quite all confined to our own little silos or ivory towers. At least, we aren’t yet.
I am one of many people who were born before the Internet existed.
It can be a bit comforting to know that any youthful indiscretions are not on record anywhere. It’s not on file. You know that whole thing about, “This is going on your permanent record?” That doesn’t exist.
Or, at least it didn’t used to exist. Now all bets are off.
With the dichotomous public/private nature of online interactions, people seem to think that they’ve got privacy when they have anything but. A confession to a forum isn’t going to be shared with Google, right? A chat room cyber session won’t end up copied into a Word document, yes? And a quick topless photo on Snapchat won’t be saved as a screen shot, right?
Not so fast.
The persistence of digital memory is something that Stacy Snyder knows all too well. As Rosen, J. (2010, July 21). The web means the end of forgetting.New York Times.[Link] said, “When historians of the future look back on the perils of the early digital age, Stacy Snyder may well be an icon. The problem she faced is only one example of a challenge that, in big and small ways, is confronting millions of people around the globe: how best to live our lives in a world where the Internet records everything and forgets nothing — where every online photo, status update,Twitterpost and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever. With Web sites like LOL Facebook Moments, which collects and shares embarrassing personal revelations from Facebook users, ill-advised photos and online chatter are coming back to haunt people months or years after the fact.” (Page 1)
What is amazing to me is that the image of Snyder that gave her such problems was of her drinking alcohol when it was legal for her to do so everywhere in the United States (she was over the age of 21 at the time). She was not driving. She was not engaging in unprotected sex (at least not in the image in question). She was not providing alcohol to a minor. Yet the image, of her in a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, with the caption, ‘Drunken Pirate’ was enough to get her school to deny her a degree – and a federal district judge agreed.
It could have even been ginger ale in that cup. All that mattered was the it appeared that “she was promoting drinking in virtual view of her under-age students.” (Ibid.) All that mattered was perception. Reality, apparently, was of no matter. And the fact that the consumption of alcohol is legal throughout all of the United States (even in dry counties) for those of us who are of age? That part doesn’t seem to matter, either.
Online life has other characteristics and other consequences. As Boyd, d. (2007). Why youth (heart) social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. In D. Buckingham (Ed.),Youth, Identity, and Digital Media(pp. 119-142). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [PDF] noted, “I argue that social network sites are a type of networked public with four properties that are not typically present in face-to-face public life: persistence, searchability, exact copyability, and invisible audiences. These properties fundamentally alter social dynamics, complicating the ways in which people interact. I conclude by reflecting on the social developments that have prompted youth to seek out networked publics, and considering the changing role that publics have in young people’s lives.” (Page 2)
What Snyder did, or didn’t do, was less important than the fact that it ended up online. Boyd’s enumeration of the chief characteristics of social networks lays out the pitfalls well. Boyd states, “These four properties thus fundamentally separate unmediated publics from networked publics:
Persistence: Unlike the ephemeral quality of speech in unmediated publics, networked communications are recorded for posterity. This enables asynchronous communication but it also extends the period of existence of any speech act.
Searchability: Because expressions are recorded and identity is established through text, search and discovery tools help people find like minds. While people cannot currently acquire the geographical coordinates of any person in unmediated spaces, finding one’s digital body online is just a matter of keystrokes.
Replicability: Hearsay can be deflected as misinterpretation, but networked public expressions can be copied from one place to another verbatim such that there is no way to distinguish the “original” from the “copy.”
Invisible audiences: While we can visually detect most people who can overhear our speech in unmediated spaces, it is virtually impossible to ascertain all those who might run across our expressions in networked publics. This is further complicated by the other three properties, since our expression may be heard at a different time and place from when and where we originally spoke.” (Page 9) (Ibid.)
I would argue that there’s a fifth component that Boyd is missing, although it’s possible that this did not become a major factor until after the Boyd article was written, and that is malleability. Content these days is altered in all sorts of ways, for fun, or to make a point, or even to commit malice. Photoshop an underage student next to Snyder, and she’s got an even worse problem on her hands. And if she was intoxicated enough to not recall the finer details of that evening, then she might not even be able to defend herself from what would essentially be libel. The Photoshop artist, along with the school, is her judge and jury. The Internet is her character’s executioner.
Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. [Library Catalog Entry | Posted to “Course Materials” on Blackboard], Lavais says, “In examining how adolescents search the web, one research study (Guinee, Eagleton, & Hall 2003) noted their reactions to failed searches. Searchers might try new keywords, or switch search engines, for example. One common reaction was to change the topic, to reframe the question in terms of what was more easily findable via the search engine. The models of search suggest that searchers satisfice: look for sufficiently good answers rather than exhaustively seek the best answer. Because of this, the filters of the search engine may do more than emphasize certain sources over others; they may affect what it is we are looking for in the first place. It is tempting simply to consider this to be poor research skills – or worse, a form of technical illiteracy – but simple answers do not fit this complex problem.” (Page 87)
Whether we search for a local pizza parlor or the best place to go on vacation or for a gynecologist, search engine rankings and how webmasters address Google’s complicated algorithm all shape what we see. Inevitably, we end up trusting these results. Yet are they the best possible results? I would argue that they often are not.
Bestsellers and White Hats That Might Be a Little Grey
I went through the first ten pages of results (further along than most seekers would) and didn’t see JK Rowling, George RR Martin, or Stephen King. I do not believe it is search fraud or any other form of black hat SEO. As was written by Battelle, J. (2005). The search economy. InThe search: How Google and its rivals rewrote the rules of business and transformed our culture(pp. 153-188). New York: Portfolio.[Posted to “Course Materials” on Blackboard], “Among the first-tier companies – Google, Yahoo, Microsoft – search fraud is already taken extremely seriously, and efforts to combat it are intensifying. ‘We’ll never rum a blind eye to this,’ says Patrick Giordani, who runs loss prevention at Yahoo’s Overture subsidiary. ‘Our goal is to stop it all.’” (Page 188). Like I wrote, I don’t think that’s what is happening here.
If Phillips can get to the top of search rankings, then more power to her, assuming that she gets there using white hat techniques only. But just because she hits the top of the search results says nothing about the quality of her prose or even the number of times she’s hit the New York Times bestseller list.
The New York Times bestseller list was, for years, considered to be an objective measurement of popularity (and not necessarily quality). But when EL James (author of Fifty Shades of Grey) doesn’t make it to the top ten pages of search results, that has got to make you wonder. When Phillips can get there via search engine magic, then that says more about the quality of her SEO than of her fiction writing. For seekers who accept the first few results without question (albeit possibly after rewording their searches a few times), the algorithm is pushing content to them that isn’t necessarily truly serving their interests. And, much like we saw with recommender systems, that might even be driving users’ reviews and maybe even their personal preferences.