The Line Forms Here: How the Man Controls the Social Networking Game

Toss a bunch of nerds in a room and I guess generations of nerd conditioning combine with nerd DNA and compel them to form a line and then apply their Trekkie logic to sorting and resorting each other.  It’s like a supercharged version of that video of those two rats.  Actually, that’s not right.  Those rats are funny and you can tell by their expressions that they know they’re acting stupid.  There’s nothing funny about nerd self-sorting.  Boring, yes.  Sad, maybe.  Funny, not so much.

So why in the world someone would want to slice and dice their Friend-fracking-feed is completely beyond me.  It’s bad enough that I actually have a FriendFeed.  God, spare me the unmitigated embarrassment of ever talking about my FriendFeed stats.  If I ever start yammering on about the clicking average of my FriendFeed with readers in Tweeting position, please taze me bro’ and take me straight to man-camp for an immediate stones transplant.

But there must be a lot of people who, astonishingly, care about this sort of thing, because there seem to be tracking apps for everything.  In fact, I guarantee you that somewhere as we speak some pasty geek is working feverishly on a fantasy social networking league.  With the first pick in the first round, the Cucamonga Slide Rules take Robert Scoble.

The not-so-hot stove league is not limited to FriendFeed.

You can track your Twitter use various ways.  You can theoretically analyze your RSS subscribers (except, of course, for the fact that Feedburner is utterly and completely broken).  I guess if you have the time, you can spend 24 hours a day pouring over your social networking post and commenting percentage.  Of course that would be profoundly boring, but you could do it.  I guess some people do.

But here’s the thing.  The fundamental purpose of most self-policed lines is to allow those at the front to better their position at the expense of those who can be initially shoved to the back.  School children to sports pages- it’s all about the line these days.  There is- or at least used to be- a fuzzy correlation between line position and success, and so people latched on to the only objective criteria available and suddenly the place in line became the goal, as opposed to the result of achieving some more legitimate goal.  In online endeavors, the line often takes the form of traffic, evidenced by subscriber numbers, page views, etc.  So people want to find a shortcut to the goal- more traffic.  Why work to grow your readership when you can just spam people with the latest get more Twitter followers scam?

And of course as soon as the line is formed, the focus turns to guarding one’s position in the line.  And the entire system becomes a giant tug of war, often at the expense of merit or content.  Or logic.

Adding to the chaos are the ranking/listing algorithms that people trot out to validate their position in the line.  No matter how you dress it up, most of these allegedly analytical algorithms eventually come down to the same thing: popularity.  Popularity has been the stand-in for authority and value on the internet since Dave Winer invented it.  Not only is that a faulty and debilitating correlation, all of these algorithms that spit out the same oligarchical list propagate the falsely established order at the expense of those whose authority is eclipsed by their exclusion.  Stated another way, popularity does not equate to authority.  To say otherwise is to confuse People Magazine with an encyclopedia.

Python incoming.  Surely we all agree that strange applications lyin’ in internets distributin’ lists is no basis for a system of social networking.  Supreme social worth derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical statistical hegemony.

People simply don’t need some algorithm or starter list to tell them who is interesting or who they should read or follow online.  People are perfectly capable of finding content they like without a helpful nudge from the establishment.  The whole idea of suggested reading lists and their ilk- which as noted are usually based on popularity, which is another word for the status quo- are just a confidence trick.

Designed to allow the man to control the game.