Is Taking the Social Out of Social Media?

By   |  Stashed in Social Media

If you haven’t already heard about Seesmic’s recent acquisition of, well then, spoiler alert…they did that. This will inevitably raise the profile of the service provided by, and that got me thinking about this service and any others like it that are out there. Not in a daydreaming of the app sort of way, but actually wondering about its overall usefulness and impact, and whether that impact would end up being a positive or a negative one.

A Little Background

For those of you out there who are not familiar with, don’t feel bad. I had only heard about them, but was never sure of what they were, nor was I interested enough to actually find out what they were all about. It wasn’t until their recent buyout that I discovered what kind of service offers the online community. With a single status update, your info will be shared across 50 different social media networks, including Twitter, Facebook, etc…

The Discussion

If this is the first time you have heard of, some of you just got an excited rush of goose bumps running across the surface of your flesh, and others just felt a sort of nervous sinking feeling in their stomachs. Or at least I am hoping there are others with the pit in their belly like I felt when I first read that. Because while some may be thinking of the huge personal advantage this affords them in their quest to spread the word about them or their work, you see, the pit party on this side of the fence sees this a little bit differently.

For those of us who think that social media should be about interacting with the people who populate your various circles sharing in the numerous streams you send out, this kind of sharing limits the senders ability to actually interact with others. It all becomes a one sided burst of information, not communication. And if these different social media networks were started to introduce new ways to communicate with each other, then these kinds of services are actually going against the idea that established these lines of communication. By decreasing the senders actual connectivity and accesibility from their readers.

So I landed on the side of services like being detrimental to the health and value of the networks that are fed via this kind of app. Currently, has in the neighborhood of half a million users with a couple hundred thousand shares sent out a day. But how effective are these bulk wrapped info-bursts? Is there appeal in this service beyond self-serving ends, with their spam-like infiltration into the numerous data streams it feeds? Or is it less about the community and the interaction between the sender and reader, and just about the information?

Either way, in those instances, be it just about the info or yourself, it is no longer about connecting and growing the community. Which in turn, means that half a million users are already using the social media networks as more of a web based advertising format, so they are being degraded from the communicative role they were initiated to fulfill. With this new wave of public accesibility and awareness of these kinds of services, what does that mean for the future of the social media networks?

Will they be reduced to nothing more than an underaccessed forum for advertising, or will people realize the negative impact of this trend and resist it, maintaining that element of socializing that gives the social media networks’ title relevance? Or will it have a more positive effect on the spread of information, while removing the interactiveness that once drew many of us to these waters? Or will it have no effect whatsoever? I believe if more people see these kinds of shares as beneficial and begin to care less about interacting, then they will have a negative impact on social media and its effectiveness.

What is your two cents?

Now it is your turn to use the comments section below to share your thoughts and ideas on this topic, and the overall impact we are likely to see as a result of this acquisition. Do you feel like we are heading for any of the futures put forth above, or do you believe in an unoffered outcome? Whatever the thoughts kicking around in your head, please share them so that they may be discussed below as well.

About the Author

Rob is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and is an author and freelancer for Arbenting Freebies and Dead Wings Designs.

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  • Matt Ward

    Fascinating article, and something that really needed to be said, I think. Personally, I can see both sides of the argument. I totally get what you’re saying about community and the fact that automated ping services like this can actually cheapen and degrade social networks with blatant lack of a human component.

    On the other hand, I recognize the amount of time I spend submitting my posts to various social networks and voting sites, and do sometimes wish that there was a way to just do it all at once (I also spend a lot of time with community news feeds, like the one here on MyInkBlog, but that’s a different story).

    So I find myself torn somewhere between the two positions.

    I wonder, though, if we can’t meet somewhere in the middle? I mean how social is a lot of the “social” stuff we do now. I do have some conversation on Twitter, but for the most part my Twitter feed is little more than an endless stream of links. Maybe 1 tweet in 50 is even remotely conversational.

    I also think that the automation of social media was, to some degree, inevitable. Any time we create an outlet for the dissemination of information, you can bet that people are going to start looking at it as an opportunity to start marketing, and eventually even spamming.

    I guess, in a sense, that’s the price we pay for freedom of information.

    That’s my 2 cents, anyhow.

  • Rob Bowen

    Thank Matt for the wonderful and thoughtful comment. I am a balance kind of person, and I hope that if these services stick around, we will see that equilibrium found and maintained. Though as you said it takes so much time to share in all those numerous places, but perhaps if we took more time to develop the relationships with the community via these networks then the less is more principle would kick in. And we would have to share in fewer places, but these shares would have more impact and perhaps go farther.

    I agree that automation was unavoidable, but I think that the degrading of our social media mission from one of interaction to promotion not only paved the way for said automation but has helped it thrive along with the spammers dive into the SM networks. So if our mission was rerouted, I think this trend would see a reversal. I also think the automation’s use for self-promotion has paved the way for the owners of these networks to think that advertising through the networks is becoming more acceptable among their members. This will only further degrade the user experience and depart us more from our mission.

    Again, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts. They in turn got me thinking, which always makes me a fan!

  • Justin Moore-Brown

    Great argument and very thought provoking.

    I myself have never dabbled in, although I’ve heard it’s gospel being preached amongst certain social media circles.

    I can see your point in seeing becoming a tool for push marketers out there and people just throwing posts across multiple platforms.

    The great thing about social media is it’s interaction, and if somebody is just shotgunning info out there, it looses some of that value.

    Thx for the article!

  • Fil Salustri

    Sorry; not getting it. Granted services like Ping seem to provide only half a solution, but it’s better than none. That is: I would like a service that provided a uniform integrated and bidirectional interface to all my “social networks.” Ping seems to support only 1-way interface. Still, it’s better than having to actually go to each network and post the same thing in N times.

  • Liam Fitzgerald

    A very valid point Rob, one has to question who has the time to be active on 50 social media sites and also live a normal life?

  • Rob Bowen

    @ Fil – You are right, you don’t get it. The entire argument is that the automation you are talking about takes the interaction away from the social media engagements because all you are doing is info-bursting at people you are not engaging and sparking a dialog that you can participate in. You are essentially one of the people who do not use social media to be social, it would seem, instead you simply use it as a promotional tool, when in fact, the networks are communication tools.

    @ Justin and Liam – Thanks a lot, guys. I appreciate the support and feedback.

  • mfg

    I just posted your article’s link using ping across my network.

    anyway, to pursue the conversational route, and your argument itself, here’s some background. my reason for using the ping service is the same as using my tumblr and squarespace posting emails: i cannot access these sites due to a corporate firewall. obviously ping provided the service i required, albeit in a stripped down way.

    the assumption (that i find fatal) in your argument that social networks are appropriately valued is in dire need of support. when you consider the value provided by facebook, twitter etc it is easy to see how they have an inflated perception of value.

    (i will exaggerate here and call myself a content provider) as a content provider who posts to his own to various sites etc, the so-called social networks are simply ways of notifying people that i posted whatever. essentially, as a content provider, ping allows me to spam my friends and it feels alright.

    moreover, look at facebook or twitter or the social networks themselves. they spam everyone with a post on their pages if i take a poll; is there some essential or effective difference between ping and status updates showing up on someone else’s page?

    to be frank, the amount of bad coding, buggy/malware ridden pages that you are likely stumble over while traversing social networks makes ping essential. if facebook loses some advertising revenues and dies on the vine because it never provided anything beyond privacy invading “apps”, then i think people may finally realize that maybe the value of these social networks was inflated.

  • Rob Bowen

    @ mfg – Thanks for your comment, though, again, I think your argument needs support because these services were not created because someone needed a new way to push their content. They came about as tools to connect and bring people together. But in a culture partially defined by its deconstruction of communication into nothing more than one sided information spam, what has become of social media is a direct result of this trend. It is becoming a victim of our inability to actively engage with others.

    The internet, social media in particular, has become a haven for ‘content providers’ who care about only one thing. Achieving that ‘rockstar’ status that society has conditioned us to believe should be our every endgame. And so people have become little more than spammers in these networks trying to win over this allstar making audience that we believe is waiting for us on the other end of our tweet. It seems so many of these people don’t even care about their own content as much as they do the count that raises as they spam away. Frankly it’s not what some of these communication tools were meant for, and certainly not what many had hoped they would devolve into.

    And as far as value, I think that value is completely a personal perception, with this as a perfect example. I find value in the avenues for interaction, you find value in the driving of content. Therefore, while you may see the value of something increasing, say with an influx of services dedicated to these kinds of mass sharing, I might see it the value decreasing.

    I think that the inherent value some see in some of these networks is that so many have come together to work together and connect, especially in the design industry. That is one of the ways I see value in social media, and I think that most participants of DCTH each Thursday also see a value in the communication avenue provided by social media.

    Again, thanks for the thought out comment, and I hope to hear back from you to continue the discussion.

  • Ryan

    I think you’re overreacting quite a bit. People lurk and/or don’t interact on networks like twitter and facebook already. If people *want* to be social, they will, regardless of the 3rd-party app or quantity of networks. The audiences will find the content and, more importantly, the content will travel with the audience.

  • Shaun

    I was suffering from burnout earlier in the year, it was a mixture of my job as a web developer, and google reader, and twitter, and facebook, and friendfeed, etc. – So I killed them all.

    I decided to cancel most of what I had, and I had a lot. 350+ followers on twitter, 380+ friends on facebook, daily feeds of 1500 on Greader active on reddit, digg etc.

    And do you know what happened when I cancelled everything?


    Absolutely nothing. I thougt that I would be out of the loop in my online world. but the truth is all of this is a parasite of time and energy. I have made no profit or extended friendships other than what I have in real life. No clients have been sold on the fact that I was extremely active in the online world, and therefore chosen me as a provider of services to them.

    I felt that leaving reddit would be akin to leaving a room full of intelligent people discussing relevant issues.

    i felt that leaving google reader was myself turning my back on recent and decent information

    I felt so much when I shut down everything. No more 200 friends from school that want to chat on facebook even though their online world reflects something different to their real worlds, and I didn’t want to know them then, let alone now.

    my day now consists of 40 feeds only an google reader, and my gmail. And this is not an ad for google, I hate how they seep into my life. I have 8 friends on gmail talk, that I chat with regularly, 3 of them family.

    My life has not changed ONE bit from leaving my online life. when people ask me if the can “facebook” me, I say can you rather sms or email. The answer is always yes. There is the usual discussion of why I don’t facebook/myspace/twitter/whatever I give them this speech and usually they agree with my statement.

    You are asking if is killing social media? Social media is not a necessity, nor a requirement. it is dead already, it is a gimic like 3d movies..

    Social media is dead is pointless and time stealing. the very fact that we are using it now is no different from pet rocks or tamagochi’s it is a phase, it will pass. and it passing is the same as people felt when the macarena wasn’t cool anymore (was it cool in the first place?)

  • Jeff H


    Excellent response, however I don’t agree that social media is or at anypoint in time in the near future dying. Just one of the many stats / examples floating around out there, this one comes from Nielsen NetView – as of June ’09 the average US user spends 4.5 hours per month on Facebook and with more than 350M confirmed users – it doesn’t appear that the Facebook fad is disapperaing in the for seen future.

    I will agree that social media isn’t a necessity and that it can be “pointless and time stealing,” I’ll even add that it is mindlessly addicting, and increasingly populated with SPAM. Furthermore I point out that Facebook may eventually die out just like any other fad. However each site, in it’s own right is fulfilling a need (regardless if that need is imagined or not), making life “simplier” and as tech history has held true, new fads will eventually emerge within the space- that I can say with extreme confidence.

  • Rob Bowen

    @ Ryan – Perhaps we are overreacting, but I honestly don’t think that we are. For those of us who use the networks to their intended ends, the more ‘congested’ the streams become with content spamming and advertising, the more people who actively engage though the networks are apt to turn away from them for less cluttered avenues. That would be a shame to see happen, but it is not an unforeseeable future in my eyes.

    @ Shaun – I am glad that you were able to unplug and nothing happened for you, but your assertion that social media is dead is so far from any reasonable truth, I am left with the idea that you were either never that involved with the online community via the social media scenes or you would see the fallacious nature of your assertion.

    Social media is far from dead, as many of us populate the circuits with obviously a different mission than you arrived in them with. With so many using social media for learning and growing (once again, DCTH is a prime example of this) it is a necessity for so many. You never fostered any lasting relationships or gotten any opportunities via your online connections, well sorry, but so many others have. Including yours truly, the author of the piece. So your argument doesn’t hold any water or have any basis beyond your own limited experience.

    I am sorry social media did not work out to your advantage and became nothing more than a time suck. Perhaps, one day you will find an opportunity to give it another chance, because it can be a powerful and effective tool for not only growing your business, but yourself as well.

    So social media is not dead, it is in fact, so far from it that I actually feel sorry for you a bit that you feel this way.

    Both of you, good luck, and I hope you will return to the discussion!

  • Rob Bowen

    @ Jeff H – ‘and as tech history has held true, new fads will eventually emerge within the space’ This is my exact problem.

    B/c as you have also no doubt noted, our tech history favors diminishing communication with each seemingly new ‘advance’. Whilst our tech is beyond great, I think that unless we nurture these communication skills and seek to steer our tech advances back to the tune of improving interactive communication, not simply one sided info. sharing.

    Technology has systematically taken interacting out of our communication. We used to talk face to face, then phones took our com to a more extendable platform, but we lost the face to face interaction. Then we took the phone tech, and automated it to the point where we rarely are interacting with anyone other than a machine. Texting and instant messaging and e-mail took the com to an even more accessible place, but again, the interactiveness has virtually disappeared to the point where ppl now turn to the one sided texting option, more readily than they turn to the interactive calling that would engage someone. We keep taking the other person out of our communication and make it one sided.

    People rarely respond anymore when they are asked questions that they did not initiate, and you see this happening a lot in the various social media networks, and in some cases, this is because when you attempt to engage someone over a shared link, they are not actually on the network, they just spammed it thru one of the pinging services.

    And all of you saying that social media is not a necessity, I think you could have an argument, but with so many using it as a learning tool to help grow themselves and their business, they would disagree. Because communication, actually connecting with others is a need. A powerful one that can have positive impacts on a person both physically and emotionally, and some people’s only means of satisfying this connection is through a link to the outside world beyond their homes via a computer. For many sufferers of social anxiety or just simply who are introverted, the social media networks are an invaluable and non-stressful environment to allow them to reach out beyond their discomfort or fear.

  • Ryan

    @Rob What you’re really talking about is digital gentrification. It’s impossible to keep Starbucks out of the bohemian neighborhoods forever. Sadly, this is just the way the world and humanity works.

  • Rob Bowen

    @ Ryan – But Ryan, it is only impossible to keep them out, if we concede to that line of thinking. Recently I polled some designers about our ability to steer the direction of the design community online, and 17 out of 18 all agreed that we could. So why could we not also steer the direction of the social media networks that we inhabit? It is only when we give up the fight, that the battle is truly lost.

    As for Starbucks, I just so happen to live in a small bohemian town called Manitou Springs, and Starbucks exists in the neighboring Colorado Springs, but Manitou has only a few locally owned non-chain coffee shops, and we are a full fledged tourist town. So there is hope, we just can’t give up. But again, this is my opinion.

    Sadly, I feel too many share your view, but that does not mean that we should give up trying to get them to rethink things and challenge the ‘normal’ progression that our society by and large has fallen victim to. At least, it doesn’t to me. Thanks again, Ryan, for coming back in and sharing more.

  • Brennan Novak

    Nice article. I’ve always been on the side of the fence that a single status update is helpful- to the person doing the post in order to save time. I’ve never thought about it being “unsocial” media. I have actually given this a lot of thought and have been working on a concept I call “A Better Friendship” check out my basic blueprint and see if it makes sense to you

  • timelady

    I use to post to my socnets things of interest, status updates etc. This stimulates discussion, allows people to follow interesting links.

    Once a day I check twitter, twice Facebook (more friends on fb). I also have fb send me emails when responses are made…

    I the share things of interest without being held hostage to the time wasting potential of socnets!:)

  • Vincent Lowe

    …it’s funny. This blog post came to me by being forwarded from someone who used to propogate a message about it, which was then retweeted by someone I follow, causing me to click through from Tweetdeck to see what the fuss was all about.

    I think that push-marketers and spammers will always grab for each new advance and ever emerging technology that seems to serve their purposes.

    But try as they might – we’re still ignoring their message, even as we fail to ignore them, talking about them vigorously.

    It’s never the technology that has social media work. it’s the participants!

    As we get better and better tools to neutralize the polluters, we also find better ways to find one another and interact. The volume of conversation spawned by this article is proof. The people who have an interest in the topic of this post are served by aggregators and platform syndication.

    The polluters are not authentically served by new technologies because they have missed the clue train — their efforts will yield what they always have. Miniscule, marginal response rates that occur for them as success.


  • webdesign london

    I think that these days social media has moved beyond networking with your chosen communities to using the space to advertise and market other aspects of your life

  • Steve

    I don’t really agree that it’s detrimental. I think most people (like myself) who come to are already actively involved in several social networks. I use when I post a new blog, so I don’t have to individually post on twitter, facebook, or linkedin.If you were to just use it to post status updates, true, it would be one sided and there would be no point to being involved in said social networks in the first place. But I have a hard time believing anyone would just do that.

  • Ryan

    Imagine what will be available when Seesmic folds into their apps. Already a a great back-and-forth twitter and facebook client, imagine that two-way street including all your networks.

    There’s no reason communication can’t be convenient.

  • Sandy

    “Oh, that’s terrible… Anyway, Chris and I were….”

    To me, the above sums up one of the biggest problems with the internet. This may well be the golden era of communication, but it’s made -telling- more important than sharing. With things like increasing your sense of self-import quicker than Geocities could ‘prove’ that you too could be a web designer, every forward-step seems to make sharing yourself more important than sharing information.

    Of course, it certainly has its merits, but you’ve got to question how many of those -aren’t- based around getting as big an audience as possible to your ‘product’, even if the product is just “Whoops, stepped on the cat!”

  • flexeble

    Rob although I see your point that may be affecting the community aspect of social media. I do thing that it and other services like it fill the need of the person like myself with a myriad number of sites which need updating. These may be sites that are infrequently visited (not your Facebook, LinkedIn, or others that are so popular) but rather niche sites where you have sporadic contact with others on the planet. I believe that its this more likely that this kind of use is the mode of its half-million users.

  • Maciej Janiec

    I think it is worth looking at this interesting post from some perspective.

    For example check the latest Twitter stats and see the explosive growth in new accounts and traffic:

    How many of these accounts and tweets are driven by semi-automatic social SEO engines?

  • Aiden Rosedale

    I agree with Steve that it’s not detrimental.