Is social losing its soul?

Is social taking a wrong turn in the fight for popularity? Are we focusing on the mechanics rather than the connections?

Is social taking a wrong turn?Social is big business and it was always inevitable that networks and third parties would monetise - initially for survival and then for profit. As consumers who do not pay a fee for using these services we accept that advertising and in-game purchases are a requirement to keep the networks free.

Realizing this, we cannot accuse social networks of selling out, as businesses they need to sustain themselves and turn a profit to keep the shareholders happy. We can, however, reproach ourselves.

The fight for popularity

We first joined social networks as a way to connect with others - to be able to communicate with like-minded individuals in a way that we previously couldn't. Social networks greatly lowered the barriers to entry and allowed anyone to get involved with a minimum of fuss.

Times have changed and we have the pressures of network versus network, social influence scoring and everything has morphed into an online popularity contest.

The gamification of our online lives, with the number of followers and influence ratings, is a hook into the competitive nature of our psyche and many succumb to the traps in ever more desperate attempts to stay popular.

Blogs prey on our insecurities by repeatedly reminding us of the best time to post in order to get more shares and comments and what type of content is more likely to be shared.

Pressure is applied from all angles for us all to become facsimiles and, were we all to follow the offered advice, social would become periods saturated with homogenized content separated by dead zones where no-one wants to post for fear of getting no interaction.

Lost focus

The ease with which social networks and blogging allow us to publish our thoughts is both a blessing and a curse. Technology means that we are now always connected and, in many cases, we feel obliged to use that connection but unless you are a brand or someone like Scoble, whose job is to be at the forefront of tech, then social doesn't have to be this 24/7 mill stone hanging round our necks.

In the fight for popularity we have largely forgotten why we came to social media and need to regain some perspective.

As average users we should not have rules about when to post, what to post, how to write killer headlines and whether it is good form to write a thousand words or just a brief snippet. Social is in danger of losing its personality.

Slaves to our egos

The social web is not referred to as the "egosphere" for nothing, we are pandering to our own egos online.

It is flattering to have thousands of followers talking about your content - after all the saying goes: don't read your press, weigh it - but when we concentrate more on the dynamics of getting followers than talking to the ones we have then something is wrong.

We need to take a step back and reassess what we do and why we do it.

Taking a wrong turn

The ability to interact at any time with our smartphones so that we can say what we like when we like is a marvel of the modern age and this is exactly how it should be used.

Being able to connect with our friends regardless of what we are doing was what excited me about Google re-entering the social space - not that we would have yet another social network but there would be a social layer connecting our actions meaning that we could interact with our existing social circles without being tied to a single destination.

This has yet to materialise.

Instead, perhaps out of necessity for Google, the focus has been on linking the social layer to its primary product: search.

The emphasis has shifted away from our connections and social is rapidly becoming little more than a way to boost visibility, enhance SEO and generate that all important Google Juice.

Just be social

Forget gaming the system, forget pulling tricks to boost interaction at the expense of the content or experience. It's time to put the 'social' back in the social web.

Image by kalavinka

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