Social Networking Burn Out

This is going to be one of those fairly long articles, so if you want the short ‘n skinny, here it is: the internet kind of sucks these days, and yet I continue to use it. I’m doing my best to get what I want out of it with as much as time as I feel I can spare for it, but I’m kind of bummed about it all the same.

I’ve been feeling a little depressed about the internet, particularly "Web 2.0" (unless your some web designer who thinks that phrase only means AJAX and using the word "beta"). What’s really odd, is I’ve noticed a lot of other people throwing up complaints and white flags surround some of the same issues. Tim O’Reilly gets a lot of flack for basically asking us to take responsibility and be civil (I’d like to write more on that in the near future as I have time). Last week, Jason Kottke writes a short note complaining about a lot of other bloggers as well. I’ve noticed some decline in the activity of a lot of my friends and contacts as well. It’s starting to seem like the internet isn’t what a lot of us thought it could be – what it really should be. These instances, even when taken together, don’t exactly represent any clear pattern. It’s just that they are similar to a lot of what I’ve been feeling about my online-life.

Social News Isn’t News Anymore

I have spent a lot of my time online using Newsvine, a collaborative news site. I had a lot of hope for this site as it allowed me to feed my news-junkie personality with conversations on topics of interest. The population that inhabits that site are generally more civil than a lot of the internet, although that’s a decidedly low hurdle to clear. However, after about sixteen months of spending time surfing for news there, adding stories of interest to me, cross-posting some news-related items from this site, commenting on the links and stories by others; two problems arose:

  1. I had really wanted a way to add the news items I was posting there back here, but a lot of the time, energy, and discussion was all happening at Newsvine. That is, not here on my site. The site I built and want to maintain. My meager efforts in doing so never really panned out.
  2. Much of the discussion was far less enlightening and civil than I wanted. Instead of getting to talk about science, I found myself having to argue for science. Instead of discussing political solutions for real problems, I found myself arguing about politicians. Those are just a couple of rough examples of things I had interest in. I simply have no interest in the discussions on dead horses instead of the news items at hand.

Having those two things become clearer and clearer, I finally decided just to more-or-less stop my activity on the site. I am much more interested in having my online accounts (Newsvine, Flickr, del.icio.us, YouTube, etc.) be extensions of this site than replacements for it. This is my online platform and that means something to me. Also, I simply don’t have the energy to be on the defense all the time. I have my own news filters set up to get the news I’m interested in and many of those places have their own audiences.

I’m not sure if there’s a real-world analogy to this, but as I love analogies, I’m going to try. I’ve never been one to be a regular at any given bar or restaurant. When I want Sushi, I go to the sushi place I think has the best stuff I’m in the mood for. When I want coffee, I go to a coffee shop. When I want a burger, I have plenty of places near me to choose from. When at the sushi place, I can discuss how good that food is with people who probably like sushi and not have to argue that sushi is the best food or worth the price, etc. However, in general, I just make my own meals at home and their generally always what I want, just when I want them.

I did, however, finally earn enough on Newsvine to get a check cut and sent to me. Now, I hope it’s obvious but just to add to pretty much everyone out there who says the same thing: this is not a good way to earn a living. I haven’t really run any serious numbers or statistics, but I can tell you I made an average of 3.33¢ per article seeded1 or written by myself (the articles I wrote got roughly the same comments and votes as seeds, on average). You can do the math, but the number of articles you’d need to write (or mostly seed) per hour at that rate to even make the equivalent of minimum wage is obscene.2 I don’t think that anyone there has any illusion of replacing their day jobs but I’m here to say, your time there had better be for fun because it’s not an effective way to earn money.3

The Big Payout

I’ve yet to write home about this.

Also, it seemed fitting for me to donate some of this money, as it was basically earned by me just linking to someone else’s hard work. A lot of what I contributed to Newsvine was in news and information regarding climate change. Clearly, this isn’t an area of my expertise but I learned a great deal from some of the great resources on the science behind it found online. Particularly, Real Climate (a climatology blog written by several leading scientists in that field) was source of information I used a lot. One of the researchers in the field who has been very high profile due to the (mostly made up) controversy surrounding his researching to paleoclimate and climate proxies is Michael Mann of Penn State University (formerly at the Univ. of Virginia). I decided to donate the entire whopping amount of $53.66 to the Dept. of Meteorology at Penn State for this4.

All A Twitter, Minus Me

I enjoy checking out the latest trends, I just don’t feel a need to continue them just because their trendy. Sometimes, I really enjoy them and stick with them. Like, Flickr, for example. I don’t claim to be responsible for its popularity, even among the people I know. However, I was the first person I know who was using it. I continue to use it because I enjoy it. I can tie it into this site very well and a lot people I know are there as well, hopefully also getting some enjoyment out of it.

Not too long ago, Twitter really got a lot of attention and some of my close friends were also excited about it. I’ve tried it and honestly, I just can’t get excited at all about it. There seem to be two different styles of using the service, one is the just-write-what-you’re-doing and the other is to use it as some sort of mass-IM system. I quickly realized that much of what I’m doing is either so regular or so odd as to not be worth typing about each day ("I’m eating a sandwich I made for lunch" or "I’m stressed out about how to fit enough reinforcing steel into an 8″ thick shear wall for seismic loading"). Apparently, I’m right as that stuff didn’t generate much in the way of discussion.

The conversation part just wasn’t something I got into, either, and I don’t really know why. I figure I have phones, Skype, e-mail, comment fields, actual IM, and such for that sort of thing that work far better, in my opinion (although, I should note they remain silent, in general). I’m not saying this is a bad way of using Twitter at all, although it doesn’t appear to be the original intention of the site’s creators. As a matter of fact, if you’ve got a group of people who often collaborate or just hang out, it seems to be an excellent use for the site. Despite some people I know there using it for just that, I have yet to make use of it that way for myself.

I still check in to Twitter once or twice a day just to see what my friends are up to or saying as I really want to keep up with them (and these are some of the people who seem reluctant to blog about it).

Is This Thing On?

The one place I’ve been most interested in has been the least active: the longer conversations. Of the people I follow online, many of them seem to be writing less and less. This is even true for you people who I actually know. It’s an awful feeling to be writing stuff and get no response. No feedback to know that anyone cares or even read it. It’s like talking or performing for an audience that has their backs turned because they just don’t care. At least, that’s what it can feel like, anyway; regardless of reality.

I know that most of the people who do read this site just read it and go on. If what I write applies to them or they have something to add, they’ll leave a comment but most of the time that’s just not the case. It’s a blog right? Blogs are for reading. Participation is something we do elsewhere. I feel that way all too often, but I’m trying to change.

I want to apologize to those of you who wrote some interesting list on you site and I didn’t echo it with my own. Those memes may seem a bit silly, but they are often very interesting. Also, I’m trying to be more active on your sites as well. I don’t want to make others feel like they should only lurk and the best thing I know to do is to participate myself. If someone writes something interesting, profound, funny, or provoking, I want them to know how much I appreciated it. I’ve always been someone who needs to work harder at participating in the relationships with my friends and family. This is a good way to do just that. Further, it was one of the stated purposes of me ever having a site to begin with.

I hope that people will feel interesting in coming here. You’re the people I think about everyday – wondering what you’re up to or what you’d have to say about something that’s going on. I hope that you’ll appreciate my letting you know what I’m doing and you’ll let me in on what you think as well. I’ll even give Twitter another chance if that’s where my friends are, because where they are is what’s important.

The occasional response will be much appreciated.

  1. Just the term Newsvine uses to designate linked news items, as opposed to items written on the site.
  2. Not to mention the fact that no one would have time to read them all, thus reducing your traffic and pay rate.
  3. I should point out, though, that this is similar to the money/time ratio for performing tasks at Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site; which I also quickly determined to be a fruitless endeavor.
  4. Penn State is closer than some of the other universities with faculty involved at that site and I have no idea if one can even donate money to NASA. I also matched the same amount to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund at Virginia Tech, in light of the recent tradedy on campus there. I got a lot of the news that day from Newsvine, and Killfile (user Chris Thomas) in particular.