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,, 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. []
Categorized as Geek, Life

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.


  1. Don’t get too down Jason. I sup­sect you have a big­ger clos­et audi­ence than you may think. I for one read you blog at least week­ly, but per­haps do not take time to com­ment. I find the blog and the web­site in gen­er­al to be infor­ma­tive and per­haps more impor­tant­ly it takes me to oth­er places to read and learn about things I might not oth­er­wise read about. Meg and I both look at pho­tos on your Flickr account as a way to stay up with what our good friends Angela and Jason are up to. I will try and leave a few more comments.

  2. Thanks, Travis. I did­n’t mean to sound too depressed about it. I sus­pect most folks just read and move on, and I’m per­fect­ly okay with that. I’m glad you find some inter­est­ing things to read here, too. (Please con­tin­ue to com­ment as you see fit, though).

  3. I’m for one am done with Newsvine. The bitch­ing about who is a real cit­i­zen jour­nal­ist has killed my joy, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the peo­ple who make those such of cat­e­go­riz­ing state­ments about what’s crap and what’s not have decid­ed to include me into it.

    If peo­ple have a prob­lem with what I write, say so and I’ll get out of the way. I’m not going to fight folks that I don’t deal with on a reg­u­lar basis on the inter­net. No offense to Inter­net people.

    Why the hell peo­ple like Bri­an Ford con­tiune to beat that dead horse is beyond me.

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