Sixty Second Social: Blogging is not a monologue

Several weeks ago a fairly passionate debate was sparked about the value of comments. It all started when a fairly popular blogger (Matt Gemmell) wrote a follow-up about his decision to eliminate comments from his blog - not unlike Seth Godin, though his reasons aren’t quite the same. A couple of other blogs (MG Siegler and MacStories) responded to Matt Gemmell’s post in support of the decision.

Are comments required on a blog? No. Nor should they be. Every blogger has the right to his/her own policies. I say it often: My blog. My rules.


When a blogger posts about something, there’s always the possibility of discussion around it. By removing comments, you ensure that there are no angry tirades on your site, but it takes away the social part of a blog - and, make no mistake, blogging is a tool of social media.

Writing my thoughts and hitting publish gives me the chance to share my side of things. Comments allow my readers to respond and keep my blog from becoming a one-sided broadcast (we all know how much we hate that on Twitter, a microblog). Occasionally, readers will write a post in response, which is a good solution when your thoughts are too long for a comment, but I often receive an accompanying comment (along with the pingback) to alert me to their contribution to the conversation.

When I write about a controversial issue and comments flood in (“flood” is relative, by the way), it can be a little challenging to keep up with responses and stay calm when I get critical comments. On the other hand, I think the discourse is extremely important. Whether I agree with your opinion or not, I’m open to hearing what you have to say - provided we all stay respectful. I will not tolerate trolls.

Disabling comments gives the impression of a closed door, “Here’s my view - take it or leave it” attitude. Some of the blogs I respect a great deal are high traffic sites where the author responds to many (if not all) comments. A few have even taken the time to visit my little blog when I’ve linked back to their posts. How do I know? I get a comment from them. (I’m impressed by little things like that.)

As always, don’t take my word for it - here are a few additional opinions about blog comments with ideas for how to solve some of the genuine challenges that exist, as well as some debunking of the “troll” stereotype given to anonymous and pseudonymous commenters:

What do you think of the idea of turning off comments on your blog? Would you ever do it?

Social 101: Twitter

Twitter is a microblogging tool that allows users to send out “tweets” that contain 140 characters worth of information. Microblogging is defined by as a verb:

to post very short entries, as a brief update or a photo, on a blog or social-networking Web site

Based on this definition, Twitter is a blog platform that allows very short entries of 140 characters. Of all the blogging platforms that exist, Twitter is by far the easiest to contribute content to.

The Big Question: What do I tweet?

If you have a blog, you should absolutely share your posts. If you want people to want to read your posts, you have to devote some time to interacting with people you’re following. I notice a significant difference in my traffic numbers when I’m active on twitter and when I’m not. People want to connect with you regularly and twitter is the best way to do that. When I started out, I had to make a conscious decision to get on Twitter. I had no idea what I was doing, but I watched other people. Eventually, I jumped into conversations more and more and started gaining a true following of people I engaged regularly. So, how do you engage? Here are some of the many ways you can do it:

  1. Post a tweet about what you’re doing (work, cooking, drinking, watching TV, playing with kids - anything).
  2. Share an article/blog post that you’re reading or have written.
  3. Tweet a photo you’ve taken.
  4. Ask a question.
  5. Jump into conversations.
  6. Tell a joke.
  7. Share valuable information - events, news, etc.
  8. Participate in a community via hashtags.
  9. Retweet others.
  10. Talk about your interests and look for others who share them. (Twitter Search is a great place to start).

Twitter has so many creative and business uses. It’s all about being social and sharing interesting information. I like to describe Twitter as a chat room - you know, those antiquated things were all hanging out in 15 years ago on dial-up? The difference is that this chatroom is completely open to the entire world (with the exception of private accounts).

It can be confusing to find your way on Twitter with all the different ways that people use it. There is a widespread belief that reciprocity is expected and required. I disagree with this notion.

If the guys who started Twitter had expected reciprocity, they would follow back everyone who follows them (they don’t) or they would have built the tool so that it required reciprocity (they didn’t). Twitter, unlike Facebook, allows every user to have a custom experience. There are some great features built into Twitter that aid this customization:

  • Lists - allow you to segment and group based on any parameter you want,
  • Favorites - a system for saving tweets that you want to review later,
  • Hashtags - follow a topic, participate in a community - even if you aren’t following everyone.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of Twitter features, but these are the most commonly used. Try them out. Play with Twitter and experiment to see what works. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to use it. With time and use, you will find a comfortable pace and practice.

If you’re using Twitter to connect with people, then you’re on the right track. Be intentional about it. Set aside a time each day to tweet, even if only to say hello to a few people when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. If you’re using Twitter to gain a following, then you may find yourself disappointed. I’d rather have 500 people who follow and interact with me than 400,000 who miss my tweets and never talk to me because they’re following 400,000 people back. Don’t get caught up in the numbers game - whether it’s follower counts, Klout scores or traffic to your blog. Social media growth is slow and steady for the vast majority of users.

Don’t take my word for it - here are some other recent Twitter articles for you to explore:

Now, I’ll ask you: What’s your best advice for Twitter users who don’t know what to say?

Is "frictionless sharing" truly free of friction?

There's been a fair amount of talk in the last week about Facebook's new frictionless sharing experience and I wanted to cover that a bit more than I did in last week's Buzz and Brilliance. In Sunday's post, I summarized the recent flurry of controversy about frictionless sharing. We're about two months in to its use, so it's been enough time for users to adopt and annoy. Today I wanted to explore this issue in more detail. I'm starting with a detailed overview. There have been far more views expressed, but these are the five I happened to find first.

Quick Recap: The Players and Their Views

Molly Wood, CNET - How Facebook is ruining sharing:
"Sharing and recommendation shouldn't be passive. It should be conscious, thoughtful, and amusing--we are tickled by a story, picture, or video and we choose to share it, and if a startling number of Internet users also find that thing amusing, we, together, consciously create a tidal wave of meme that elevates that piece of media to viral status. We choose these gems from the noise. Open Graph will fill our feeds with noise, burying the gems."

Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb - Why Facebook's Seamless Sharing is Wrong:
"Violation of reasonable user expectations is a big part of the problem. When you click on a link - you expect to be taken to where the link says it's going to take you. There's something about the way that Facebook's Seamless Sharing is implemented that violates a fundamental contract between web publishers and their users. When you see a headline posted as news and you click on it, you expect to be taken to the news story referenced in the headline text - not to a page prompting you to install software in your online social network account."

Richard McManus, ReadWriteWeb - Facebook Hasn't Ruined Sharing, It's Just Re-Defined It:
"If you installed the Washington Post Facebook app and gave it permission to publish what you read, then everything that you read on Washington Post (while logged into Facebook) is announced in your Facebook news feed. For example, "Bob Bobson read [article on Washington Post]." But wait, you may argue, Bob didn't manually share anything. All he did was read it and Facebook shared it on his behalf. But Bob gave Facebook permission to do that, when he installed the Washington Post app. So, effectively, he did choose to "share" that article into his news feed.

So Facebook has re-defined sharing. It has cunningly merged sharing with archiving."

Scott Fulton, ReadWriteWeb - Facebook, "Sharing," and the Freedom to Opt Out:
"Up to now, I haven't felt the need to "share" with the world what I eat, where I walk, what I listen to or read, on what point of the Earth I stand or sit. It's nothing personal; as a journalist, I just seem to have this inner feeling that you don't actually care. One of the skills that comes with journalism is filtering out unimportant information. If I were to write an article about my music listening habits on a day-to-day basis ("On Monday starting at 11:28 a.m. I listened to Joe Bonamassa, followed by Chris Smither, then Diana Krall...") you would not stick around to read the complete list. You would rightly ask, what kind of conceited maniac shares everything short of his own bowel movements with the general public?"

Mathew Ingram, GigaOm - Why Facebook is (mostly) right about sharing:
"For me, what Facebook’s rollout of frictionless sharing highlights more than anything is that we need better filters to cope with the rising tide of information on social networks, and that includes Twitter and Google+. Google’s introduction of “circles” and Facebook’s addition of “smart lists” are a step in the right direction, but they are still too cumbersome, and require a lot of ongoing management (which many people likely just won’t do). Idealab founder Bill Gross introduced a “partial follow” model with his new social network, where you can follow only certain topics that a person posts about, but that also requires a lot of up-front management."

What does it all mean?

This new model is a sign that sharing is shifting to a new dynamic and change always generates discussion, if not controversy. Molly Wood is famous for her resistance to new trends. Even the ones she claims to like aren't immune to heavy criticism once she sees the final implementation. It doesn't make me dismiss her views - they're valid and valuable. Facebook knew that there would be resistance to its frictionless sharing model. I have thus far refused to install any of the Open Graph apps because I know how annoyed I am by the very things Molly brings up in her article. I click on links expecting to see content, not an invitation to an app. When I can't see the content, I lose interest in it. That is a huge friction-filled barrier.

Richard McManus - as confusing as his take on this may be (Is he for this or against it? Oh, I see. He's just uncomfortable with it personally but doesn't like categorizing it as "ruining" or "wrong".) - makes essentially the same point that Molly does: sharing should be intentional, but that doesn't mean it isn't frictionless. Because, let's be honest, clicking a "like" button on a Web page really doesn't create friction, does it?

Ultimately, I think we have to accept this new mode of sharing. It isn't going away. It's too valuable for too many people, i.e., Facebook and the companies utilizing it. Which leaves users where? Well, you either opt-out, as Scott Fulton suggests - to keep your stream valuable and relevant, or you push for better filters. Mathew Ingram is right about that, but it still doesn't give us the happy medium that a lot of users will want. Copy/paste, as suggested by Molly, is clunky and time consuming. Filters are a bit better, but there's another option:

I'd like to see Open Graph apps give users the option to share seamlessly OR share at will - at the click of a button. I'd be far more inclined to use these apps if I could pick and choose what people see. Not because I have something to hide, but because I share items that I think are valuable. It's a recommendation or endorsement of the content. Frictionless sharing leaves a big question-mark in my audience's minds as to what my purpose is in reading that content. Is she endorsing it? Is she accidentally clicking on it? Does she actually think that's valuable? Right now, anything posted to my Facebook profile or pages is endorsed by me. I want to keep it that way, so Open Graph isn't something I'm ready to use just yet.

Just a couple of final notes: Molly says there's always Google+. We'll see. I wouldn't be making any bets that this won't ever happen over there. One last take on this issue that is interesting is Robert Scoble's. He thinks users are going to dictate a "freaky line" that they won't cross. The power of the community to influence networks is well-documented. And there is no shortage of opinions about how this should play out.

What are your thoughts? Have you installed any Open Graph apps or do you avoid them?

Image source: stock.xchng

Buzz and Brilliance: Week ending November 26

This week was a subdued week for buzz as well as brilliance since Thanksgiving was happening in the U.S. It's understandable that thoughts turn to family, friends and turkey during the best holiday of the year (after Christmas). And after I found this geeky reference to pumpkin pi(e), I couldn't resist making a mention of the holiday. ;)

My favorite story out of all the post-Thanksgiving wrap-ups - that focused mainly on the Black Friday madness - was about and its record-setting Thanksgiving Day numbers. If I was a cookbook writer, I'd be shaking in my boots...just a bit. I am a huge fan of AllRecipes and its amazing database of recipes. Not all of them are winners, but I've found some really awesome stuff on there and, like other amateur content sharing sites, it will continue to grow and be very successful.

Facebook, Facebook and more Facebook

Without a doubt, Facebook once again dominated the news stream this week in a huge way. This week's B&B should probably just be titled "The Facebook Edition". They're still building new stuff to accompany the network and bolster their world domination plan deliver a more robust framework that users will become dependent on no matter where they are. Part of this plan involves invading our desktops giving users the option of keeping in touch through a desktop ticker and chat client. And for those who were already super-impressed (please note sarcastic tone) with the amount of distraction caused by the built-in ticker on Facebook's site, they'll be tickled to start seeing sponsored stories show up in the ticker as well. Mind you, if you use IE9 to browse the Web (I don't think I know anyone who still uses IE, but it happens) there's apparently a hack that lets you disable the ticker. No doubt it takes advantage of some of IE's non-standard, proprietary back-end coding. More proof that Facebook has a world domination plan to make us all co-dependent? They're building a phone named Buffy. All I'm going to say is that I'll stick to my iPhone.

We also found out this week that there are no longer six degrees of separation anymore - it's more like 4.74. This news has brought the discussion of the definition of "friendship" on Facebook to the forefront once again. Speaking of friends, how would you like yours to know what apps you're using on your phone? I find this a bit sketchy. Okay, a lot sketchy. Appropriately, it's called "peepapp". I have discussions with my friends about what apps I'm using pretty regularly, but that doesn't mean I list out all 200+ apps for them, nor do I think anyone needs to know. On one hand, it feels like too much information that I'm not authorizing - assuming that people can see the apps I'm using without me having the app (I have no idea how it actually works). On the other, I don't have any apps that are embarrassing that I wouldn't want to share, but just where does this information stop? This one feels icky to me and I'm not one to be worried too much about privacy.

That's not all, folks, and this section is worth the read even if it takes a bit of time out of your day to do it. Rather than say individually that each of these pieces makes good points, I'll just say that they all do. They all offer different insights, but that's the beauty of this social discussion we're all involved in. ReadWriteWeb had some thought-provoking pieces on the frictionless sharing aspects of Facebook. Marshall Kirkpatrick says this new sharing model is just plain wrong - and he makes some really good arguments, also citing a piece by Molly Wood at CNET who posits that Facebook is ruining sharing. Richard McManus waded in to this discussion to say that sharing hasn't been ruined; it's merely been redefined. Given that he says in the article that he prefers to choose when and what to share, I wonder how committed he'd be to this stance if frictionless was his only option. Then Scott Fulton added another point of view when he said we all have the option to opt-out and not share what isn't important to others anyway. Mathew Ingram at GigaOM is (mostly) okay with it, but sees the inherent limitations without proper filters. You see why this is a fascinating discussion. The culture of sharing is changing and we get to help shape it with discussions like this as well as with our sharing behaviors. I'll be throwing my two cents into the ring later this week. Oh, and there's this other little bit of commentary on sharing that shows how Facebook is may be discouraging users from exploring the Web outside of its walled garden.

We're still not done with Facebook. This section is for all you business users. The biggest news this week about Facebook Pages has to do with the newly revamped insights. I'll be doing some research over the next week on the updated insights and I'll post information next week to help users understand what's changed and how to monitor your stats. Regardless of the stats, it's important to consistently engage with fans.

If ever there was an effective argument for integrating an e-commerce site with Facebook, this is it: 50% of visitors are logged in to Facebook.  Makes for an easy way to share what you're buying...just sayin'. That's just one way to get some likes, but the number one way to get more likes is through offering coupons.

One last thing about Facebook - if you're placing ads between October and January, you might want to heed this advice from Conversify and think about a different strategy than you use the rest of the year.

In Other News This Week

This has been a long one, so I'll just add a few (hopefully short) briefs on other stories that caught my eye this week:

I got to see Jeff Jarvis last week and my brain is still buzzing with all the things I heard and anticipate learning from Public Parts when I am done with Enchantment. This week, his post about the do-not-track legislation is worth a read. Just because our lives seem more like open books than they were 20 years ago doesn't mean they necessarily are. That's important to remember.

For those who were wondering when it was finally going to happen, Klout is now factoring in your Google+ activity when it calculates your scores. (They said no one would drop and I didn't hear any uproar, so I guess it was true.) There's also a section on the site that gives you a summary of your activity over the last 90 days and ReadWriteWeb gave a good overview of how scores should be affected. Since the big scoring change in October that left me with a much more accurate score (in my opinion), my interest in Klout has dropped to nearly non-existent. My only reaction when I saw this was to visualize a great big question mark over the section that has my Facebook stats...oh, wait. They aren't there yet. There's logic to that, but it beats me what it is.

Mark your calendars: Tuesday is 'Pay a Blogger Day'! This concept is really interesting. It reminds me of sites like Wikimedia that give users the option of donating to their operating costs. Would you pay a blogger whose content is really good? (I do take checks from Americans and cheques from Canadians, by the way.)

All those times I've said Facebook and Google+ aren't competitors and someone finally listened. Well, sort of. His reasons are more in-depth than mine, but I'm glad to finally see I'm not the only one thinking this way.

Are you using Google+ to its potential? Read this to find out 10 ways you can change your use if you aren't.

Big question of the week: What are your thoughts on sharing? Do we need to have more control or is frictionless the way we're going and we just need to deal with it?

What is the price of integrity?

Last week I included a story in the Buzz and Brilliance weekly roundup that described a twitter account gone rogue. Since the stories I include are from reputable industry news sources, like TechCrunch, who reported on this one. The second comment on the TechCrunch post called it - "Think he is doing it himself to get more popular." by Goo Toor. That is, unless you believe the copious number of tweets Mark Davidson is sending out to justify his "satirical tweets" last week.

I don't think I would have followed up on it normally except that it popped into my mind and I thought to go look at his profile. I thought he was protesting just a little too much. During my usual news reading time, I came across this post on how to spot Twitter users who game the system to gain large numbers of followers. Essentially, your following on twitter will grow at a consistent rate if you're doing nothing to manipulate its growth.

All of this leads me to wonder what value people get out of this. More and more I see accounts with very few tweets and tens of thousands of followers. That's a dead giveaway to me that it isn't about providing good content as much as amassing as many followers as possible. This mentality is counter to one of the strongest beliefs I have about social media - that it's about adding value through quality content.

In the end, this guy has gotten a lot of media attention over tweets that added absolutely no value to anyone, but the guy has nearly 2,000 new followers in just a few days.

Apparently, you can buy integrity off of some people for the bargain basement price of a few followers.

What do you think of stories like this? Do they compromise the value of social media tools or will the crowd eventually weed out those who are gaming them?