The Mob vs. the Groundswell

I got a very quick and intense sample of what it’s like to get public attention — now that no one reads my blog again (and I have the numbers to prove it) I can write about it. In this episode, I was just not ready for the fact that in that arena everything is distorted, and a lot of people will believe (and will be unable to stop believing) things that are completely wrong. The network creates and magnifies a mob effect: shrill, paranoid, jumpy, stupid (in my case, people were more interested in whether it was marketing tricks or not than the really significant parts of the story, and people just couldn’t let go of that wrong idea once it was out there). And on the Web, no one knows they’re a mob, so no one knows they’re part of something dumb. So if this is the social Web, participatory media, authentic media, who needs it?

So actually, the mob effects enabled by Digg, Slashdot, Technorati, and especially TechCrunch (which is a more a publicity firm than a blog, despite great instincts and virtuoso promotion of what I agree are good startups) are not the social Web at all, just reflections of existing and very old dynamics around attention — more similar to the effects of traditional publicity than anything really new. On Digg and Slashdot and in the world of traditional press, seeking and getting mass-audience attention is the coin of the realm, and people participate in these systems in order to own all that traffic. This leads to all kinds of gaming of these systems and jealous watching of rank, etc. This is fine as far as it goes, and is fun and pointless in the same way that celebrity news is.

I like Digg and Technorati a lot, but I think they are oriented toward the “head” of content, the hot stuff, the latest stuff, and this is not so interesting for the vast majority of people like me, that live and contribute to the tail. By contrast, Google Base, Flickr, and Del.icio.us are systems that connect me to other content I might be interested in, people like myself, and places where my content can find a niche. Here in the tail, there’s no jealousy and distortion, and I think it’s more likely that the stuff people make even though no one’s paying attention is valuable and interesting.

I think systems that serve the groundswell (Google Base, Flickr, and Del.icio.us) will be more valuable and productive than systems that serve the mob (Digg, Slashdot, and Technorati). I hope I’m right.

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