At the risk of sounding like an elitist, I’ve stumbled on an oddly perturbing corollary. It goes something like this:
As a social service graduates from the early-adopter/niche population to the general population, its collective content gets markedly worse.
This is best clarified by an example. Del.icio.us has been the favored method of tagging and social bookmarking for geeks for years now. Since Yahoo acquired them and especially of late delicious has become more and more popular. And rightly so. it’s a great service.
But with popularity comes…how should I say this…pollution. If delicious is aspiring to become the bookmarking site for the masses, then it’s well on its way to pretty much sucking. The less savvy among us will bookmark and tag things that aren’t really worth sharing like:
- Entry pages to well-known sites like Forbes.com.
- Junk headlines from MSNBC and gossip sites (have you seen what the most popular searches on Google are? Who is Kim Kardashian?).
- Links to stuff people want to come back to, like the landing page for a big sale on cellulite treatment.
And so on.
I wonder if this highlights an unwritten rule of social media: the more people you add to the mix, the more polluted the pool. It makes sense. In the name of fair use and democracy, we can’t rightly shun the masses from using a service as tasty as delicious.
So what do we do? How can we elevate certain assets as “better than most”? Plain-vanilla voting isn’t going to work because the same population that is putting up junk is also voting on junk. Maybe we need a class system for people on the Internet. Something akin to a “credit rating.”
Then again, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Maybe we just need to somehow allow the populations of certain circles to elevate and support one another. If I start to collect a lot of Nascar links, then when I ask delicious (or Flickr, or Digg) for interesting stuff, it’ll provide me with results that better fit my tastes. It’s specialization, except organically grown.
The junk that gets in the mix is akin to spam, yet far more subtle. Email spam is inherently impure. Social junk is less about ulterior motives and more about noise (or at least perceived noise). This is partly why certain blogs are so well regarded. They’ve done the cleansing for you in a sense.
Ok, I’m done with my elitist rant. So umm, who is Kim Kardashain again?