The Anatomy of Social Change in the Information Age

Technological advances radically alter dynamics of social change. The election of President Obama is a watershed moment that represents an evolution over a decade in the making. For the first time, social networks were mobilized on a scale that silenced critics of the technology’s limited utility to society or the “realness” of online social connections. Social networks redefine the whole concept of grass roots. Grass roots are no longer limited by time or location as long as there is a broad cause that can bring people together.

The biggest obstacle of utilizing web technology for social change is probably mobilization. Although this is changing, people are averse to making physical or monetary commitments to online activities. The bulk of web sites and services are designed to cater to niche markets that satisfy a specific need and most services are naturally supported by advertising that targets those markets. Social change requires a commitment on the part of participants, a dedication of resources whether it be time and/or money. It is something that can’t be done without passion.

With something like the presidential election, the whole nation’s destiny is at stake so naturally it is much more easier to build momentum and engage participants in the cause. There are definite goals (getting someone elected) and a solid deadline (election day) and numerous milestones (state primaries). In addition, the movement is happening on both the national and local level. People can get engaged with fund-raising or volunteering. Having said that, no other cause can bring so many of the elements needed to succeed at that level. What are the elements that make campaigns of social change successful online?


The internet is still a place driven by ideals, at times utopian and unrealistic. For example, despite many users being averse to spending money online for services they are just as much turned off by ads that support so-called “free” sites. The opposite side of ideals is outrage. Perceived social wrongs drive a lot of traffic, whether it’s evidence of misconduct or someone flaunting ill-gotten gains. Controversy drives people to chip in with their 2 cents and throwing links around the internet. The Obama campaign was driven not only by the ideals encapsulated in the Obama team but the collective anger at the Bush administration of the country’s economy that virtually wiped away years of solid economic growth. Underdogs are also likely to gain more support on the internet than giants (just look at Apple and Microsoft).


Novelty is a strong driver for building interest on the internet. Obama’s status as one of the first, strong black presidents no doubt contributed to a lot of initial interest in the man and what he stands for even before people became acquainted with Obama the politician. A lot of the high-traffic generating content on the web is both weird and good. Obama fulfills this brilliantly, on first look novel but the more you get to know him, you realize that he is also brilliant and more than the hype.

Rich Content

With information technology it’s hard to tie people down to any one place and force feed them information. You need a variety of content to entice people whether it’s status updates via twitter or video messages on YouTube or even memes created by passionate supporters, you need to constantly be at the forefront giving people bite-sized chunks of content they can chew on between bigger events.

Social Networking

Although there are limits to the number of people one person can interact with, utilizing public accounts and a variety of official channels on social networks is one of the best ways to make the most of this new technology. Causes give like-minded people an excuse to interact with each other in an engaging way. It also creates a powerful motivator for bringing people into the fold through the social network’s version of peer pressure. It’s amazing how many times Obama came up in a variety of ways on places like Facebook and Twitter.

But Can You Bottle It?

I suppose the single biggest question is with all the hints and case studies offered by Obama’s presidential campaign is whether you can bottle it? Packaging something like this into a coherent application would surely be a great startup idea and would also be a driver of social change (which is good for society) but could you?

The Obama Campaign Significance

Barack Obama ’s successful bid for president is probably just as significant as having our first (at least openly) multi-racial president (remember his mother is white and he only met his father once or twice). He changed the nature of campaigning for good and finally delivered on the promise of information technology driven movements. Just look at the Barack Obama web site and you not only get links to Obama information on the web but links into virtually all the popular social networks and services, each with an official Barack Obama account (including an updated CV on linkedin). On top of that the site also hosts its own little social network where you can connect with others and promote the campaign. If the Kennedy’s debate against Nixon for the Presidency on live national TV was the defining moment ushering the age of television in American politics this election was the defining moment for the role the internet and social networks are to play in elections of the future. If network television brought everything to the masses, in this election, the internet brought back grass roots to the masses.

An interesting twist in this election is not only how Obama successfully leveraged the internet for a distributed grass roots campaign but how Sarah Palin unwittingly leveraged the popularity of internet memes by offering endless material for parody and innuendo from those seeking to exploit her image.

Barack Obama’s time as a community organizer in Chicago and his standing as a virtual newcomer and outsider served him well. While Obama’s campaign proved to be a demonstration of the power of social networks in spreading the message and building momentum in disparate pockets of social connections, we will have to see how and if Obama is able to maintain a meaningful dialogue with those that put him in power through the technology he leveraged so well.

Facebook Marketing

Like many books of its kind based on websites, Facebook Marketing spends a lot of time on basic usage with more than ample screenshots. The book is mainly written from the perspective of a person successfully marketing real estate on Facebook. Unfortunately, most of the screenshots are obsolete due to recent interface changes and one of the prime examples of marketing discussed in the book, leveraging network pages is completely irrelevant now that the network page feature has been completely phased out by Facebook.
Of course, if you know nothing about social marketing, this book will teach you the importance of building meaningful social connections within Facebook, leveraging the various social features to get your message out, using Facebook advertising to maximum effect, and what things to avoid if you don’t want to get blocked by Facebook.

Facebook Marketing: Leverage Social Media to Grow Your Business by Steve Holzner

The Digg Comeback and the Fall of Tech

I haven’t really checked digg out in a really, really long time.  I rarely hang around too long when I do.  I did notice however the lack of tech stories not only on the front page but in the queue.  The decline of tech on Digg started a long time ago when they started alienating their core users, the infamous “top digg user” list that they trumpeted for such a long time until they decided to disown the whole concept of ranking users and thereby taking away their main incentive to contribute.

Metrics went down significantly until their recent resurgence as a simple news aggregation service for anything and I’m sure it’ll continue to rise.  Still feel a bit of nostalgia for the old community but I know I wont find it anywhere on Digg.

The Decline and Fall of Tech on Digg – ReadWriteWeb

Did Blogs Kill StumbleUpon?

Now, read this post carefully before you go ballistic over the title alone. To my SU friends, please ignore and move on as it doesn’t concern you nor is it about you. Don’t get me wrong, I still love StumbleUpon.

It’s also a boon for smalltime bloggers that holds us through the “dog days” of blog traffic. For small time bloggers it’s hard to keep up quality output or sometimes we let a little time pass before a post or two. At which point, all readers including your mother have moved on to more popular blogs.

Still, I’ve noticed a dramatic decline in the quality of stumbles since bloggers caught on to SU. Every other stumble is a blog. Some of them are lackluster opinion pieces (like this) and others are just spam trash. There used to be a time when SU actually gave me stuff I would never find on my own in a very good way. Now it serves me stuff I would never seek out on my own. It still has its moments occasionally and I’m sure most of the problems are due to bloggers promoting their stuff (which should not affect overall performance ever because we’ll do whatever the rules allow and then some because we DO believe our stuff is good whether others agree or not).

Here’s the button we really need on the toolbar:

I guess it’s easy to maintain quality when you have a relatively small and very passionate user base. Probably why Google stays number 1. They still manage to keep the trash at manageable levels. Whatever they learn about filtering I hope they pass on to Ebay.

The Friend Tax on “Social” Media

A lot of commentary try to lump Social Media (such as Digg) in the same category as Social Networks (such as FaceBook) but the only thing they have in common is the arbitrary naming. After all, what web service is not social? Social is the very fabric of the internet so there will never be an anti-social web app in the truest sense. But aside from the retarded naming, I want to point out something blatantly obvious.


Yes, it’s the shocking truth. I think a lot of social media outlets simply “caught on” to the fact that the quickest way to catch “gaming” is to publicly endorse the befriending of other users (by adding them as “friends”) while tweaking the voting algorithm to penalize or nullify all votes that come from friends or friends of friends.

The counter argument goes that good content will always be voted up. However, it’s hard to see how the common user can overcome these road blocks without having to perform miracles. After a round of algorithm tweaks by Digg the frontpage is now populated by power users like MrBabyMan and relative unknowns who carry no penalty of extensive friend networks or prior reputation.

Although this friend penalty is the quick and dirty way to ensure the relevance of “popular” stories it also negates a significant part of the time invested by passionate users. It also reveals a failing in the algorithm because some power users tend to make lots of “friends” in the process and many of those friends may share excellent taste.

The power users that survived all the recent upheaval on Digg are people with a long, good reputation in submitting stories and have more people friending them than they’ve friended. They also tend to submit lots of mainstream stories from respectable outlets to minimize the risk of auto-burial. However, I’d argue that their position is tenuous because a bad streak can seriously make it even harder to make the homepage.

Are friends more a burden than a blessing on social media? I’ve come across some of the most generous and intelligent people I’ve encountered online through social media but I’m not sure I could ever make the same quality connections again as social media currently stands.


Digg’s Bastardization

Digg’s about to embark on a crazy expansion scheme into product and restaurant reviews. It’s surprising that they would even make this move. They’re basically stating that they have the rating or social ratings game nailed like Google nailed search. I’m not exactly sure how they plan to pull it off but product and restaurant reviews look like a bad match.

I mean really, do you want an anonymous mob who don’t know jack about your product or restaurant “rating” your site and thrashing you in the ghetto comments section? The armchair critics and anonymous haters that hang out in the comments section will have a field day with all the reviews. I frankly don’t see the utility of such reviews. Although I would imagine that charging establishments and products a fee to “opt out” of being submitted to Digg might be a great source of revenue. Maybe any publicity is good publicity.

The problem with Digg right now is that anything and everything is already bastardized. Their aggressive “spam” filtering and the fact that everything has to be suitable for consumption by 1 million+ registrants equals instant mediocrity and a rehash of old news from the big tech sites (the untouchables locked in an incestuous tango of patting each other on the back).

I’ve never really thought of Digg as a company with a good algorithm (especially after they wrecked stuff). It’s always been more about the design and its addictive quality. I’m hoping the personalization will mean a more relevant Digg but their recent moves suggest otherwise and their traffic as captured on Alexa still shows a long, steady decline. Does anybody use source control? They should just revert to whatever they were doing before THEN think of the next step.

Rose was speaking about the company’s 6-12 month plans, saying that product and restaurant reviews may be among the new content for voting on. They’ll add virtually everything, in fact, that you could imagine Digging. Additionally, Rose has finally hinted that Digg will become more personalized: rather than focusing on what is popular among all users, it’ll deliver a more customized view based on your interests (ie. what you Dugg). Depending on how that’s implemented, it could lessen the power of a “front page” story, but also offer opportunities for more diverse topics to get attention.

Kevin Rose: Digg May Expand to Images, Restaurant and Product Reviews

The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost

In a dramatic turn of events, Kevin Rose quelled the Digg mob by posting the very HD DVD hex code that they sought to suppress and doing an about face from the CEO’s statement. It was a defining moment.

A lot of websites talk about being community-powered/centered/driven but there’s always a definite retention of control over the service. Even large forums are moderated to a greater or lesser extent.

Kevin Rose obviously saw a great threat against the very fabric that holds Digg together after all the recent missteps they’ve taken in dampening the communities loyalty. However, I think the long-term consequences of this will be detrimental to Digg as a corporation and community.

First, there’s the immediate legal situation facing Digg now that they have disobeyed the HD-DVD industry’s cease & desist. The entertainment industry has shown time and again that they could care less about bad publicity in light of pursuing “landmark” targets and Digg will certainly be a juicy one to make an example of. A cease and desist is hardly as scary as it seems because the issuing party is doing it to avoid a legal confrontation rather than start one. Still, the visibility of this case could push the DVD industry to retaliate.

Now, the only way out of a confrontation is to fight it to the very end or come to an agreement and delete the offending content. If Digg does capitulate, there might not be a revolt on the scale we witnessed but it will look even worse than if they had simply stuck to their original policy.

There Goes the Neighborhood…

By redeeming themselves to the “mob” the Digg management have basically sanctified the rowdy hordes that populate the deep underbelly of the comments section. It’s really obscene when you think about how much Digg polices and repeatedly punishes some of the biggest contributors while literally bending over for the “terrorists” that give Digg such a bad reputation.

The fact that one of the founders of a company can be persuaded to engage in teenage disobedience antics with the blessings of management is really disturbing to me.

We’ve heard all kinds of talks about Digg being a potential acquisition target but I think that this and their high cost margins basically leave them to go their own route for the foreseeable future without hope for acquisition.

My personal take

My personal take is that the bury squad and Digg mob is about the only rabidly loyal segment of Digg users that’s currently left. This combined with the fact that Digg’s been covertly policing content for sometime probably frightened them enough to face the threat of legal action in order to make it look like they rarely censor stuff (especially commentaries critical of Digg).

I think the whole affair was pitiful the second Kevin Rose waved his white flag. The chickens have come home to roost.

Digg the Blog » Blog Archive » Digg This: 09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8-41-56-c5-63-56-88-c0

Digg Shutdown!!!

Damn! I never knew it could get this bad. Apparently, Digg’s attempt to censor a popular story on the so-called “forbidden numbers” used to break HD-DVD caused a massive backlash against Digg and now every single frontpage story on Digg is about that very topic. Amazing!

I love democracy in action. Spread the key!

I Got My Account Deleted by Digg

Thanks for the good times. Looks like I got my account deleted by Digg. I’ve been using the Digg all bookmarklet some time after they deleted the top users list. I fully realize that this goes against standards of the community so I’m not surprised that I got my account deleted. Looks like changes went into effect today as I’ve been doing this a while.

What is surprising is that there is no warning or notification from Digg. Not even a screen telling me the consequence of my actions. Suddenly my account went inactive and showed I wasn’t logged in. I knew at that very moment that my account was dead.

I don’t intend to protest this or contact Digg. I’m simply posting this to let people know that if you do blind digging, you’ll eventually get your account banned.

My old profile