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.

SOCIAL MEDIA PLACES A PENALTY TAX ON BEFRIENDING

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.

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