Grasp all, lose all : when “liking” is too easy to be true

Either internal or external, social media approaches rely on some well-known principles. Among them are serendipity and wisdom of crowd. Both these principles rely on the emission of social signals that allow, in the one case, people tobe driven from an information they were looking for to one they didn’t know it existed and, in the other case, to collect opinions, votes, ideas from a given community or network in order to make decisions.

At the very beginning of social networks, things were simple : bloggers used to write about what they liked and were driving (unconsciously or lot) both serendipity and wisdom of crowd. Then came twitter. No need to write a long article, to argue, to invest too much time : everything has to fit in 140 chars. Upside : emitting a signal became very easy. Downside : less arguments, explainations. And the “retweet” that makes it easy to forward any third part information to one’s network makes it even easier. That’s the “one-click signal”, without any qualitative contribution by the emitter.

Because of that we can witness an impressive proliferation of signals, what is a good thing because the “base” that drives us, our choices, browsing is wider. But the dark side is not far : the simpler the act of emitting is, the less engaging it is. Guess how many people retweet a link without reading it, for the only reason that the title looks interesting. Or, maybe, just because of a gregarious instinct : “I don’t want to be the one who’ll not RT an information that everyone is retweeting”.

At this point, a first paradoxical observation has to be made : solutions used to widen the base, what is supposed to increase the reliability of signals, makes signals less engaging even though what makes a signal valuable is the fact someones decide to produce it and invests time to do so what is an engagement indicator. Before, publishing something was the consequence of a desire to inform, to share. Today it may only be dictated by a follow-the-crowd attitude. I don’t mean this kind of attitude wasn’t existing before…only that proportion may have changed with time…

An ultimate stage has recently been reached with the Facebook “like”. Now with a simple click, people can spread a signal telling their contacts what they liked as they’re browsing the web. (I added the “like” button on this blog for posts and the whole blog and I hope I’ll be able to deliver some conclusions about how it was used in a few weeks…)

The question behind that (I don’t even mention privacy issues that are a common place with Facebook) is about relevance : because of too many “easy likes”, dictated by gregarious instinct (my friends like so I have to like), a membership ersatz (saying I like this blog makes me feel closer to those who like it…btw we can wonder if all the people who like something form a community…guess what my opinion is…), the nature of the signal is adulterated what makes its value decrease.

We can even push the reflection further. A moment will come when organizations will wonder how to import it in the workplace (in fact it has already begun). “crowd-push” an information, push ideas…in one click as people are visiting the intranet meanders may have some value. But the “like” is a reducer. It means at the same time “I love”, “why not…but I’m doubtful”, “it’s quicker and easier to click than thinking about why clicking or not”, “everybody likes and I don’t want to be seen as an exception”. I don’t even mention how it may be translated in the “political” business language : “I’m pro”, “I’m not against” (very french 😉 ), “I recommand”, “Interesting but I’m not buying it”.

So we can think about “dislike”, “warning”, “interesting but touchy” buttons. Too many slight differences and shilly-shallying can kill the idea and be counter-productive and generate conflicts and discussions that are not in line with the positive thinking that authorizes us to only like or shut-up. Only paying attention to positive opinions while ignoring doubts and counter-proposal is the best way to alter what is supposed to contribute to a new form of collective intelligence.

The cluetrain manifesto told us that markets were conversations. It take some more years for businesses to undersatnd that collaboration was a specific kind of market that was fed by conversations too. Now we have to wonder if the one-click “like” will kill conversations ? If it won’t ruin the valuye of the “social signal” ? Grasp all, lose all they say…

No definitive answer today…but this subject must be tamed for sure !

crowdsourcing, facebook, intelligence-collective, pensée positive, sagesse des foules, serendipité

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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