Social Bookmarking Loses Point With Pligg

irregular times logoA few years ago, I was very enthusiastic about the idea of Wiki media. The idea of collectively created media, dynamically shifting, was very exciting to me. I set up wiki operations on three different web sites, and watched as they blossomed... and then deteriorated into nonsense. The wikimedia that I created was soon filled with the same kind of nasty, off-topic, commercial spam you'll get in your email box, and it took a huge amount of time to filter it all out. I could have just written as much content as was retrieved from the mess, but in a tenth of the time.

I shut the wikis down, and I came to regard other wikis around the web with less enthusiasm. Even spam-free wikis aren't the inspiring materials I'd hoped for. They were often as meaningful as collectively-written poetry.

Some people fret about whether wikimedia is accurate enough. I don't worry about that. The accuracy of all media is questionable, after all. All media have bias, and an intelligent reader takes that into account. The trouble with wikimedia is that its bias is all mixed up. One part of an article is constructed according to the agenda of one writer, that then comes up against another writer's agenda just a few sentences later.

I prefer writing with bias that is the same from start to finish. I like reading the voices of people who have something to say, and want to be heard as themselves, not as part of a gathering of people all talking at once. Coherence is key.

The same pattern of initial enthusiasm dampened is grabbing hold of me when it comes to social bookmarking sites. The initial idea is a good one: People can form associations with people of similar interests through pointing to materials that they regard as important.

Now, though, there are more social bookmarking sites than people can possibly keep track of. That's partly because, though the programming behind social networking sites was at first mastered by just a limited number of people, there is now open source software at Pligg, ready for relatively easy adaptation and implementation on web sites all over the Internet.

Are web hosts as ready to maintain the social bookmarking systems they install on their web hosts' servers? The signs are not promising. On NewsBeet, one site that's installed Pligg software, the Barack Obama News page has a few Obama items on it, but many more items that have nothing to do with Barack Obama at all. The top news items include the following headlines:

  • Lindsay Lohan's Mugshot Used In Liquor Industry Ad
  • Amy Winehouse Won't Finish Recording "Bond" Theme Song
  • Robert Vesco, Fugitive Financier, Said To Have Died In Cuba

    None of these entries have had anyone actually click through to view the article. Why would anyone, with the page strewn with off-topic nonsense and advertisements for Rolex watches, jobs for US Army dentists, and the like?

    The failure of NewsBeet comes from two hard realities: 1) Social networking sites are only useful to anyone when they have a lot of people using them; and 2) Social networking sites are spam magnets.

    I appreciate the generosity of Pligg's open source approach, and I like the theory behind social bookmarking. It's what happens in practice with social bookmarking that withers my enthusiasm.

    What's the difference, really, between using social bookmarking site and spamming? Most people on social bookmarking sites don't actually do anything but point. They don't comment. They don't build communities. They just say, "Hey! Look there!" Often, people use social bookmarking sites to call attention to their other social bookmarking profiles, in effect pointing to pointers until they end up pointing to themselves.

    That's what puts social bookmarking sites on the low end of my scale of interest. They're the equivalent of classified advertisements. You might look at them if you're desperate for amusement, and they might bring some traffic, but they aren't much of a destination themselves.

    Now that the advent of software like Pligg has made social bookmarking sites a dime a dozen, look for the influence of the genre to wane, as people go back to work on sites that create instead of pointing.

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