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  • The Achilles Heels of the Social Web

    Ok. So I’ve written this post several times now, and each time ended up not liking it and not publishing. So hopefully this is the last one I’ll have to write. I’m going to cover 3 sections of social media(news, bookmarking, video), and then an overall picture of it. Emphasis here is on their weaknesses in policing their systems.
    Edit:I like the 2nd half of this article much more than the first half, but it’s goin live!

    Social media is controlling the web right now. It’s coming out of it’s naive stage and emerging as a much more solidified element of the web. The more it comes into it’s own, the more it’s significant to have a solid understanding of the different elements that go into it and the significant factors/achilles heels associated with each.

    The Chain of Dispersal
    Ok. So with social media the idea is to completely saturate a given niche or demographic. An article/picture/video builds up support within it’s core demographic. A few blogs within the niche, etc. Traffic goes up a bit to the article, and it begins dispersing into the social news and bookmarking worlds. Expands past that into mainstream media and blogs outside of the niche or on the fringes of the niche.

    A Few Web2.0 Uses and Weaknesses

    • Social News
      Social news is currently used for 2 main purposes. Building buzz and building links. Spin it however you want, but that’s what it comes down to. Social news is an exquisite launch point for a social campaign if you’ve already got the traffic/votes. But to understand it, it needs to be broken up a bit more.

      • “Hey that’s Interesting” Social News – This is where the traffic numbers are. Digg, mixx, etc. These sites are responsible for the traffic and spread of any link bait and are definitely the initial life in the social news concept.
      • “Hey that’s Legitimate” Social News – IReport.com, Associated Content(social to a lesser extent), newsvine. These sites maintain a more hardline “Is it news” stance. This makes them much harder to bait, but at the same time allows you to provide a cited source in your “hey that’s interesting” news, lending some legitimacy to it. To see this in action, take a look at the “Steve Jobs is dead” hoax.
      • Ok, So What’s the Achilles Heel?
        1. The speed in which it takes place. Anything can happen, anything can be published, and no matter what there’s a 6-24 hour period during which in can spread like wildfire regardless of legitimacy(fact checking takes time, and the results generally spread at a lower rate).
        2. Policing users is becoming impossible. Busting obvious spam is fine, but as far as relating and spotting bot users, it’s getting to be far too algorithmic. It’s an easy way to answer the scale of policing they’d need, but the issue is that once a solution works once, chances are it’s going to work for quite awhile(if the algo missed it once, it missed it a lot)
        3. Common CMS’s. Yes, I’m looking at you pligg. It makes automation infinitely easier when sites are using a common script with little variation beyond custom templates.
    • Social Bookmarking
      In my opinion, social bookmarking (like del.icio.us) is the weakest form of social media. More limited numbers, limited traffic per bookmark, mostly nofollow, etc. However, the audience that is likely to be reached with this are the “super social” crowd. They are responsible for a lot of the spread of a linkbait, so they shouldn’t be overlooked. Now, if you want to call stumbleupon social bookmarking(which I suppose it is), it changes the game entirely. Lots of traffic, a good amount of spread, etc.

      • Ok, So What’s the Achilles Heel?
        • Lack of policing. Since the front page is not as scrutinized as it is on sites like digg, and individual profiles themselves often receive little attention, there’s a distinct lack of community policing.
        • The concept of “spam” gets a lot more obscured/harder to identify, since they’re just bookmarks. People bookmark stupid things, not necessarilly newsworthy.
    • Social Video
      Ah yes, the Youtube juggernaut. Video has taken off and isn’t going anywhere. These seem to spread faster than any other media that I’ve seen. The higher barrier for entry(video editing) keeps the landscape much more clear than the traditional text based linkbaiting. Ideal uses for this are branding, and ghetto mass marketing(explained more later). It’s proven to be extraordinary for social causes and those with a message, as well as those just messing around with a camera and a video. Overall, I’d call it the least monetized of the social web.

      • Ok, So What’s the Sort-Of Achilles Heel?
        • In it’s present state social video is severely impacted by having in nearly every case(youtube, myspacetv, dailymotion, for the love of god Veoh) having crappy search functions. This creates a tremendous opportunity for people to download/re-upload videos on a massive scale. A small amount of gaming and a better understanding of the video site’s algo, and you’re set.
        • Cross-Syndication is another element of social video. In the same way I described above where videos are reuploaded onto the other sites, and the traffic is claimed.
      • Why is it Just “Sort of”?
        • It’s hard to properly monetize any video that can be acquired automatically(aside from things like music videos) so you need a pretty special plan in place to benefit from the reposted videos. Such strategies DO exist, but will not be disclosed here.

    Overall Social Media: Offense, Defense, Potential

    • Defense – The sites that people are using for all this social traffic are coming in with absolutely no monetization plan, and they’re suffering for it. They rely on their users to police the site, but without access to the background statistics and information on the users, this is a losing propsition. You can’t pay a staff properly with theoretical monopoly money millions invisioned by silicon valley (I know digg does well, but perhaps not as good as they should be with that traffic level) and their chosen anti gaming algorithms while effective in some cases, suffer from the fact that once a workaround is found, that workaround becomes reliable and the entire service is left at it’s mercy. It effectively weeds out all the small-time manipulators, but fails to stop those that understand the true potential of being able to control these sites with a snap of their fingers.
      Also interesting is the effects of non-automatic human gaming. A motivated populous can unleash a set of rumors that create truly impressive (albeit creepy) results.
    • Offense – Other security minded computer industries have historically hired their greatest enemies to help proof their systems. But this is a case where the companies are not making enough to do so. The potential profit off of buying up scattered IPs and writing the bots is much greater than the amount the company could pay someone doing so to come up with decent security protection. So their techs entrust their security measures to such things as catching identical voting bots, accounts on duplicate IPs, and a seemingly blind trust in the failboat known as recaptcha.
      For complex sites, bots can be made. But one should be aware that it is not a part time operation anymore, where someone just fires up the bots when they want a frontpage. It’s constantly ticking. Voting, self-monitoring IPs, occasionally even commenting.
    • Potential – Social Media has realized it’s own potential, in my opinion. What has not, are those manipulating it. In the past I’ve monitored a few manipulation schemes, and noticed a peculiar thing, particularily within social news itself. The quality of the spam increasing. It’s now pumping up legitimate linkbait, not just a viagra ad.
      Why is this? First, because the blatant schemes got caught. Second, because spammers have just as much interest in the social news sites succeeding as anyone else. Overwhelming the site with crap on the frontpage leads to less traffic. But guaranteeing a frontpage for a plausible(and financially useful) article with some quality? It works follks. This is not to say the overall perspective of the spammers have changed. But within the more technically advanced, perhaps there is a more distinct switch.

    Social is not dead, but neither is social manipulation. They’ve been playing cat and mouse for a bit, and in this case it would appear the mouse is evolving faster than that cat, and is learning how to use some fire(how’s that for a metaphor). In the same way as SEO or Social(Network) spam, the systems with which the sites are controlled and manipulated are expanding in a truly incredible way.

    To paraphrase an old associate of mine, the best blackhat looks like whitehat. The question facing the social internet is are they prepared to deal with the succifiently advanced systems so long as it’s not obvious, or are they going to try and root out manipulations even if they aren’t (intensively) damaging usability. Or for that matter can they?


    16 Responses to “The Achilles Heels of the Social Web”

    1. Egadsman says:

      I have a question about Digital Point Co-Op (was trying to email but the ‘about’ section said to leave a comment). There have been success stories like MoneyExpert, but there are also those who say that Google will penalize sites that use DP Co-op. What is your opinion on using it as a means of gaining backlinks? And given that the co-op module I believe appears as html, is it likely that Google could discern it as a for-sure footprint from DP Co-Op as opposed to any other kind of outbound links?


    2. MellyMel says:

      To paraphrase an old associate of mine, the best blackhat looks like whitehat. The question facing the social internet is are they prepared to deal with the succifiently advanced systems so long as it’s not obvious, or are they going to try and root out manipulations even if they aren’t (intensively) damaging usability. Or for that matter can they?

      I am going to embroider that on a pillow. That is the question of the new millenium. :) Well put, man.

    3. Contempt says:

      Good read. Greatest line in there is that the best blackhat looks whitehat. Indeed my friend, indeed.

    4. alexa7 says:

      Good article. You wax eloquent for one so young.

    5. Gustavo Cardial says:

      Impressive :) Great post, as always.

    6. G to the ab says:


    7. Flameking says:

      Ditto on what Contempt said. Good read as well with reminding me on a few tips and evaluation.

    8. Gab Goldenberg says:

      You think the social networks might have a budget for an anti-spam consultant? I’d speak to them about it if I were you.n

    9. More says:

      We need more of this chocolate covered gold sprinkled extra tasty stuff you’re writing.

      I was afraid you took the road of tropicalseo.com and stopped posting.

    10. admin says:

      @Gab: I thought you’d disappeared into a volcano or something!
      And yes, sites like digg, reddit, stumbleupon, myspace, facebook, myyearbook even. All of these have heavy duty anti-spam measures, and believe me: they make good money.

      Specifically, I’d look at digg. They’ve got several antispam staff.

    11. Scar says:

      Just wanted to let you know that I used an excerpt from this article on my site (and of course linked back to it!)

    12. diggalive says:

      Hey man, your blog is deffinetly in one of my top 5′s. I was directed here from contempt.me. and I instantly bookmarked. I hope you check out my site when it goes live on Friday, other than that, just wanted to say thanks for posting!

    13. A Ghoulish Collection of Links | This Month In SEO - 9/08 | TheVanBlog | Van SEO Design says:

      [...] The Achilles Heels of the Social Web [...]

    14. Gab Goldenberg says:

      F0000king msn doesn’t work on my laptop anymore. Anyways, IDK if it’s PPC/site gen or girls taking ur time up, but why are you letting your site rot?

      Shoot me an email if you feel like chatting bro, it’s been a while (my fault bc of mSN plus October was about 50% Jewish holidays…)

    15. GT says:

      Hey Man, Im completely new and addicted. I want my own blog that is sorta news, seo, bs and gossip, with a southern/hillbilly twist. Yeah I know sounds kinda out there but I think I could end up with a few readers. I dont know why its just something I feel urged to do. I just want to say, this is the best damn blog in its class. Imean it. This blog is absolutely perfect. Or at leasst my opinion of the perfect blog. I love it. Good job!

    16. GT says:

      What I forgot to say…This blog and Seo Book are my two most favorite, tied for first place.

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