On the rise of disinformation through the dumbing down of Social Media

For years I have been complaining that social media has shifted away from conversations towards marketing. It has shifted away from peer to peer conversations towards a broadcast model where crowds listen to and share individual sources rather than interact within a social network. As a result of this communication shift people re-share content rather than create their own.

Until the election of Trump and Brexit it was unpleasant but had to be seen as part of modern life. We had to accept that sensationalism and dumbed down content were popular. We had to accept that most people saw social media as RSS rather than conversation.

Within the last year we have seen that the shift from social media being conversational has shifted towards trolling, disinformation and misinformation. We see that people speak about living in a “post truth” age and more. In such an environment we see that people hear what they want to hear and vote for what they idealise rather than what makes logical sense. Brexit and Trump are consequences of people following idealism rather than realism. In such an intellectual environment social media, rather than encouraging the flow of information and context has had the opposite effect. When Obama was running for President the blogosphere was seen as a gate keeper, as part of the fourth estate, as part of the checks and balances.

With Trump and Brexit we see that the Tabloid press in England and Troll armies in other countries have deliberately misguided people, deliberately made them vote against their own self-interests.

For years I saw the web as a place to socialise and make new friends but within the last year, with troll armies, marketing and more I see that conversations are declining. The Return on Investment that I used to enjoy as a human rather than a marketer justified the time I spent socialising via social media. In 2016 the Return on Investment of using Social Media became negative. I watched youtube series, I read books, I read mainstream media, I listened to podcasts. In 2017 I want to replace the time that I spent on social media on reading books. In this day and age the cost of social media exceeds the potential return on investment. I finally find that social media is a waste of time. It took a decade for me to fall out of love with social media.

Steep – A Snowboarding, skiing, Parapente and Base Jumping game

Winter is coming and snow has fallen on the local peaks and then melted again. The temptation to go snowboarding in real life is back. While waiting to go and do sports in the real world Ubisoft give us the opportunity to simulate the experiences of snowboarding, skiing, base jumping and paragldiding.

I know three of these sports. I ski, I snowboard and I recently tasted my first paragliding flight.As I watched the trailer above and Jack Septiceye’s video of the game it reminded me of so many of the extreme sports videos I have watched. It also reminded me of the FIFAD event as well as the Montagne En Scène events. It pays a nice tribute to the culture of snowboarding and extreme sports that many of us have grown up with. It also harkens back to the days when I would edit the events that are mentioned in the trailer to this game.

This would be a good game to have in the chalet while waiting for the snow to fall or the conditions to improve.

I understand why the game filled me with passion. I liked seeing places that we know. It’s because the game developers are in Annecy so they’re playing in the same landscape as us. They’re snowboarders and skiers so they understand the sensations and they’re trying to emulate them in the game. When watching the paragliding sequences I like that we hear the flight computer’s beep as you ascend at different rates. It’s one aspect that you really notice the first time you try paragliding. That’s a nice touch for the game.

From the videos I have watched so far it looks as though they have managed to capture all of these sensations in the game. This looks like a really enjoyable game to play. The game should provide people with a nice amount of escapism. As they get used to the controls and as the community for this game grows so the ties that bind this community will grow. It looks excellent.

Strava now has rock climbing, hiking and more

Strava now has rock climbing, hiking and many more sports. Sports tracker, movescount and other applications already allowed you to do this but it is nice to see one more network provide us with this option.

Strava expanded the number of sports you can track
Strava expanded the number of sports you can track

Up until now I had to make sure to go for a bike ride or three per week to keep people updated on what I did. During week days I am likely to go for bike rides. On two to three evenings per week I may go climbing and on the weekend I may go hiking or for a walk. As a result I can track the diversity of my activities.

Strava has updated the list of sports
Strava has updated the list of sports

With rock climbing I would like them to add two or three more fields. I would like them to add an option to add the grade of the climb we did. This would need to use the European and the American systems. It would help us track our progress and even track how hard we worked if we’re wearing a heart monitor as we climb. In effect it could provide us with a way of seeing who else is climbing and whether we match their skill level. In the long run this could contribute to new groups. I have created a group for Swiss Via Ferrata in anticipation of via ferrata practitioners joining the network and sharing their climbs.

Until recently I would only track cycling and running. Now that walking, hiking and climbing have been added I can track a number of new sports. It should result in people using the app more frequently.  It could be fun to see climbing and hiking heat maps. We will see how they adapt the input section to match the sports.


Thoughts on Youtube Backstage

Youtube backstage is a consequence of Youtube comments not playing nicely within Google+. Google+ is a pleasant social network where people who want to have conversations and share pictures can meet and broaden their horizons. It is a place where you can write comments that are as long or as short as you want. Misunderstandings, as a result are less common.

The idea of youtube backstage is to expand youtube channels so that content creators can share images, polls and more. In so doing Youtube would provide people with a one stop shop. The need for twitter, instagram and facebook would be reduced.

Some youtube content creators have from two hundred thousand to ten million followers. With such a big audience youtube pages would become self contained communities. If you’re watching No Man Sky videos rather than commenting on episode videos you will comment on the game. Would this encourage people to move away from Reddit?

One of the most interesting benefits of youtube implementing text, images and polls is that it would create an environment in which for advertisers to be seen without distracting people from the content. When you watch youtube videos you see pre-roll videos and banners. When videos are longer an advert is shown after a certain number of minutes. With text, images and polls adverts could be shown for longer. As channels are themed adverts will be relevant to the channel rather than a person’s browsing history.

I spent a few weeks watching content created by youtubers. In that time I have watched “series” and “episodes”. If youtube finds a way to monetise the niches that content creators have built up over time then Google and Youtube will benefit. People will go from passive viewing and occasional commenting to active conversations. Conversations make social networks sticky. A sticky social network provides value for advertisers. Advertisers provide funding to content creators and this provides content creators with a higher income, providing them with the incentive to do more of the same.

Online communities and socialising in person

Online communities and socialising in person can be a challenge for people. Either they are shy, lacking the courage to meet with strangers and start a conversation or they are introverts, interested in being in a group but not necessarily to participate in the conversations. The question was “how to go to a glocals meeting when you are really shy ?”. This applies to couchsurfing hangouts, Google+ events, Pokemon Go meetups, slow ups, critical mass and more.

Everyone is shy, that’s why they participate with a friend or more.

Both of these present a challenge. As a shy person you want to go but you do not want to go alone. We see that almost everyone is in that situation. We see it by the number of people who do activities with a friend rather than alone. We see this when socialising in cities, on hikes, during climbing events, canyoning and doing other sports. You see it in the pre-event comments, “my friend and I”, “my girlfriend and I”, “my spouse and I” and more. You see that the difference between a shy person at an event and a courageous one is whether they have a friend to go with them. If they were alone they would not participate. ;-). That notion that people overcome their shyness is a moderate farce.

Passion makes you outgoing

As it fits neither in to shyness nor introversion I feel that passion is very important when you are looking for people to do things with. If you are shy then meeting people for the sake of meeting people will not work. It is hard to overcome shyness without passion. Introversion benefits from passion too. The better you know a topic the more outgoing you will be, the easier it will be to block out shyness. An introvert following his passion hides his introversion very well.

Socialising as an introvert

When I was new to a community like Glocals I tried going to city based social events where there could be drinking and within two or three events I found the experience so dull and uninteresting that I haven’t been again. As an introvert I found that the best events were those to do with sports. Canyoning was one but so where white river rafting, rock climbing both indoors and outdoors, via ferrata, hiking and other activities. I found that I love participating in extreme sports rather than sedentary ones. Throughout the activity you can walk at the same speed as someone else and socialise or you can walk at your own speed and day dream, take pictures or just enjoy the experience.

The active introvert


I would encourage all shy people to participate in fun and active events. I want to see more shy single people come to try rock climbing, via ferrata and other sports. The advantage of these activities is that as a shy individual or an introvert you are pushed to interact with people for the purpose of the activity. At the beginning of the day you knew no one but by the end of it you have met a few new people and so friendships can progress as you participate at future events. In effect you were shy the first time but six weeks later you may be a core member. Don’t waste time “overcoming” your shyness at events with alcohol. Overcome your shyness overcoming your fear of jumping from 11m in to a small rock pool.

Playing Ingress and Pokemon Go in parallel

People are playing Ingress and Pokemon Go in Parallel. Both games use the same geo-located points and walk the same routes. They have the same places to farm and combat. I started playing Ingress again, but only a few minutes here and there. As I play I see new faces and new people at Ingress portals. They are no longer my age or older. They are much younger, in their teens.

Yesterday as the neighbours were having a party I decided to take advantage of the excuse to go out and play Ingress. I went to the four or five portals in my village. At the village church I saw a youth drive up to it on a scooter, farm via the Pokemon Go layer and then leave. Nothing changed on the Ingress layer. No damaged resonators, no upgrades.

I like that people can play two entirely different games at the same location. I see this as the future of geo-located games. I see this as the next wave. The physical world provides the location and then the layer (or game) provides the user interface, the virtual world we interact with. With imagination more and more layers can be added. This will provide people with choice.

The next step is smartwatches and augmented reality goggles. Those who have played Ingress intensively know where all the portals are so they can put their phone away when walking from point to point. The same is probably true of Pokemon Go players. One person wrote that he uses his smartwatch to farm when walking around. Imagine if Google Glass had come out now. If it had come out now, with the Pokemon Go craze people would buy them.

At the moment to play pokemon Go and Ingress you walk in a position, that given time, will turn us in to hunchbacks. Rather than being from manual work in a field or a coal mine it will be from walking staring at a phone. I write this with a certain sense of humour. The market for Augmented reality goggles is ripe. Device manufacturers should grab this opportunity while it lasts.

Networking around Pokemon Go

Networking around Pokemon Go is less interesting now that everyone plays the game. I have heard non geeks talk about Pokemon Go. They spoke about the large crowds that are staring at their phones in places like Ouchy. The value of social movements is to be part of a small, passionate group of players where the community is large enough to be fun but not so large as to become mundane.

With a game like Ingress players were more sparsely distributed. When we met other players there was an immediate connection because we were few and far between. You would walk around certain cities and villages and you would not spot other players for hours of game play. When you met another player you wanted to meet, you wanted to interact.

Communities are fun when they are small. Pokemon Go has risen in popularity at such a rate that old social networks may be privilieged over new ones.

I was at the Chateau de Prangins a few days ago playing ingress for a short period of time raising the level of Ingress portals. During this time I saw at least 5-10 adolescent boys playing Pokemon Go, walking and running around the park.

Pokemon Go is like alcohol or snowboarding. As everyone plays the game the opportunity to create new social groups is reduced. Why mix with new people when your core group of friends is already playing?

The Facebook, telegram, slack and Google Hangout groups are alive and well this summer so people are connecting with new people. Although a new network of people is forming around this game I feel that it is hindered by the popularity of the game. Introverts can connect online via these groups, Meeting new people face to face may not be as comfortable due to the large crowds.

It’s great that a location based game is encouraging people to run around while staring at their phones. Phone screen replacement companies are very happy with the increase in demand for their skills and external battery sales are going up. Prices are going to go down and innovation is going to go up. If you’re an introvert, bad at small talk, then Pokemon Go has reached its peak usefulness and you can revert to other less popular activities. You can skip the craze.


Did anything happn?

Happn is a location based dating app, at least in theory. I have had the app on my mobile phones for a year or more and have yet to meet a Happn user in person. In theory Happn shows you who you have crossed paths with and where. It also tells you how many times you have crossed paths with specific individuals.

One of the biggest limitations of this app is that for now users of the app are based in cities rather than the countryside. As a result I will cross path with dozens of people I go to Geneva or Lausanne but will cross paths with no one when I am up enjoying a via ferrata. I find this to be a shame. It is precisely when I am on a via ferrata that I want to find people to share the passion with.

A few days ago I was at the Plainpalais fanzone in Geneva as people queued up and waited to get in to watch France Versus Germany. I launched the app and saw that a lot of people at the event had the app active. I walked away from the fanzone and forgot about the app.

So far with this app I do not remember having any matches or making any real effort to meet people that I see come up. Some apps are fun for statistical analysis rather than face to face encounters. Two people I know have turned up on the app. I have enjoyed a few via ferratas with one of these people and worked on a number of interviews with the other. One is in Lausanne and the other in Geneva. We will see if I ever meet someone via the app. Knowing me it will happn (;-)) when I can be bothered.

Discussing News on Facebook

Discussing News on Facebook is not as interesting as it is on Google Plus. On Facebook publishers and friends tend to share and promote clickbait rather than articles that they have actively looked for and read. Google+ in contrast is a place where people surf the web reading news stories and when they find a good one, link to and share it. For this reason I go to Google+ for news and current affairs if I go to a news aggregator rather than Facebook.

The technical change this time around is that Facebook will favor links shared by your friends and family over links that publishers place directly into the News Feed through their pages. source

The language used is interesting, “favor links shared by your friends and family”, there is no mention of original content, there is no mention of photographs. The focus is on news curation rather than personal content. The unique selling point of facebook is not that we share links but that we are a community of friends and family. If we share news and current affairs then there are dozens of alternatives.

It has two priorities, Mosseri says: to inform and to entertain. Source

When I look at a news feed and when I read headlines I want to be informed and educated. Entertainment is not key for my news consumption habit. I do not want to be told how to feel or how it will change my life. After years of Facebook use I see the social network as superficial. It failed to encourage the right user behaviour.

In many cases, their feeds have been overrun by posts from pages and publishers they follow, some of which post as often as 200 times a day. They may click on and like those posts, but ultimately they don’t want posts from their friends crowded out by all that professionally produced content. Source

That I am blogging about these articles rather than simply sharing them to Facebook shows that the sense of community that helped Facebook grow and thrive over the years has been undone by years of prioritising the wrong content. That decline started with farmville a few years ago and culminated a few weeks ago with me reverting to this blog.

I took a break from writing this post to look at how many personal posts I could see and the answer is very few. Facebook has already damaged the personal relationship that people have with it. People now use it passively, liking and sharing links rather than conversing.

Facebook is no longer the conversational social network that it once was. People have lost the habit of conversing with their friends and Facebook is doing what it can to re-engage an audience that has already found other distractions. With a hot story like BREXIT you can be certain that I wanted to discuss it. Google+ has been an interesting place for these conversations.


Thoughts on the Conversational Sharing of Links

Facebook and twitter were first and foremost about conversations between individuals. It is only later that thoughts on the conversational sharing of links became relevant. In a conversational environment you may see headlines and either comment or re-share them without taking the time to read the article. In taking the time to read the article you neutralise the conversation that you were having.

This is not restricted to Facebook and Twitter. Those who remember Google Reader remember that we used to star articles that we wanted to read later. We bookmarked the stories that we thought were interesting and other people could see what we highlighted. This habit continued on to Facebook and twitter.

According to a new study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked: In other words, most people appear to retweet news without ever reading it.


The article and the researchers have failed to take in to consideration the tools that are available to social network users. On Twitter you had favourites and retweets. In theory a favourite serves as a bookmark and a retweet serves to share an article that you believe your timeline might find interesting. On Facebook they go further. You can like a post, re-share it or “save” it for reading at a future date. As people use likes to bookmark stories, share to distribute stories that are relevant to their friends or “save for later” for stories that interest them we see that sharing without reading is not the full picture. It does not look at why people shared the link. There is a chance that someone I know might like a story related to one or other of their passions or professional interests. In so doing sharing is not as senseless as the researchers imply.

The researchers made a few other telling observations, as well: Most clicks to news stories, they found, were made on links shared by regular Twitter users, and not the media organization itself. The links that users clicked were much older than we generally assume — some had been published for several days, in fact

If people follow only news organisations via a social network like Twitter then the social network ceases to become social and becomes an RSS aggregator. If it becomes an RSS aggregator then the value of such a social network declines. Do you remember when people were discussing curation, both at a friendly level and at a higher level? They were speaking of shared content and people sorting through what they thought was most interesting or relevant for the people who chose to associate with them. This explains why “clicks to news stories, they found, were made on links shared by regular Twitter users,…”. This is what you would expect from a social network. We trust the people we feel inclined to follow.

Among the many phenomena we’d tentatively attribute, in large part, to the trend: the rise of sharebait (nee clickbait) and the general BuzzFeedification of traditional media; the Internet hoax-industrial complex, which only seems to be growing stronger; and the utter lack of intelligent online discourse around any remotely complicated, controversial topic.

Clickbait and sensationalist articles are designed for a media landscape where people believe that clicks and hits are the purpose of a social network, rather than a sense of having had a good conversation with another person. Unique individuals should be socialising with those in their networks and as users get to know whom they have connected with so the sharing of news stories and information should match that knowledge.

The problem that I see is that no one knows their audience anymore, no one is trying to hit a niche. They share empty but sensationalist articles rather than the well written and thoughtful content that their followers, friends, colleagues and categories people would be interested in.

When people start to use social media to connect with like minded people once again, to have conversations and share interests then the quality of links shared will increase. Within a few weeks we may go back to a healthier social media landscape.