Cafe Witness

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Social Media Gatekeeping (Or, Why I Won't Be Invited to San Francisco Anytime Soon)

Brace yourselves, folks: I'm about to depict, with an awkwardly high amount of geekery, exactly why there's a glass fence around the "social media" hierarchy, and why it's so tough to scale it.

In a nutshell, Eric Rice and I stumbled into a conversation last night on Twitter. The subject? Eric was musing about the seeming hypocrisy of every 'must-attend' social media event, in which people who aren't making any money in the medium still feel obliged to fly to an event to be part of some fictitious scene.

At one point, I mentioned that, since the web is built upon the democratized promise that physical location no longer matters, I shouldn't feel hamstrung by living in Pittsburgh as opposed to NYC / LA / SF. However, it's undeniable that "the action" still takes place in the major media centers -- which, if that's the case, essentially means that the liberating power of the web is a lie.

Meanwhile, Eric was Twittering with several other conversants, including Robert Scoble. Roundly recognized as an "A"-List blogger (a title he even affords himself on occasion), he and Rice are in roughly the same media sphere; I'm at least 2 to 3 layers out from there. Thus, they'll twitter back and forth freely, while I'm rarely involved in that echelon of discussion.

Scoble mentioned that he couldn't conduct his work anywhere else than San Francisco, because there aren't that many tech CEOs anywhere else. He also referred to the much-maligned "flyover states" quite genially, although he admitted there weren't many geeks in them; at least, not compared to SF.

However, when it came to Eric's point about "regional isolation" affecting social media, Scoble wasn't buying it:
@spin: you're full of it tonight. If someone wants to get "unisolated" just put "@scobleizer" in your Twitter message.

Hmm. So that's it? All these discussions I've had about the path to web success and here it was all along. (Who knew?)

It was equally interesting to see the following exchange betwixt them, first from Rice:
@scobleizer btw, none of this has anything to do with me, I'm raising hell on behalf of those with unheard voices. So we're clear on that

And Scoble's response:
@spin: I find it interesting that you are raising hell on behalf of people who REFUSE to join the conversation. Why won't they?


Not sure who's REFUSING to join the conversation here. In fact, I'd wager more that Scoble (and the other powers-that-be) see so much of the social media seascape, it's just hard for them to notice any ripples that aren't emanating from their own buoys.

Or, as I said in slightly less apologetic language:
*shrug* Being asked to "join the conversation" presumes there's a gatekeeper. Thanks, Emperor, but I have my own clothes.

Later, while surfing to Chris Brogan's blog, I saw his most recent post. It's a link to a video about Glenda Hyatt-Watson, known as the "left-thumb blogger" because... well, just watch the video. It's an inspiring story all its own -- and exactly why I felt the need to re-tweet it.

Which I did, thusly:
I'm sure this was widely twittered 12 hours ago, but @chrisbrogan 's post about @GlendaWH is truly mindblowing:

This post went out, like all others, into my twitstream, and I went back to work.

Moments later, Robert Scoble twittered the following:
@chrisbrogan's latest video rocks.

Anyone notice anything amusing in that tweet?

The TinyURL link is mine, created moments earlier, and copied and pasted by Scoble into his own post. Which, innocently enough, looks like he decided to post it out of the goodness of his own heart.

Which, to be honest, he may have.

And Lord knows I'm not due any back-patting for pointing Chris's post out. Odds are, Scoble would have discovered it anyway, sooner or later.

I just find it ironic that, after earlier wondering aloud about the poor, innocent people Eric Rice was coming to bat for -- those who "REFUSED" to join the conversation -- Scoble would have a golden opportunity to credit the messenger in this particular case, and instead choose to clip out the TinyURL and send it off as his own missive.

Full disclosure: I've blogged previously about the pitfalls of social media, including the lunacy of "fishbowl"-driven buzzwords involving use of the term "Scoble___," as in, "Scobleized." It's quite possible that such discussions have raised the hackles of the powers-that-be.

I also have a feeling Scoble's tweet probably brought 100x the attention to Chris's post as my tweet did, since Scoble's followed by far more people on Twitter than I am -- so, in the end, the message was served, and that's the important part.

(And no, I'm actually not upset about it; just highly entertained. Irony is its own best raison d'etre.

I'm also not delusional enough to believe I require credit in this situation. I didn't make the video, I'm not the subject of the video, and I'm not Chris Brogan.

I'm just a guy, smirking away, isolated in a flyover state.)

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  • Having recently moved back to the Bay Area from LA, I do see that the Internet culture is different in the two places. The people, the ideas and the energy are much more densely packed up north. In my own experience this difference is magnified if you compare SF to "flyover state" cities. And that's not a good or a bad thing, it just IS. I don't think either Scoble or Rice would exist in quite the same way if they lived somewhere else. And they are probably both quite aware of that, whether it fit the scope of Eric’s intended message tonight or not.

    I love it that the Twitter community will re-float a worthy cause or an inspirational post, like you did with Brogan's @GlendaWH post, and Scoble likely did with your tweet.

    As you mention, I'm also not sure about how necessary it is to give credit when re-tweeting a re-tweet, but it IS definitely kind of odd considering tonight's context.

    Twitter was certainly pretty entertaining tonight. You had some good points, esp. when you said "haves and have nots exist in every sphere -- and half the innovation goes toward ensuring it stays that way." That’s worthy of a post all its own. :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:11 AM  

  • Interesting...I think the first point kinda got lost on me, probably because I was up partying at a friends and decided to check my rss feeds. I do agree that it is wonky how the internet has conventions and real life events that have a lot of impact on the net. Even as you said, the internet should take away the physical boundaries we face.

    I would type more, but my dehydrated (due to my friend's bday party + alcohol and some games) brain can't think of much more.

    Peace out


    By Blogger Philip Crow, at 3:36 AM  

  • Interesting post. Got me thinking in my own spin off way as well. (

    I just want to know what I need to do to coin the term "Sorgized" or maybe "Sorgacised"

    By Blogger Sorgatron, at 4:01 AM  

  • Um, TinyURLs will be the same if they point to the same URL. Do I need to credit everyone who brings something to my attention? I regularly get left out of the "giving credit" train and it doesn't bother me.

    But how did you create this post if you didn't live in San Francisco? How DARE you! :-)http

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:59 PM  

  • Colby: The web wouldn't work nearly as well as it does if a central braintrust weren't located somewhere, pushing ideas forward all the time.

    However, for those of us in the flyover states, we must stop kidding ourselves that being "connected" to the internet means we automatically have the same ability to succeed as those in major epicenters. A web startup created out of someone's backseat in San Francisco has an exponentially higher chance of succeeding than a fully-funded web business started in Nebraska.

    As for the "innovation" observation... yes, that does sound like a blog post for the future. Thanks. :)

    Robert: I don't know - DO you need to credit everyone who brings something to your attention? Do each of us? What's the price for "joining the conversation"?

    (For the record, the answer is no; however, it's a low-maintenance action to say "X mentioned Y: [link]". I do it all the time, as I'm sure you do as well. The tricky part, of course, is in weighing the value of X's name.)

    Oh, and yes, you're absolutely right about how TinyURLs work. That's how I know we used the same one. But, um, thanks for the pat on the head!

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 1:29 PM  

  • Pennsylvania is considered a fly-over???

    By Blogger UJ, at 1:38 PM  

  • UJ: Yup. If it ain't NYC or LA/SF, it's flown over.

    You might be able to make a case for Philadelphia, since it's "on the coast." But Pittsburgh is nestled comfortably beside West Virginia and Ohio -- not exactly "coastal".

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 1:54 PM  

  • Take it from a Philadelphian: we're a flyover, too, even though the axis is NE to SW. We're just a stop between New York and Washington on Amtrak.

    Oddly enough, I've always taken comfort in the fact that "you can get there from here," although these days it's a question of where "here" is.

    Words like "democratization" have been misapplied by all sorts. I'm just surprised that it's taken us this long to realize that the word means so little in this new-media world, too.

    And as a native daughter of this town (and as someone who can see Independence Hall from her office), I'm particularly sensitive to that outrage.


    By Blogger LEM, at 2:18 PM  

  • As an "outsider" here in Silicon Beach, the whole A-List blogger (tech or otherwise) thing completely cracks me up and has provided great fodder for satire. I'm relatively new to this world, but it's fascinating to witness this geek-centric celebrity energy.

    Are you sure these folks aren't just gatekeepers to their own universes? As in all fields, the movers and shakers just end up talking shop among themselves. Us "outsiders" are fully enjoying conversations of our own.

    By Blogger Maria de los Angeles, at 2:19 PM  

  • Yeah, I'd comment - but really - what good does it do?

    part of "getting out of the fishbowl" means that I have to shut up and start talking about different things.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:35 PM  

  • Much like a bully or the boogeyman or a racial slur, the only real power "A-list bloggers" have is the power we give them.

    If Scoble twitters in a forest and no one reads it, does it make an impact?

    Although like Sorg, I might rip off his shtick and declare that my followers have been Locoboned.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 8:25 PM  

  • I'm SO subscribing to someone who uses 'locoboned' as a verb. Also, fellow graphic artist!

    To touch on Colby's point, aside from the fact that San Jose and the bay area is my actual HOMEtown, I do agree that location has helped me. I could tell you stories of years gone by wandering the halls at Apple, Netscape et al.

    Robert, when you say stuff like 'zomg you are blogging and you aren't in SF', it's the most condescending thing I've ever heard. I'd expect Dave Winer to say that, not you. You know full well what the problem is, and actually, Justin NAILED this in the statement over on Utterz that the elite don't see the problem and the renegades (flyovers etc) do.

    Justin can not and will not be able to saunter in to Ritual Roasters and happen to see (insert name of any token SF/Valley hotshot here). You just *don't* do that.

    It starts to highlight the fallacy of the 'software will save all' thing.

    I'd kill to have some of these flyover people working with me in an actual office, prolly cuz they know what it's like to freaking struggle. That, and their clothes aren't stained in kool-aid.

    At any rate, posting a blog or sending a Kyte video does not for relevancy make. It's placation, even if by accident.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:28 PM  

  • The only thought that I don't think has been covered is that the people choose who to put behind that "glass wall." Wether it is Scoble, Brogan or that guy from Nebraska. If the person is communicating to the people they will accept or reject. I think out of sight out of mind can also be applied here. Just by writing about Scoble here is keeping him in that place. In front of the community.

    By Blogger Norm, at 5:16 PM  

  • I must say, Justin, this is one of the more amusing articles I've read in a while.

    If a person is in the "Needs to Belong" stage, they'll fly anywhere and even take a hot poker up the asz if that's what's required.

    Depending upon the payoff, of course.

    The more it gets them "in", the further and wider they'll take the poker. In fact, it's been that way for, ohhhhh....

    ...since time began.

    The sooner you seperate the majority of your attention from the "in crowd", while maintaining a simple antenna on it, you'll be much more free to pursue some of your more fulfilling dreams.

    Believe me... self-fulfillment doesn't rest on their backs. It's all a big show....

    Sam Freedom
    ps. Justin, here, come have a good laugh...
    The Coolest Guy on the Planet SEO Contest
    Coolest Guy SEO Contest Results

    By Blogger Sam Freedom, at 11:40 PM  

  • Justin, what Scoble was saying about TinyURL is that if two people independently create them, they both get the same tiny URL. It isn't "yours" per se, it's the one mapped to that URL. Every person that creates one from now on gets the same TinyURL code created from the first time. Just saying.

    Other than that, there is a lot of value to what you say here. Living in South Carolina I get a lot of the isolation from the technocrats but you know, I don't really mind it. When I used to travel to Silicon Valley on work I found it a dreadful place full of 20% smart impassioned people and 80% balloon juice salesman. (This was just before the web bubble burst, so balloon juice was everywhere.) Your points about the promise of Web 2.0 and the geographical freedom not matching the actions of participants is a very smart observation.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:46 PM  

  • Hey Justin, thanks for stopping by. Keep your eyes peeled. I'll demonstrate something shortly.

    By Blogger Sam Freedom, at 5:20 AM  

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