The Disillusionment of Social Networks

  • I logged into Facebook after several months and the first thing I see is <insert what you consider to be crap here>, so I am quitting.
  • Seriously, is there anyone really, I mean, really, using Google Plus?
  • Facebook is a smart network for simple people, Twitter is a simple network for smart people.
  • I am quitting blogging because blogging is dead.
  • Quora is the new Orkut.
  • There is no better network than GoodReads, it’s where I am most enriched.
  • Sometimes, I think everyone using LinkedIn actively is either in HR or jobless.
  • Why are people not sharing their true selves on Facebook anymore? The network is degenerating.
  • I rarely use Twitter these days. There’s nothing interesting happening there other than the mediocrity of influencers and marketers, no intelligent conversations.
  • I’m afraid I must say that I spend most of my time on Google Plus, it is where I find the most enriching content.
  • After my experience with Shelfari, I’m not going to waste time on any other network about book-reading.
  • The only place where I share my most private stuff is Facebook.
  • I do not use social networks as frequently as I blog. I love my blog because I own my content, it is permanent, and I find great like-minded people through blogging.
  • Quora seems to have become the go-to place for anything interesting.
  • Seeing that LinkedIn is fast becoming the professional’s first choice for conversations now.

Seem familiar? Such observations have become commonplace and pervasive across networks. I find their inherent disparity quite fascinating.

A social network is not the same for everyone by definition, because your experience of it is dependent on who you are connecting with on that network. Is our experience of a social network it’s defining characteristic? No.

Why then do we characterize social networks in such broad brush strokes when what we are really characterizing is the people who we, by our own choice, are connecting with on that network?

All social networks use some kind of relevance algorithms to try to engage us in what may interest us the most. These algorithms are just that – algorithms, not humans. The lesser we use any network, the lesser we choose whom to connect with or not on that network, the lesser we configure it to our preference, the lesser it’s algorithm knows what we are really interested in, and the more it becomes irrelevant and useless to us. And then we are disillusioned with it.

I have repeatedly succumbed to this mode of thinking. What ensues is that I continue to stick with the networks I find most interesting and comfortable, reducing my participation in other networks. What is the end result? There are passionate and thriving communities on several networks, but I engage in only a handful of them. I do not gain anything by deriding those other networks, I only lose.

I realized that I can rediscover the beauty and diversity of the social web if I let go of this handicap.


Here are some tips that I found helped me:

  • Continuously update who I’m following on all networks. Laziness in curating my social graph leads to irrelevance. This also includes actively finding new people to follow.
  • Don’t be negative. Unless I’m an opinionated tech blogger focused on page views and committed to supporting one company while deriding other companies, I’ve got nothing to lose by engaging on social platforms created by various companies. Whether I prefer iOS devices or Android ones has got nothing to do with what I think of Google Plus. If I think Google is evil and out to destroy my privacy, I should not be on Facebook either and probably not on any other social network.
  • Blogging is dead. Nobody comments on my blog posts, so I’m quitting blogging because blogging is dead. Rethink. Disqus had 500 million unique visitors last year, 35 million of whom are actively engaging in comments on blogs. Disqus is a social network in itself.
  • When I am disenchanted about what my chosen friends share, it is not a problem of the social network, this is just how people are, and maybe I need to introspect about my expectations of people. Do I really wish people to “slot” what they share on public social networks in defined categories? If so, I’m not being realistic.
  • The next time you’re about to say “XYZ <the social network of your choice> has lately become <adjective of your choice>, instead say, XYZ has become <same adjective> to me, because <results from your introspection here>.
  • Own your data. This is extremely vital and unfortunately, not possible in some cases. Companies and their online platforms rise and fall, and your precious data goes down the drain along with them. Keep copies of your blog posts, photos, reviews, tweets, videos, comments, and everything else. Blogger/Facebook Timeline/GoodReads/Flickr/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest/etc. are here today, but none may exist 30 years from now. Liberate your data from the chains of these services so that your precious data remains portable. Act now to avoid disillusionment later.


From Paul Sawyers at The Next Web:

Social networks only work when people use the same ones. In other words, they naturally lend themselves to being monopolized…The Internet isn’t a monopoly though. It’s an oligopoly consisting of multiple monopolies.

It is for us to choose whether we allow ourselves to get victimized by a monopoly or choose to enjoy the oligopoly.

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  • So true! Thanks for pointing it out.

  • “Rethink. Disqus had 500 million unique visitors last year, 35 million of whom are actively engaging in comments on blogs. Disqus is a social network in itself.” Not too many people realize that Disqus is indeed a social network!! I don’t blog frequently but I do often comment and one tool that works great for managing my social conversations is Engagio ( It unifies my conversations from across the social web (including Disqus) and has made ‘commenting’ my favourite online social gesture. Also, commenting has come with huge benefits such as discovering interesting sites and people based on comments! (Full disclosure: I do work for Engagio)

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  • Oh well. All you say is true. But cribbing/thrashing/ridiculing is so much more fun. 😉

  • Kidding apart, very well written (should I add “as always”, as always?). I think, the issue with networks like FB is your social graph evolved to be one thing, because the initial expectation was it will be ‘this’ or ‘that’, and then as the platform evolved making one thing easier, another harder, subtly, the content reaching you through the ‘same’ or similar by extension, social graph started changing dramatically. And like that frog who’s put in cold water and then water heated gradually, people didn’t realize till it was extremely uncomfortable — without know when exactly did that happen — that it was not what they had intended. Like all things in life, people with analytic bent of mind will probably work around it, by evaluating it a bit dispassionately, while others will react passionately without getting to the root cause of it (I’m one of the latter at times, and former at times, like a biased coin). It can help the latter group a lot, this sane point of view. But then again, are people really looking for answers?

  • Thanks, Gautam!

  • Thanks, Amit. That is an interesting way of looking at it and I largely agree. Sometimes though, the changes are quite drastic (unlike the frog example) and our inherent discomfort with change becomes the handicap.

    Nobody is looking for any answers. This post was meant for a minuscule few who may may enjoy rediscovering the diversity of the social web the same way I often do!

    BTW, cribbing/thrashing/ridiculing is very much an integral part of participating in all social networks, it is certainly much more fun than quitting altogether! 🙂

  • So very very true. It is entirely our choice as to the number of networks we put ourselves out in. Then it becomes difficult to diligently engage in each platform, so you end up using the one that gives you the most satisfaction. The other networks just become an after thought.

  • Precisely!

  • As usual, great post!

  • Thank you!

  • Brijesh Kartha

    There were many points through this post where I wanted to jump in and debate. Surprisingly I was patient and read through it and have nothing to add as you have tied it all up nicely. Of course I still had to comment so here goes, “viva le oligopoly”

  • Ha ha, thanks, Brijesh!

  • Thoughtful post. I often hear impressions of a social network’s behavior and I always suggest that the answer can be found in shaking up who you follow. If you need to exit the echo chamber then broaden the variety of people you follow. The core issue is that this task requires vigilance.

    As an aside, its funny you mention blogging is dead. As part of my refocus this year I unsubscribed to all of my RSS feeds and started over with the intention of actually participating, reading, and writing blogs again. You are one of the 20 that I currently subscribe to.

    I always appreciate your insights my friend.

  • Hello Keith,

    ‘Core issue is that this task requires vigilance’ – very well said. I too keep churning my RSS feeds all the time and I am privileged this blog remains in yours…thank you for the kind words!