Social Search: Manipulating for Money
January 9, 2009
Mike Elgan wrote “How China’s 50 Cent Army Could Wreck Web 2.0″ here. The point of this article is that a person with money can hire Chinese computer users to insert comments into social networks. The infusion of posts would, in effect, distort the much-ballyhooed wisdom of crowds. Mr. Elgan does a good job of explaining how these army works and pointing out the fragility of user-dependent Web 2.0 services. I think he strays from the tethering ring when we asserts that the Chinese “army” can undermine free speech, but otherwise, he’s spot on.
However–and I know you relish my “howevers”–a few of my addled goose observations are now in order.
First, the “social network” revolution is not as zippy as most pundits assert. Mr. Elgan’s write up explains how the person with money can pay to make a specific issue, product, or person percolate upwards. Money can’t buy happiness but it sure can buy visibility in a Web 2.0 service that depends on user inputs.
Second, social networks is more of marketing story than a technology innovation. Sure, MySpace.com and Facebook.com move well beyond discussion fora and individual Web pages. These sites have knitted together functions and surfed on young-at-heart users who need a way to connect in today’s Jetson’s world. As the young-at-heart grow old and infirm, their use of network communication methods will persist, but these methods are extensions of older technologies, not sudden inventions.
Third, the implications of a technology cannot be accurately predicted. As a result, when an issue arises with a technology application or suite of technology applications like social networks, the “fix” will be more technology. My concern with MySpace.com and Facebook.com stems not from what they do, but my concern arises from the new technologies these services will require to handle the problems. For example, what’s the fix for the Chinese “army” issue? Think more stringent controls. The casualty is not free speech. It is freedom.
Stephen Arnold, January 9, 2009