The fundamental problem with Web 2.0 and social networking tools is a lack of blocking and filtering options, and when they exist the reluctance of users to use them.
When I look at a site like Twitter, I think they have done it right and provided the proper tools to manage their brand of social networking, and yet I see so few people using them. If you were to look at my account, you’d see that I have around 44 people following me (I say around because that can change at any time). I could easily have 200 followers, but it wouldn’t mean anything. Every person who follows me, I read their account, if they are say the kinds of things I want to hear I follow them back. If you follow me and I don’t follow you, it doesn’t mean I won’t follow you in the future, it just means that what I read so far didn’t excite me enough to add you to my main feed, but I’ll check back later to see if that changes. If, however, I read your account and find what you have to say in poor taste or your account is nothing but advertising, I will block you. (Keep in mind, I don’t base this on a single tweet, it has to be a long held pattern.) Blocking on Twitter has the effect that not only do I not see you, but you can’t see me. More people need to do this. I see spamming accounts following thousands of people, and unless that is thousands of other spam accounts, it means people aren’t blocking. And this behavior isn’t limited just to Twitter. Any social network site that publicly displays how many “friends” or “followers” you have is subject to it.
The problem, of course, is that the number becomes too important. That number shouldn’t matter. Why should I care if someone has eleventy billion friends? The thing I should care about is whether or not the content that person produces is worth reading. In the end, that’s the thing I consider the biggest failure of Web 2.0. It is supposed to be about the content, but most sites wind up including some number like views or friends counts that becomes the focus over the content.
I’m not alone here. Trent Reznor, a person who has embraced social networking but is now turning away from it, had this to say:
We’re in a world where the mainstream social networks want any and all people to boost user numbers for the big selloff and are not concerned with the quality of experience.
The power to make social network sites better is in your hands. Use the tools provided.