You're Talking a Lot, But You're Not Saying Anything


How does commentary affect the world around us?

Likes, Checkins as Forms of Commentary

Since my last posts here, I wonder whether online (or even mobile) commentary has degenerated from true comments to “likes,” “RT”s, and “+1″s (or even “This.”es). “Liking” (I’ll use the Facebook term for simplicity’s sake, but I’m including all other systems’ equivalents here, too) is the most mundane (weak, perhaps) form of commentary, essentially saying “I agree, this is good, I have nothing to add.” It’s a way to align yourself with the sentiments (or people) you like without going to the effort of explaining your alignment.

This isn’t to say that to retweet, like, or +1 something is bad, just that it’s not enough. Do you hesitate to “like” something posted by Facebook friends (or Google+ folks) you’re not actually close to? Does a “like” become a substitute for not having talked to a good friend for a while? When we are using our feedback buttons to navigate relationships rather than ideas, we should explore our motivation. So next time you feel compelled to click “like,” think about whether you actually have something to say. If so, say it. If not, maybe take a moment and think of something smart–not to show off, but if because you truly “like” something, you should probably like it enough to provide a thoughtful response.

Somewhat relatedly, I recently encountered an article that claims only about 30% of online users are interested in location-based mobile checkins like those offered by Foursquare, Gowalla, and similar services. However, more than 50% are interested in using their phones to get to stores, use coupons, and look up product information. If we view checkins as (weak) comments–essentially, indications that people “like” a place because they are there–the somewhat more tepid interest in checking in vs. saving money may suggest that more users are primarily interested in mobile phones for their functional rather than commentary purposes.

At the same time, we’ve commonly seen venues resort to promoting Foursquare checkins with special deals for mayors or even just any old schmuck who checks in. This essentially rewards people for their visible–to friends/acquaintances as potential customers–positive “commentary” on a venue as a worthwhile place to be. But when that commentary is subsidized, is it still valid? And is relationship-motivated commentary (liking your friends’ posts just because you like them as people) any less subsidized or more valid?

Ultimately, is a deal-motivated checkin the ultimate bastardization of our consumerist society, creating a world where we only do things because we’re rewarded? I hope we haven’t fallen that far–but sometimes I’m not sure.


Filed under: Commentary, Facebook, Foursquare, Google+

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