Right now, the holy grail of startup entrepreneurship seems to be user engagement at all cost. Unlike a few years ago it's no longer enough to sell plain-old eyeballs to advertisers, you need to sell engaged eyeballs. And you better be sure that the eyeballs you're hawking are part of the happy clickin' likin' tweetin' commentin' crowd.
A quick refresher. The social startup deal is the following: get people to create content, then get them to interact with each other around it. Chop up your userbase in segments according to behavior. Harvest the now nicely targeted eyeballs & sell them to the highest bidder. Profit!
That's why software built by startups is more about social engineering than software engineering. That's why we end up with borderline psychopathic behavior from the likes of Zynga. And that's why we'll just do about anything short of selling our mother into mturk-style slavery in order to keep user engagement up. There's money to be made in the engaged eyeballs business & that's why you're working on cat pictures.
But here's the problem: people are inherently lazy. Creating good content is hard. And only a tiny fraction of any userbase are creators in the first place. So we've done everything to reduce friction in the content creation process. We went from journalism to blogging to microblogging. We went for minimalistic design to make content creation as simple as possible. Hell, we even redefined 'content' to include things like checkins & automatic sensor output.
And the scheme worked! People are creating 'content' like never before. Everyone I talk to seems to be drowning in a sea of Tweets, Facebook updates & other user-generated content. Yet I feel something is missing. Something simple. Something elusive. A thing called quality.
I'm not too snobbish to admit there is a lot of great content out there. But damn it's hard to filter out the good stuff in my social feeds. (Your definition of 'good stuff' may vary of course & that's part of the issue here.)
I feel like the social web now is a lot like the oldskool web before Google. You know there's good stuff out there but there's no practical way to find it. The closest we've come is the Facebook 'like' button so 'friends' can recommend things to each other. But that doesn't work since most people are upvoting crap like batshit crazy squirrels on speed collecting acorns. You just can't trust your 'friends' anymore, you know ...
What I want is a place where I can go to meet my friends & where I know they will only recommend me the very best things they know about. I want a place without meta, without 'filler' content, without the garbage social startups have engineered us to produce in their perennial quest for user engagement. I want a place where everyone follows a simple gentleman's agreement:
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