The Social Obsession Of Counting

Oh, Shit, He Didn't Do it?

A bit of a startup and social post here. The last few days have had a fever pitch of stories bubbling to the surface of counting > action, namely, Leo Laport’s post Buzz Kill.

I built a following of over 17,000 people. I was happy.

Then last night I noticed that my Buzzes were no longer showing up on Twitter … A little deeper investigation showed that nothing I had posted on Buzz had gone public since August 6. Nothing. Fifteen posts buried, including show notes from a week’s worth of TWiT podcasts.

Maybe I did something wrong to my Google settings. Maybe I flipped some obscure switch. I am completely willing to take the blame here. But I am also taking away a hugely important lesson.

No one noticed.

Not even me.

One of the things I hate about the social web is how painfully predictable it is. The problem that Leo ran into is part of a larger problem of our obsession of counting as a means of validation.

  • I have x followers.
  • I have x page views.
  • My company has x friends.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

“Because of audience, I will spend energy.”

The problem is that most are really good at counting the total (1000 followers on Twitter) but not at looking at what that really means (lets be real here). My guess is (after looking at metrics from personal and industry statistics):

  • 12% of your connections on a service will ready any given post (120 per 1000)
  • <1% will have action (click a link, repost, comment) (1 per 1000)

Most startups or social types looking at metrics will think “1000 people are reading this” and not the correct “120 are reading this, of which, 1 will care do do more than scanning.”

Our obsession with numbers, or total numbers is overtaking or masking just why we post. In Leo’s case, nobody told him because they either thought someone else would have or there was so much else there, that Leo wasn’t missed.

All that energy for an audience you thought was there, and it feels like nobody was. Leo left buzz, which is very understandable.

What does this say about startups / communities / iterations on a whole?

Lets assume in your startup or social life:

  • Pageviews / # of ________ / some counting mechanism is meaningful
  • Game mechanics used to up the numbers

The lesson that is predictably painful: all games come to an end.

Nobody cares about your obsession with counting, and if it becomes an obsession, your just asking for the game to change unfairly. Rising numbers for you means rising numbers for everyone.

You are participating in a game that multiplies without rules or order, with players with different motives.

Games are coming to an end.

Let’s not act too surprised.





4 responses to “The Social Obsession Of Counting”

  1. Cindy Avatar

    Thanks for the candor in this post. As one who's newish to the “game” I appreciate the fun of what's evolving and am still dubious about the overall quality of connection – yet I play. We're so into it even when we know, at some level, that a lot of our brilliance is missed. Experiences like Leo's Buzz Kill are what continue to fuel innovation in SM – e.g. new metrics around success that are more personally meaninful and less of a “high score”.

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