free html hit counter On Facebook, Comments, and Implications - John Battelle's Search Blog

On Facebook, Comments, and Implications

By - September 30, 2009

Today was a good day. I got to meet with serious leaders of the Internet economy, think Big Thoughts, and push my understanding of the world a bit. In short, I spent the day with folks I’ll be interviewing onstage at Web 2 next month, but also, with people who run companies that in one way or another are key partners and players in the ecosystem I love and in which my company (FM) works.

I started with a private meeting with a fellow who is taking time off from Google. Can’t say much more than that, but it was a great conversation. From there, I met with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. Now, I’ve got a lot more to say about Adobe, which recently purchased Omniture, but for now, trust me when I say, keep your eye on Adobe. Next, I met with Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. And then, I met with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

I noted an anecdotal observation to Sheryl – that I would write something here, tweet a notification of my post on Twitter, and that notification would then update my Facebook status through an app.

Then, I’d watch what happens. And what happens, more often than not, is that I’ll get as many if not more comments on the Facebook status update – inside Facebook – as I do on this site or on Twitter. And more often than not, those comments on Facebook are as thoughtful if not more thoughtful than the ones here. On Twitter, responses to posts here are more likely than not retweets, which is great, but not the same as a comment.

I asked Sheryl if she thought I was an outlier, expecting her to agree that in fact I was. But instead, she said the opposite: people like to comment on links referred through friend networks, and for good reason. It’s one thing to comment on blogs like this one, in relative anonymity. It’s quite another to comment in the context of Facebook, where those comments are seen by a group of folks with whom you have a social relationship.

I’d like to close that loop – show the comments locked in the Facebook domain on the site here – and I’m looking into getting that done. Let me know if you have any insight on how I might automate it.

Regardless, the implications are rather vast. Facebook has become a defacto leader in distribution of attention – just as Google was back in 2004-6. And everyone – trust me, everyone – is paying attention. Twitter is also a major distributor of attention, but Facebook dwarfs Twitter in terms of social media sharing. I’ve got a lot more to say about this, but let me mark it this way: With search, we declared private intention, then chose our links to click.

With social media, we publicly declare our intentions and our links. It’s a shift of models that is very, very meaningful. More on that later.

And, by the way, Sheryl and I spoke about a lot more than closing the loops on comments. But for more on that, you’ll have to wait for Web 2!


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19 thoughts on “On Facebook, Comments, and Implications

  1. Michael says:

    As great as it would be to pull comments into a blog from Facebook, many would settle simply for some kind of trackback system that just shows blog readers that the comments on FB took place.

    The phenomenon you describe is happening frequently on Revolving Floor. Contributors often promote (“share”) their own RF posts on Facebook, where the comment thread on the “share” fills up with insightful stuff, which will unfortunately never be seen by anyone who doesn’t already know the author personally. So audiences coming to the content cold may see the “0 comments” and think that nobody is reading it.

    John, even if you automate the pulling in of comments on your own FB shares, what about those of others? What if someone who is not your friend on FB reads this post, and shares it there, and all their friends leave comments? You’ll never know, and I’m not sure there’s anything you can do about that in the current setup. FB status updates are searchable from within FB, so maybe you could automate a FB search for your name or URL, and pull in related comments from public pages, but I’m guessing FB wouldn’t like that…

  2. paul martin says:

    My 2nd attempted comment – am not sure where my Google Reader note went (..)

    “And everyone – trust me, everyone – is paying attention” to be churlish not everyone is of the facebook religion ..

  3. The phenomenon you describe has very little to do with facebook or twitter (etc.) — it is all about anonymity vs. identity.

    We have come upon this issue when I posted a reply to an article you wrote for looksmart. The looksmart robots deleted my comment (I’m not sure why, but perhaps it was because my comment included links — and BTW: think about that… how would you feel if your kid came home from school with an “Fail” grade because he / she used footnotes?).

    Algorithms generally do not have the expertise to evaluate content — they simply use brute computational force (and few people realize that a predecessor to Google’s algorithm was used in the setting of professional journals half a century ago — and was subsequently discredited as inherently flawed). While studying information science and also in the years since my studies, I did and have done extensive research into natural languages and natural language processing. The result of this research is the recognition that computers will never be able to understand a “living language”, because be the time computers can be trained to recognize a pattern in a language, that language will have changed — and therefore such “computational linguistics” will always be lagging the language that is actually presently used.

    Most people online have very little understanding about how the web works. They do not realize, for example, that a domain name is a certification of identity (and they also don’t understand that a domain name is the only reliable information on the web — since it is the only information which someone “registered” and for which that person or legal entity can be held accountable).

    Anonymity is something which IMHO only a dubious character or perhaps a criminal might want / ask for. This is a primary reason why people do not pay much attention to comments for which the identity of the commentator cannot be verified. I have recently started posting comments I have made on my own website (more precisely: my own domain or “web site”) — this seems to me to be a good way to solve this issue.

    Again: Most people are not aware of the way the web is structured, so they do not understand what is / isn’t verifiable “evidence”. One very clear example of this is that I expect very few people are aware that .LY domains are subject to the jurisdiction of Libya. So if the government of Libya ever found that the bit.ly service violated a Libyan law, it could quite simply close down the service. And users of bit.ly’s services need to recognize that these services do not provide the protections that laws in the USA or Europe might provide. In Germany, Germans are very aware of this — and there is great pride in knowing that a contract that is made on ebay.de provides buyers and sellers with a very reliable legal framework.

    Facebook.COM has been very adamant about the validity of personal identities of facebook user accounts. That creates a high level of trust in facebook services. And there is also a very strong community ethic — such that users feel that the website is run in a “democratic” fashion — in contrast to twitter.com (where changes are simply “released” in a “take it or leave it” fashion).

    So to sum up my answer to your question / issue, this is simple a phase that will pass. As people learn more about how the web works, what is / isn’t reliable information, etc., they will probably come to develop more trust in battellemedia.com (BTW: this domain has been on my recommended list for years already — see also my questions for Evan Williams ;). But it is indeed a rather complex issue — not something that is simple, straightforward, cut and dried.

    But let me also encourage you to revisit the “Wisdom of the Language” article I wrote almost 3 years ago ( http://past.blog.com/gaggle-info-wiki/miscellaneous/articles/wisdom-of-the-language ). Note that battellemedia is clearly about John Battelle + John Battelle’s point of view (as it “should be” — according to traditional blogger values). But much as I wrote 3 years ago, the web increasingly doesn’t care about a single point of view (even if it is John Battelle’s ;) but rather about the community‘s point of view — and ultimately the web will care most about the opinions of communities of experts on a given topic (such as the community of shopping experts @ shopping.com and/or the community of twitter experts @ twitter.com ;)

  4. Allan Hoving says:

    ultimately we will have to focus on adding value ABOVE the social layer. otherwise, it’s Babel.

  5. Following up on Norbert’s comment, I wholeheartedly agree that we need to get over this phase where anonymous online publishing (as opposed to consumption) is the default for social media. Transparency or FAIL! Of course, we also have to get our legal system to stop incenting antisocial online behavior (cf. Public Expression, Liability, and Anonymity).

  6. Shyam Krishna says:

    Definitly,we have to struggle for it’s betterment.

  7. manuel says:

    thanks for the info :)

  8. Love the comment above on natural language and its shifting pattern remaining beyond the reach of non-intuitive machines.

    SEO is a love hat e relationship for me. Writing in a manner that can be understood by a machine has always felt like a compromised situation. However, it has forced me to re-evaluate the rules I use for structuring my writing and subsequently made me a better writer for humans… though you may disagree:-)

    Twitter has taken my in a new direction where the sound bite theory dominates. 140 characters is a huge challenge! But then much great art and human creativity comes from attempting to be creative and communicate within a harsh and restrictive environment.

  9. Matt says:

    I’m a more extreme case than you. I have a small blog that i’ve run for several years now. I’ve had a facebook “page” for the blog for a few months now, and i get lots more comments on the page updates than on the blog itself.

    I think the reason is twofold. First, it’s much easier — you’re already logged in, it doesn’t take much effort to comment. Second, I think of facebook like an rss feed reader. Large portions of the population don’t check their rss feeds all the time (and they don’t even know what an rss feed IS!!) However, they do know how to “fan” something on facebook.

    It’s easier to get people to subscribe and stay following you via facebook page, because the ability to follow and stay engaged is much simpler.

    Also, I think it would be great to see a solution that links a blog w/ facebook, allowing cross commenting or cross posting.

    I currently post updates when I update the blog, and minor things to facebook. I want there to be a way to have content go both places and be synchronized. I’m all for using facebook, but I don’t want to enter too much of my content into their closed system.

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  11. JG says:

    John writes: It’s one thing to comment on blogs like this one, in relative anonymity.

    nmw writes: Anonymity is something which IMHO only a dubious character or perhaps a criminal might want / ask for.

    Daniel writes: Following up on Norbert’s comment, I wholeheartedly agree that we need to get over this phase where anonymous online publishing (as opposed to consumption) is the default for social media. Transparency or FAIL! Of course, we also have to get our legal system to stop incenting antisocial online behavior

    Let me defend anonymous commenting for a moment. Sometimes it good to be able to talk about the issues without personality getting in the way.

    John: I think I’ve been pretty fair about this in all the years I’ve been commenting on your blog. I definitely have my own biases, my own opinions about what is and isn’t good in the domain of search. And while there are some companies at which I’ve directed my ire more than others, some companies make stronger public statements than others and affect more people than others. It is all proportional. Everything that I have said comes from a desire to see things improve rather than from an attempt to gain some sort of competitive advantage or promote one company at the expense of another. I sincerely hope that attitude and tone has shone through in my end of all the discussions we have had.

    nmw: Do you really take me for a dubious character or a criminal?

    Daniel: Not all anonymous commenters are antisocial. I don’t think that I have ever been. If there have been disagreements, they have been disagreements over substance not character and have been tied to as transparently observable phenomena as possible. By that I mean any actual claims (rather than opinions) I have public-anonymously made in support of any of my points have been claims that can be objectively evaluated and independently verified by anyone that reads the comment, either through reading the link that I send to an original source, or by doing the same search on engine X or Y that demonstrates my example, or whatever the particular case may be.

    Anonymity can be dangerous. You don’t want to trust an anonymous source and rely on faith rather than verification when it comes to claims of (for example) WMDs in some country and we need to mobilize and invade. Lack of transparency in that domain can lead to dire consequences and one should back up such claims with independent weapons inspectors. Transparency is vital any time an otherwise unverifiable claim is being made or a product or service is being promoted – including when a search engine algorithm is promoting a search result. But when it comes to discussions like we have here, on the role of technology in society, anonymity liberates idea from personality. There is no danger of paying more attention to one idea over another, simply because Tim O’Reilly – or even your close Facebook friend — retweeted it rather than Jon Onymous. An idea, thought, concept should be given the opportunity to stand on its own.

    Is it good marketing to play that way? Maybe not. Might not the idea get more traction if it had a strong personality brand behind it? Maybe. Either way, the whole point is that it is not about marketing driven by that personal brand. It is important for ideas to be able have that free hand. At least sometimes. We don’t want to lose it completely.

    Do you three really disagree?

  12. JG says:

    By that I mean any actual claims (rather than opinions) I have public-anonymously made in support of any of my points have been claims that can be objectively evaluated and independently verified by anyone that reads the comment

    A minute after posting, I remembered an instance a few years ago where I made one claim on Battelle’s blog that probably couldn’t be independently verified. So I take that back; I have made mistakes.

    Despite that, I still stand by the general tone of everything I said.

  13. Andy says:

    I thought some of Norbert’s comments were a little blinkered and opinionated, despite his obvious credentials.

    Norbert said, “Anonymity is something which IMHO only a dubious character or perhaps a criminal might want / ask for.”

    I strongly disagree with this, every human on the planet should have a right to anonymity/privacy and this can be for a variety of different reasons, there is nothing wrong with privacy and many people on the planet are private people and don’t feel comfortable releasing some or all of their private information to people they don’t know very well. Just because people are like this, it doesn’t stop them from having opinions, and opinions that can be groundbreaking, valid and very insightful. Humans shouldn’t stop listening to opinion just because it’s come from someone who chooses not to reveal their identity.

    America seems to be moving in a strange direction when it comes to transparency and openness. Why they would wish to give ALL their information to the government is completely beyond me. A person shouldn’t be releasing more information about themselves than what is absolutely necessary. In this day and age, people should be vigorously protecting their identity within the laws that they have chosen within their land. Governments can have bad intentions as well as good, and it’s absurd to think that the US government, or any other government, are always going to have good intentions, ….after all, they are, like us, people.

    I wrestle with the same issues when it comes to Swiss banking laws and the way western governments are brainwashing western people into thinking the Swiss banking laws are “evil” laws.

    For starters, what’s wrong with being able to negotiate a better tax deal? Democracies seem to be dangerously forgetting that democratic governments are voted in to power by the people – but the power should always stay with the people. Local governments (and I believe the US works in the same way) should be competitive when it comes to tax to attract business and people to their regions. And in Switzerland, if they want to keep people within their towns/regions because that particular person or business is very good at attracting business/revenue, then they may arrange low tax or tax free deals. I see this as a perfectly reasonable democracy, not that the business men are crooks!

    Banking secrecy is very important in a world of evil fascist, communist, and even so called democratic governments. Within countries where these kind of issues exist, these dictators can raid their citizens bank accounts to further their evil activities. Advocates of democracy, world peace and human rights like Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma need to keep their money safe to continue on their expensive quest to liberate the free world of these tyrants. This is where banking secrecy laws become extremely important to the greater good. For some reason, this argument is rarely communicated through the flock of sheep that is mainstream media.

    Rather than the US crying fowl of other governments (or Norbert saying, “Anonymity is something which IMHO only a dubious character or perhaps a criminal might want / ask for.”), shouldn’t governments present evidence to Switzerland that individuals are breaking US laws, or Norbert present evidence that Anonymous posters are criminals (or of dubious character)?

    In the US, whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

    Norbert said, “While studying information science and also in the years since my studies, I did and have done extensive research into natural languages and natural language processing. The result of this research is the recognition that computers will never be able to understand a “living language”, because be the time computers can be trained to recognize a pattern in a language, that language will have changed — and therefore such “computational linguistics” will always be lagging the language that is actually presently used.”

    I have to say, I’m not too sure about this point either. Humans can be very arrogant when it comes to their “powers” and technology. I think we know a lot less than what we don’t know. Technology could be part of the human psyche, technology could be human. After all, it wouldn’t exist at all on this planet if it wasn’t for humans, it could be part of our evolution. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that singularity could happen. Rational arguments don’t always predict the supposedly irrational theories that materialise in the future.

    But I suppose I’m digressing here a little, after all, what has banking secrecy laws and singularity got to do with sharing comments between blogs and social sites like Facebook and Twitter. Well, probably nothing. :o)

    I love the idea though, but as someone already said, what would happen to reposts of articles through friends of friends of friends where comments are made? John, would you like to see these comments also reflected where your article was originally posted, ….ie., here? Don’t you think it could get a little out of control?

    Andy

    Disclaimer: Yes, I live in Switzerland. No, I’m not a criminal and would prefer to live in a crime free world. But remember, a crime free world is a world where transparency isn’t required (ironically enough).

    And apologies for the long comment.

  14. JG says:

    I disagree with JG… lulz

    :D JG

  15. notJG says:

    Very funny, JG. I mean, person who is not the real JG. Or not me. Or whatever.

    That’s my point. So what if the name next to the post is JG or notJG or Donald Terwilliker? If I got “outspammed” by fake JGs, and had to switch my moniker, perhaps even every post, that would not bother me. Whatever ideas I was expressing my writing would still be (hopefully!) interesting ideas, no matter how my name were signed. Or not signed.

  16. Ricard Menor says:

    I must admit my earlier feelings about social web, same as supposed need of a cellphone: how did I get into this?
    I started my freelancer SEO activity back in 2003 with website promoting brand promocioweb.com, focused on catalan speaking population.
    During all these years I had many visit peaks responding to actions calling for visits, but believe me, never so much as I’ve seen along last 6 months, this is to say, since I’m into social web, namely Twitter (seofreelance) and mainly Facebook (be fan btw http://bit.ly/profb :) with many other examples.

  17. I agree with notJG (and JG#1 — sounds kind of like the dating game, doesn’t it? ;)

    So that means if notJG / JG#1 and I were to choose, we might do away with twitter, facebook, myspace, etc. and just talk about news, sports, the weather — maybe even religion + politics?

    Why should we ask each other such questions here? We care about search, right? If we want to talk about search, I think we all should talk on an equal basis on a site devoted to search.

    So I would advocate creating a site where people can exchange ideas on an equal basis, with a specific focus or agreed upon topic. That’s the way it works at twitter — oh, wait a second… I guess not everyone is verified on twitter.com. :S And some people are more recommended than other people — so I guess some people are more equal.

    Whatever… so never mind twitter (it’s still popular with journalists, news media, Hollywood stars + celebrities, right?) — let’s think of something else….

    Hey, maybe we could call it “search”! … AWESOME!

    :D nmw

  18. sevişme says:

    In a job like this that can be so stressful, where the stakes can be so very high, and where 95% of the time we are looked upon by judges, prosecutors, and the public as part of the problem, possibly even “the enemy,” there is a tremendous value to having a community of people who understand what we are doing,

  19. I discovered this article on BingTweets – note that the source tweet was

    @aidenkenny: Insightful post from John Batelle on Facebook as a Distributor Of Attention. http://tinyurl.com/dis-attent Roll on his Web+_2 conference.
    Oct 5, 2009 1:28am

    The BingTweets interface linkified the hyphenated dis-attent, taking me instead to tinyurl.com/dis, which is a human vs chicken story.