Reader Discussion: Social Media = Lowest Common Denominator?

written by BlogEx on October 10, 2007 in Reader Discussion and Social Media with 32 comments

Last week, we had our first ever Reader Discussion about whether or not we as bloggers need to be careful what we promote. To my surprise and delight, it went over better than I had even hoped for. We had, and actually are still getting, fantastic comments that resulted in a great discussion. Since it went so well, I thought we’d give it another shot. This week I’d like to focus on the closing line of a recent Open Road post. The author, Matt Asay, finished off his post with these thought provoking questions that actually touched on a discussion I had with several other bloggers earlier in the week:

Are Digg and the popularity sites doing more harm than good? Do they make a cheap headline worth more than real analysis?

I’ll admit, being a fairly avid user of social media sites such as Digg, my first reaction was an indignant “Of course not!” However, as I began to think more and more about the subject, the question became a much more legitimate and difficult question to answer. When I announced that I’d be offering comprehensive SEO site reviews as one of the advertising options on this site, I asked for your opinions on whether or not I had abandoned my goal of documenting this experiment and making it something that could be replicated. Fiar left a comment saying I shouldn’t “set the definition of “anyone” to the lowest common denominator.” As I went back to reconsider the questions posed by Mr. Asay, that comment sprang to mind and I realized that in some sense, that’s exactly what Digg and the other “popularity sites” are doing. By requiring a certain number of votes on an article or submission before it is promoted for the masses to consume, aren’t these sites just rewarding the content that appeals to the widest segment of readers? When so many people with so many different ideas, beliefs, and opinions all congregate in one place, won’t popularity be limited to in essence the lowest common denominator?

As I mentioned earlier, a group of bloggers and I had actually been discussing a similar topic earlier this week. One person mentioned that at times it seems like the pieces of content that we spend the most time on and put the most effort into are NOT in fact the ones that see the most success on social media sites. During the discussion, the idea was floated out there that perhaps some of the more time consuming articles or pieces were in fact too advanced for the hoard that frequents the social sites. My problem with that suggestion is that the crowds of people that use social media sites are not stupid. Granted many of the comments left on submissions are far from what I would call sophisticated but there’s no denying the intelligence level. However, when you incorporate the idea that perhaps these sites cater to the topics and submissions that the majority of the users will agree on, the theory that the more advanced submissions don’t do as well suddenly becomes not only plausible but possibly explainable as well.

So, now I’m putting the questions to you. What do you think? Are social media sites like Digg and others simply catering to the lowest common denominator? Like Mr. Asay asked, are they doing more harm than good?  Are they placing more value on a great headline rather than substantive content? If so, is there any way around it? Weigh in with your thoughts and opinions on this week’s Reader Discussion in the comments below. Also, if you missed last week’s it’s not too late to jump in, the more opinions and ideas, the better.