Is Social Networking Building Internet’s Caste System?
Ah! To be an internet user in the 90s. When modern browsers introduced us to webpages and hyperlinks. Click, click click and you were away, connecting random things. Girlie pictures, right click to download. Football scores I know the address. Email, done in minutes.
No pressure really. If you could log on, you could be online. No one knew who you were, and really no one cared.
How could the net just meander along like this, asked the Internet gods? Soon people will get bored. Let’s throw in some complexity, they said. And Google was born. Out of a paper that Larry Page wrote. With Page Rank, Google’s algorithm for ranking pages, we started to see changes in the way we consumed the web. We moved away from individual web pages and started visiting to the Google home page. Search for something and out came a bunch of results. Simple we thought, yet complex it was. Who decides which result should come up tops? Not Google surely. No.
Thus was born the origins of Internet’s caste system.
I have more heads of cattle then you have; if you are a villager living on the Serengeti plains of Africa. I rank higher up in Google search results than you do, if you’ve decided to make the Cyberspace your playground.
Thus was created a new generation of narcissists. Googling their names to find where they stood when compared to their peers and namesakes. I have done it myself secretly, I must admit.
What Google started didn’t end there. When platforms like Blogger, Typepad, WordPress and others gave anyone online the opportunity to create, it also started to create a pecking order of sorts. Arianna Huffington, Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington. India’s own Amit Agarwal, Rashmi Bansal, soon became the Brahmins of the web. Six figure speaking assignments, insider tips, first looks at new stuff, publishing contracts.
The social media curation business was in full flow, creating clear class systems with award shows, lists and more. Bloggies. AdAge’s ranking of top marketing bloggers. Indiblogger complied India’s own list. I saw your blog, chipped in an enthusiastic intern who dropped by my office. I have one too, he said, has an Indirank of 67. Crash! My world went down. With a score languishing in the 20s. Woe to ye writer for a blog few care to read.
It wouldn’t end there. Nike+, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and more. Some of us were just better at doing stuff and the world could know. I just ran 18 Kms a friend’s Nike+ status update mocked at me. The last I ran for exercise was 18 years ago.
NigaHiga has 4 million YouTube subscribers my son told me the other day. I looked up mine. Four. As if the zeroes really didn’t matter.
Facebook fans and friends, Twitter and Instagram follower lists – I wasn’t making a mark. Falling away in the social media leaderboard.
And then came the rating guys. Standard & Poor’s of the internet, as it were. Size does matter, they say, knowing my abysmal record so far, I wasn’t sure how I would measure up.
The big name around in this nascent business is Klout, as the name suggests measures your clout, online. Klout, the standard of influence they claim, 80 million people have apparently compared themselves using the algorithm. Justin Bieber scores a 100 on 100. Unless you are a movie star or someone such, I urge you to stay away. With a score in the low 50s and my activity across various social networks I am classified a specialist. If it were like India’s multilayered caste system I would be a barber, probably. Nice hair! Oh go away now.
There are others out there waiting to divide us. Each one with a proprietary method. Peer Index, inviting you to understand your online social capital. One that groups you basis your activity, authority and your network. There’s Twenty Feet described an ego tracking service. Carl Jung has met his match. The Times UK has another The Social List, a system set up to measure your social wealth. Could a bribe help, I wonder?
So why these class systems you may ask. We are seeing some answers already. Klout has introduced Klout Perks, a system to reward people basis their social influence. They worked with Facebook and Audi to deliver different experiences to people depending on their Klout scores. Stephen King recently gave away his new book Mile 81 free to select members of Klout.
Looks like I am falling short in the ranking game, with middling numbers across the board. Wish I could go back to the simpler days of the Internet. Or maybe I need to move on.