Monday, May 7, 2012

Facebook as a validation of human worth

I just checked how many "friends" I have on Facebook. The number was 751.  The average number of friends for a Facebook user, according to Facebook itself, is 190. Does this mean I'm four times more likable than the average Facebook user?

Obviously not. My wife will tell you it just shows I'm a sucker who can't say no to any Facebook friend request. I like to think I'm more discriminating than that, but I suspect she's probably right.

I put "friends" in quotes because not all of these people are my friends, in the best sense of the word. They're all people with whom I'm acquainted in one way or another, of course, and I would genuinely enjoy having conversations with 99% of them. But "friends?" Not really.

With the advent of social media has come a variety of ways to measure one's "influence" in the online world. I put that in quotes, too, because there are so few people whose online personas are truly influential, in that they drive others to buy certain things or make particular changes in behavior.

I think measures of online influence exist solely to cater to our collective egos. The most obvious ones are the number of Facebook friends and Twitter followers you collect. But there's also this service called Klout that aims to measure "social influence" by tracking your activity on social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.) and assigning you scores in "True Reach," "Amplification," and "Network Impact."

I think Klout is silly. I also log on to Klout virtually every day to check my score.

I am embarrassed even to admit this, because I really do think Klout is silly. But it actually matters to me when my Klout score falls from 55 to 54. What did I do wrong? How come it dropped? Maybe I need to make my blog posts funnier. Or maybe I need to Tweet more...even though I really don't have anything all that interesting to say.

It IS a lot more satisfying to blog when I write something that gets a lot of page views the day it's posted. I can log on to and find out instantly how many people have read a particular post or looked at the blog in general. Sometimes it seems random to me which posts will get read and which ones won't.

I did one recently on my interest in military history that didn't get a lot of readers. Seventy-five people looked directly at the post itself, while another 150 or so people went to that day. Typically, a new post will get 90-120 visitors the day it's posted, and the website will see additional traffic of 200-300 people.

The headline I assign to a post obviously has a lot to do with whether viewers will click through and take a few minutes to read it, especially among those I don't know. People that come to the blog via The News-Herald Community Media Lab are generally the ones who will make or break the relative success of a post, since they're not clicking through as a favor to me but rather because they're really interested in the topic du jour.

Still, there are some widely read posts that have caught me by surprise. The most successful post in the not-even-five-month history of this blog was one I did called "The Art of Dadness." Nearly 400 people have clicked directly to the post itself, while several hundred others went to the main blog page the day it was put up.

"The Art of Dadness" was a heartfelt expression of my views on modern fatherhood and how it can improve, but I didn't think that much of it when it was written. And the thing is, I still have no idea why it has nearly quadruple the readership of other posts I've done.

Another popular post was about our experience hosting two Brazilian students for 12 days in January. That one sort of went "mini-viral" among the Brazilian ex-pat community and employees of the Council on World Affairs. So yeah, I know why those numbers were high. But other posts? It's a shot in the dark sometimes.

By the way, let's keep all of these numbers in context: I'm thrilled when 400 people read something I wrote. There are hundreds and hundreds of bloggers to whom a post that only drew 400 readers would be cause for despair. A lot of people can draw 1,000 readers simply by posting 50 random names from the phone book. I am not one of these bloggers, nor will I ever be.

The point is, there is almost no reason to derive any sort of self-satisfaction from how many online "friends" you have or how many people click on your half-hearted attempts at blogging. Regardless of how far technology advances, it's your relationships in the real, physical world that really matter and that help create a fulfilling existence.

Not that I'm going to stop checking my Klout score. Maybe if I just write about my tiny hands a few more times, I can push it as high as 56...

(SEMI-RELATED NOTE: Since we're being self-referential here, you may have noticed over the last couple of months that ads have begun appearing on the blog. This was by choice. Google will pay you to post ads on your blog based on how many people view and/or click on them. Want to know how much money I've made in two months of doing this? $2.92. That's right, not quite three bucks. Not that it matters much to you, nor should it. But if any of the ads you see are the least bit appealing or touch on something in which you're interested, a click-through to add a few pennies to my kids' college fund would be appreciated. Thanks!)

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