The Ecological Argument applied to Twitter

I had a great mid-afternoon twitter conversation – fast-paced, full of idea exchange – with Triberr founder Dan Cristo @dancristo today, one of the nice time where people can fundamentally disagree but still find a lot of interesting things to talk about. Mostly Dan was feeling his way around my objections or concerns over his product, apply the arguments he has developed in his defense. We ran the gambit, from his appeal to cultural relativism to the claim that Triberr may transform the ineffective “social” aspect of Twitter in a way inspired by how Google radically improved search by turning it over to algorithms. He wants me to read his post on Triberr Quality Scores especially the comments – I won’t get that til this evening. But what I really wanted to put forth is this. There is an Ecological Argument for why we might object to Triberr technology and use. That is: The common retort that some Triberrists hold out, “Hey I’m just doin’ my thing, this is a free world, just unfollow me” just may not be the whole story. There is a level at which, what I would call the Ecological level, where we all have an interest in the entire realm of Twitter. When something proliferates that changes the norm of what is expected, when the medium itself is changing, at the very least we can prick up our ears and think about it.

Addendum: there is nothing ecological about Dan’s Quality Score post (just read).


9 thoughts on “The Ecological Argument applied to Twitter

  1. Pingback: » social-ecological reflections on Twitter the threshold place

  2. My thoughts aren’t precisely about Triberr as much as purely about the ecology of Twitter. I really like an ecological approach to Twitter, because yes, in my experience Twitter very much is a living ecosystem. And as we have learned by our well-intentioned but ham-handed efforts to intervene, even for good effect, when we try to alter a biological ecosystem, we are very much captive to the law of unintended consequences.

    A biological ecosystem is all-but-unimaginably complex. The n-way interrelationships among species is orders-of-magnitude more complex than most of our theorizing can apprehend. We see this perhaps most clearly with invasive species. An invasive species is one that is well-balanced in its native ecosystem, where its niche and its predators keep it in a dynamic equilibrium with neighboring species, but then is brought into a new ecosystem. In the new context, where it may have no natural predators, it can be a disaster, out-competing all the other organisms that occupy its niche. Native species can literally be driven into extinction because of the ecological success of the invasive species.

    Perhaps Triberr can be thought of as a potential invasive species, in this framework. But I think there are some other promising ideas, when we think about social media as an ecosystem…

    • That is a brilliant analogy Karen, and perhaps a very deep subject. There is something about the concept of an invasive species that fits, especially in the notion that there is no nature predator to Triberr, no counter-balance to it. And the fast spread of Triberr also signals something of this. This is my concern, I suppose as formerly very substantive acts (blog readings and personal referral) are being turned into RT and impression-chasing blog title and networking contests. It feels that the “eco-system” of social Twitter is being radically affected (by a kind of market force technique of promotion), and few people are noticing.

      My thoughts on ecology had gone in another direction. They were geared towards a general Triberr-user defense “I’m doing my own thing, leave me alone, it is none of your business just unfollow me.” (a sentiment I have heard). There is a level at which though that we who enjoy Twitter for the unique platform that it is do have right to be concerned. And that is the ecological argument. The spread of Triberr is having not just an impact on my stream. I cannot just “unfollow” Triberr. It is changing the ethic of what is an acceptable (and even praise-worthy) way of interacting. It is very similar to the use of scheduled tweeting. The only “natural predator” in such instances is unfortunately people raising up their objections and pushing out the discussion: Is this good?

      Great comment, way to expand the discussion!

      • Kevin, I see you use Tweetdeck, you actually can just unfollow Triberr. Filter Triberr as a source (global filters in Tweetdeck). You won’t see original Triberr posts, you will still see the ones that were valuable enough to your connection that they reshared.

        Not meaning to distract from the debate here as I think you have a good point on the ecology front. I think another ‘natural predator’ will be the equivalent of spam filtering, today we just have the first manual ways to start.

        Remember the Fast Company Influence Project? Yeah… I filtered it and never saw it, just saw the complaining about it. More recently I’ve done the same with and twitterfeed.

        Just another $0.02…

        — @wittlake

        • That is a great point about Tweetdeck. A very good point I hadn’t thought of at all. And I like it. Then it becomes merely a question of values and alliance. For instance I have had wonderful feeling relationship to some people who have go full-bore Triberr lately. What does it mean to simply skim off this dimension of what they are trying to put in my stream now? It feels personal that they are broadcasting to me, practically SPAMing me, but does the relationship revert back to normal if I simply filter out this? You bring up something very subtle.

          If we extend the ecological metaphor, what would it be like if we had “filtered” out all news of the BP spill? What would our relationship be to BP now? This is more than fantasy of course, Eli Pariser has an interesting talk on how FB and Google now are filtering out news by “customizing” it:

          I’m not strictly against filtering out an aspect of someone’s tweet strategy – an interesting suggestion – though I do value following people that share my social media values. I would worry that blind-eyeing it would skew my perception a bit.

  3. Kevin, you are right. You can unfollow someone that is too noisy, but when it impacts the platform overall, and everyone else cranks up the volume to compete, it is the platform, not an individual user, that you have to start to question.

    I don’t personally believe Triberr has that level of impact, but I certainly see Twitter moving to a state of constant noise, Triberr is just one of many influences.

    As someone using Triberr, I see the problem being how people use it and the bias they have towards volume, not the tool itself (and I actually wish they would change the platform a bit…). The strength of Triberr is the ability to curate sources and easily review and approve/delete posts from each source, the Tribe aspect introduces you to new potential sources, some good, some bad, and some spotty. I wish I could curate sources beyond a tribe, without creating tribes and inviting people that are not interested. It would then be a way to streamline reviewing and sharing of content from sources I like.

    Appreciating the recent debate around Triberr, it is helping to sharpen my view on how to use it.

    • Yes, this is Dan Cristo’s point about Triberr, that Triberr isn’t bad it is just that people may be using it in a bad way. As a Social Media ethicist (if that is what I am), I agree focusing on people is an important aspect. But from the ecological point of view we should come to awareness that Triberr automation is part of an overarching trend as “the market” attempt to harvest social. A lot of this has to do with the need for metrics (the whole misleading craze about impressions indeed is probably driving the spread of Triberr), so much so that some very sloppy numbers are being raised up far beyond their merit. And some of this has to do techniques and technology. The Triberr change is a technique/technology change. It is in my mind related to scheduled tweets and auto-DM, simulated “social” to some degree. There is a much respected social media fellow who schedule tweets into the #usguys stream little thoughts that actually produce immediate conversation and RTs, but he is never there behind them. Just because he “could have been there” doesn’t mean that scheduled tweeting into the stream doesn’t have an ecological effect, or even an ethical effect. One cannot say “Scheduled tweeting is off the table for discussion because only some people are abusing it.” Triberr is like that. We should be talking about its overall impact – good and bad – and the forces that are driving it.

      Related to this, Dan Christo expresses that he would like Triberr to do for Twitter what Google did for search. I can’t quite follow his argument, but it involves automating things that otherwise were done socially. This seems pretty distinctly like a move towards de-humanizing the social in social media, and very likely has strong ties to commericalizing the entire environment.

      • Kevin writes:

             …part of an overarching trend as “the market” attempt to harvest social…

        and that’s where some of my attention is. There is a curious self-referentiality to this, of course, given how social the market is, as Kevin wrote about a few days ago. The structure of the problem in this context sets up an opposition between market and social as if they were two different things, when of course they’re not. Kind of an interesting paradox.

        Which leads me to see this as more purely an ethical question, about what kind of social world do we want to inhabit? I think the ethical question lies at the heart of this.

        However when we say that this issue is a technical / technological one, that can be solved with technical means (filtering Triberr out of one’s stream) I am concerned for what that does not just to the incoming stream from someone who both uses Triberr and makes their own tweets in realtime, as Kevin discusses above. I find this solution unsatisfying for the way it can selectively splinter the community.

        Part of the view I have on social media marketing, is that I want to support the business viability of this medium. Like in healthy physically-proximal communities, the practical and financial well-being of the members is an appropriate concern for the whole community’s attention. Might not one effect of filtering out automated-marketing tweets from someone’s stream potentially mean that all that’s left is their purely social, “water cooler” type conversation? Isn’t that also disingenuous and kind of weird in a different way? I’ll shoot the breeze with you, but i don’t care if you have enough to feed your family. Again, commerce is social.

        But if the noise quotient is too high, we are forced to filter out segments of the stream anyway, from of sheer online survival needs, and that includes some other perfectly decent human beings simply trying to make a living, too.

        It gets to another aspect that I’ve seen underlying in these Triberr conversations, which is the insider-outsider aspect of community. Who is in my tribe, that I am legitimately and authentically concerned for their practical well-being? Who is outside my tribe, and I don’t want to be bombarded by them? How do we manage tribe quality and tribe size (back to Dunbar) in a way that stays viable? “Choose your tribe carefully,” is good advice indeed.

        These are complex multifaceted problems.

  4. Pingback: Invasive Species and Social Media – micro post « Social Media Notes

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