Social Media – turning into a failure it didn’t need to

Human nature is a fascinating thing to watch and yet when it comes to Social Media there seems to be a total lack of understanding about human nature. As much as the Web 2.0 proponents want to desperately believe in the kumbaya moments as they get all warm and fuzzy over ideals like openness and transparency the fact is that human nature abhors warm and fuzzy.

Whether we want to believe it or not part of human nature is the insatiable need to climb to the top of the pile. While some will work hard and hope those efforts will help them move up, others will use whatever methods they can in order to own that spot at the top of the pile.

The thing about Social Media is that it truly could be the true democratization of society based on the belief that every individual has a way to have their voice heard. Not only heard but to easily attract those who feel the same way and by the power of numbers and a unified voice effect social change.

That’s the idealized and optimistic view of what Social Media could be. What we are getting though is nothing like that, in fact, the concept of Social Media is being eat away at from the inside by some of the very people who in reality need it to succeed.

Ask anyone outside of the narrowest of bubbles what Social Media is and invariably they will point to things like Facebook, Twitter, Tweetmeme and any number of services that feed like parasites off of Social Media. Social Media is becoming identified by the tools and services we use to interact on the larger Social Media platform.

We see companies like Facebook getting a patent for one of the core methods of transporting communication that really is applicable to all the services. We see start-ups after start-ups trying to expand on what is already there with the only end game to their business model being gobbled up by a larger company.

Social Media has become a game of numbers. Numbers that increasingly prove themselves to be nothing more than bullshit. More followers, more friends, more retweets all for the sake of nothing more than getting more numbers than the next person. Whether it be some big name claiming they are a social media force to be reckoned with because of their hundreds of thousands of followers up to puff posts on major blogs getting insane number of tweets.

In the end all they are doing is making a joke of the whole idea of what Social Media is. It is human nature at work. The desire to be at the top of the pile based on a system of metrics that increasingly become laughable. Louis Gray said it well in a post yesterday:

Any time one’s statistics can be counted and ranked against peers online, the inevitable next steps include leaderboards and gaming. Humans have this innate sense of need to be ahead of all others, to measure themselves, and deliver some level of self-assigned worth thanks to what are questionably valuable statistics. While it could is said by some that there is real value to having an open, random, network, we have all seen bot-driven impersonal behavior on many networks as people try to game the system for maximum follower counts. It would be harmless were it not for many third parties using these inflated follower counts as one element of assigning value to an individual.

Instead of working together to make this idea of Social Media live up to its potential we see once more how human nature has turned it into an individual sport. A sport where money, reputation and the ability to con people into becoming just another number on their climb up the mountain is the all important objective.

Maybe smarter people than me will be able to figure out a solution to this most basic response but at this point one just has to look back in history to realize that the chances of this happening – of Social Media living up to its potential – is pretty damn slim.

What do you think? Does Social Media and the people who still hold out hope have a chance to achieve its potential or will it just end up as another bastardized vehicle by which the rubes are sold another lousy bill of goods?