Robert Scoble Needs to Get Real

Posted on April 14, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

As my more astute readers have recognized, The Drama 2.0 Show is less critical of Web 2.0 in and of itself than it is of the Web 2.0 community’s incredible lack of perspective.

If you are to believe the kool aid drinkers, Web 2.0 is as important as the advent of the printing press or the Industrial Revolution. Social networks will bring us together like never before, services like Twitter are going to change the way we communicate and social media itself is going to turn the marketing world upside down. And the world will become a better place at the same time.

Of course, I think these beliefs are bullshit and Robert Scoble is now talking about what might be the biggest bullshit notion ever in Web 2.0: the “friend divide.”

Yes folks, we need not worry about a digital divide - “the gap between those people with effective access to digital and information technology and those without access to it”. We need to worry about the friend divide - the gap between those people who have “friends” on the Internet and those who don’t.

According to Scoble:

Much of the new Web 2.0 software really is lame until you get at least 50 friends onto it. What does that mean and how do we make the first experience people have much better (it really sucks, you should sign up for all these new services with a clean account and compare to when you have a bunch of friends). Have we created a new, nasty, world where if you don’t have friends you simply won’t have access to interesting experiences or, even, news?

Apparently this has Scoble really concerned and the man who follows nearly 20,000 people on Twitter the “friend divide” as well:

Well, compare your experiences on a number of services when you only have one friend vs., say, 500. Look at Have only one friend? It really is empty looking and there’s not much value. Get 500? And you’ll have tons of events reporting to you that you’ll care about (you picked your friends carefully, right?) Plus, you’ll be able to see which events are more popular which may make them more interesting to you.

Look at Flickr? No friends? No photographs that you care about. Add your family and friends? Lots of fun stuff to look at.

Facebook? Same thing. Choose your friends wisely, though. Professional people don’t poke or ask you to join stupid applications. Get lots of college kids and you might just lose your mind.

Dopplr? No friends? You won’t have anyone to meet at the airport or take out for a beer.

Pownce? No friends? You won’t get sent cool music or cool photography.

Twitter? No friends? You will think it’s a lame service? Follow only me and you’ll probably go insane. Follow 500, though, and you’ll probably start to see the value that I see in this service.

The friend divide means that people who have no friends on these services have poor experiences and aren’t getting any interesting information or apps or photos or music, etc. People who have tons of friends have HUGELY different experiences on these services.

Of course, those with a little perspective recognize that the only “mainstream” service Scoble lists is Facebook. Most mainstream Internet users aren’t using, Flickr, Dopplr, Pownce and Twitter. Hell, most of them will provide a modicum of entertainment if you ask what Flickr and Twitter are.

Clearly Scoble fails to recognize that the average Internet user isn’t looking for a “first adopter” experience. Most Internet users don’t need to find out what events their friends are going to. They don’t necessarily crave a social photo sharing experience on Flickr. They don’t need (or want) Dopplr to meet people while traveling. The lack of a Pownce account doesn’t stop them from getting sent cool things. And they don’t feel compelled to engage in the virtual stalking of their friends via Twitter.

In short, I would argue that a considerable number of Internet users don’t want a fully “social” Internet experience - if they want a “social” Internet experience at all. For most, the Internet is first and foremost an information tool. For some, it’s also a secondary communications tool; MySpace, FriendFeed and Twitter are not the primary means by which mainstream Internet users maintain contact and communicate with friends, family and other contacts.

The notion that those who lack “friends” on the dozens of time-suck Web 2.0 services could find themselves in a “new, nasty, world where if you don’t have friends you simply won’t have access to interesting experiences or, even, news” is absolutely asinine.

In fact, I would suggest the complete opposite: those who engage with “friends” more online than offline and who substitute real-world experiences for shallow online interactions using Web 2.0 services will find themselves in a nasty world where they won’t have access to interesting experiences and substantive news.

Fortunately, Scoble represents a viewpoint and lifestyle that is out of touch with the mainstream world. Most people aren’t relying on Web 2.0 services as their primary means of maintaining true friendships. Their online activities don’t represent what they consider “interesting experiences.” And much to Scoble’s surprise, “more people now consume what old media newsrooms produce, particularly from print, than before” the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Thus, the notion that those without “friends” online will someday find themselves cut off from real news (as opposed to bullshit technology “news”) is ridiculously myopic.

Scoble’s foolishness, however, is not bothersome to me in and of itself. And it’s not surprising because he’s the prototypical Web 2.0 ideologue who I’d posit is completely out of touch with the mainstream world. What bothers me is that he’s so out of touch that he would have the audacity to appropriate a “serious” phrase like the “digital divide” and use it as the basis for a nonsensical phrase like the “friend divide.”

Granted, I would be lying if I wrote that the digital divide is something that concerns me greatly, but it is a legitimate issue and there’s something abhorrent about people who bastardize and marginalize serious language like Scoble has.

Fortunately, I’m certain that he’s done so not out of any malice but because he simply doesn’t know better. He truly believes that his “friend divide” is a serious problem.

So in the unlikely event that Scoble reads this, let me share some perspective:

I’m sure all of these people are as disappointed about the “friend divide” as Scoble is. And I’m sure that when we get done dealing with problems such as the food shortages that are taking place around the world (you got that tweet, right Scoble?), we’ll be able to tackle the “friend divide.”

Sarcasm aside, Scoble demonstrates that the world faces a serious challenge in a day and age where it’s apparently so easy for individuals to become disconnected from reality. I’ll call this challenge the “perspective divide” because clearly there are some who have perspective and many who don’t.

While I won’t pretend that the average American is any more aware or concerned about the world they live than Web 2.0 kool aid drinkers, I am thankful that most of them aren’t living in the virtual dream world the Robert Scobles of the world live in. Friendship hasn’t become an online phenomenon for them. Experience is something that they still find in the real world. A tweet about drama between egotistical bloggers isn’t “news.”

Ironically, in a post where he mentions the friend divide, Scoble apparently almost had a moment of perspective:

Valleywag derides the early adopter world, saying that only 250 people care about all this new stuff that gets reported on TechMeme. Even if Valleywag’s numbers are off (millions read TechCrunch, for instance) they do have a point. I just spoke to my dad’s Kiwanis Club and many of the people there hadn’t heard of Twitter, Qik, Flickr, or even, gasp, blogs. Most of the world is even further behind — there are five billion people who’ve never owned a computer, for instance. I’m thinking about what that all means and what it means I should do with my blog going forward.

Of course, Scoble might want to consider that the rest of the world isn’t “behind” because most people haven’t heard of “Twitter, Qik, Flickr, or even, gasp, blogs.” But I’ll let him ponder that. I’m assuming some tweets came in and he got so distracted he hasn’t yet given any more consideration to the logical conclusion of his philosophical musings.

Maybe he’ll get around to it sometime. Who knows - it just might serve as a stepping stone in bridging the perspective divide. If somebody like Scoble can be reunited with reality, there might be hope for humanity after all.

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13 Responses to “Robert Scoble Needs to Get Real”

  1. antje wilsch on April 14th, 2008 3:36 pm

    interesting post D. I just read his post as simply pointing out that the applications are pointless unless you are interacting with users. Which is what web2.0 is supposedly all about. ie if I have a FB account but no friends, what is the point? I’m not going to like FB much [which is try by the way, I have no friends on FB, nor do I like it… :)] So when he talks to people in technology events like me who say “why are you using Twitter - it’s boring & stupid” his response is that I don’t have friends so I’m missing the value. I can see the point, although I don’t think it’s a life or death issue.

    Some blogs however are getting worse than newspapers, which I’ve stopped reading because I am tired of the sensationalism in order to attract readers. If the cycle of the economy, war, strive death & terror are any indication just from reading newspaper headlines- the world has already gone to hell in a handbasket at least 75 times in the past 30 years. Too many bloggers seem to be positioning their blogs for sensationalism for readership, rather than great content.

  2. Morgan on April 14th, 2008 5:44 pm

    Friend Divide? I mean try working on the Freedom Divide. There are f-ing slaves in the world. Today. Geez, people have time on their hands.

  3. jro on April 16th, 2008 9:48 am

    Great perspective, Drama. Scoble’s premise that a person is boring and empty absent participation in the online social scene is entirely self-serving. I’ve never met the guy, so I’m completely hypothesizing, but chances are he feels that HE would be boring and empty absent participation in the online social scene. I personally find my offline relationships more fulfilling, but that’s just me. Keep up the good work.

  4. Cyndy Aleo-Carreira on April 16th, 2008 2:31 pm

    Really, though, does anyone really have 5,000 or 20,000 friends? My real life friends couldn’t care less about this stuff. I try to get them involved only to the point that they know and understand what their kids are doing on social networks. This is work stuff, plain and simple. It’s not life.

  5. Paul Puri on April 17th, 2008 2:37 am

    Your both right. Why does it have to be so one sided? Twitter was not as much fun as it was back when I had only a handful of followers. And Facebook? Well, let’s just say it doesn’t do it for me. Not as social an aspect for me. I go out with friends as much as a father and husband has time to, but when you spend at least 4 hours a day on the computer doing stuff for work and school, a few diversions with online ‘friends’ can do the trick. God forbid I spend even more time doing something really useless like, gasp. blogging.

  6. Drama 2.0 on April 17th, 2008 9:49 am

    Paul: I think you miss the point of my post.

    Of course services like Twitter and Facebook are more enjoyable when you have “friends” to use them with.

    But anybody who thinks the fact that some users don’t have “friends” to tweet and poke is a real problem in a world where so many people are struggling to survive is insanely out of touch with reality.

    That, my friend, is the point of this post.

  7. antje wilsch on April 18th, 2008 12:48 pm

    still waiting for my friend invite on facebook Drama!!!! :)

  8. Drama 2.0 on April 18th, 2008 1:28 pm

    Antje: I had a throwaway Facebook account but I don’t “use” Facebook. I’m one of those people who is being left behind in the “Friend Divide.”

    Thanks for posting comments on my blog, though. It makes me a feel a little bit less lonely.

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Drama 2.0 spikes the Web 2.0 kool aid by providing critical analyses of Web 2.0, its people, its startups and its impact on the world of media. Other topics are explored when Drama 2.0 has been drinking too much 1975 Dom Perignon. Read more about the Internet's version of Keyser Söze here.