The “like, er, lie” economy

The other day I found myself over at Yelp.com clicking “like” on a bunch of Half Moon Bay restaurants. After a while I noticed that I was only clicking “like” on restaurants that were cool, hip, high end, or had extraordinary experiences.

That’s cool. I’m sure you’re doing the same thing.

But then I started noticing that I wasn’t behaving with integrity. What do I mean by that? What I was presenting to you wasn’t reality.

See, I like McDonalds and Subway. But I wasn’t clicking like on those. Why not?

Because we want to present ourselves to other people the way we would like to have other people perceive us as.

Translation: I’d rather be seen as someone who eats salad at Pasta Moon than someone who eats a Big Mac at McDonalds.

This is the problem with likes and other explicit sharing systems. We lie and we lie our asses off.

So, will we be rewarded for being honest with the system and each other?

How could we find out you like Big Macs too?

Well, we could give you a free one if you click like on McDonalds. If you really despise McDonalds you won’t accept the bribe anyway. That will out you and expose the secret lie you’ve been living.

Or, we could reward you for turning on a permanent tracking system so we could study where you REALLY visit.

But all this liking, er, lying, has me thinking. Just how accurate is all that data that Foursquare is collecting? After all, are you checking in only at cool places? Or are you also checking in at gas stations, super markets, or other lower-class places that you don’t really want to advertise that you’re at?

Is this a new bastion of privacy? One where we want to lie to each other without getting called out because we were just caught eating a Big Mac?

What else are we lying about to the companies that are studying us?

Did you delete that you were listening to Kenny G on your Facebook profile and Pandora and put something cooler in there? (I did, after all, we’re living in the like economy and there’s nothing worse than having my friends realize I listen to Kenny G).

So, why is this an economy?

Well, you are already getting free stuff for checking in. Starbucks is giving you a buck off if you become a mayor. You really want to lie to all of us and say you drink Peets or, even better, some local brand that is hipper and better than Starbucks. So now Starbucks has to bribe you to get you to stop lying to the world. That’s an economy of likes, er, lies.

How else can we make money off of our lies?

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

44 thoughts on “The “like, er, lie” economy

  1. the “like” button doesn't mean “like” at all, people use it as a share button. That's why FB's ubiquitous “like” button and their attempt to own the whole web won't work.

  2. Great point Robert. This is why the eBay reputation system works, you can only earn “points” in the real world, doing what you really do. And this is why OpenTable works too, you can only rate restaurants at which you actually ate.

  3. Great insights Robert.
    Over 50 years ago Mason Haire found the same thing with housewifes reluctant to admit they “liked” instant coffee. If he asked them why they didn’t say they bought it, they said ‘I don’t like the flavor.” But he discovered that people’s real reason for not admitting they purchased instant coffee was more truthfully “People will think I am lazy and not a good wife.
    But I think “interesting” is the new like. http://tibetantailor.com/?p=1706

  4. as a serial 'Liker', I'd like to point out that some of us “like” things, simply because we, well, like things ;)

  5. To lie or not, promoting alternative or exclusive restaurants instead of McDonalds is not so bad in my opinion. The ones that did not really stood a chance before find themselves an opportunity. But I agree that “liking” should be considered more (for example offering to “like” after you had dinner somewhere!).

  6. How much did McDonald's pay you for this post Scoble? You know what I find hilarious? McDonald's strategy for adding followers on a large scale is paying you to write a blog post for them. Now that is what I call quality entertainment. It doesn't get any better. >,<

  7. +1 Alex you are right about the sinister nature of FB behavior targeting. Having said this, I am starting to think this may not be the advertisers nirvana FB seems to think it is. The more public FB goes and less its users trust it, and to give Robert some credit for a corollary derived from this article is that, advertisers will be trying to sell us stuff based entirely on false data generated from the user base (see my later comment further down the stream). FB shot itself in the foot perhaps?

  8. Robert I am not sure where you are going with this, but I mainly agree with your analysis. Once again, the act of observation alters the behaviour of the subject. Where I disagree is that expressing a preference for what you consider is cool is as much a lie as claiming you like something because you are being bribed to say so. At least the former really reflects your own belief system, the latter reflects commercial considerations. Neither is really what you really, really like. That may never show up through a public like button. Advertisers may well despair.

  9. The ironic thing is, so far there is no data to show that users want more (or any) ads no matter how targeted. And if it's all just down to virtual coupons and special offers, then what has truly changed compared to before Social Media? Will your friends in turn really be more likely to check out McD's because you “Liked” it? Will they interrupt what they were doing to go check it out?

    This is why I have been saying that the easiest method of making Web ads work is to just offer people more of what they were already doing, or looking at. And yet that doesn't really require much of the sneaky/creepy behavioral targeting that Facebook et al. want to create.

  10. On music forums I've seen many “post your guilty pleasures” threads in which grown men readily admitted to liking an Abba album, but I've no idea how that helps Foursquare or Facebook. People still make fun of Bill Clinton's penchant for fast food, so, uh, excuse me as I head to Zen Palate.

  11. Or maybe, you actually do get your fair trade, locally roasted artisinal coffee from Oslo but you're willing to lie for a bargain since you work next door to a Starbucks and it sounds like a challenge.

    This isn't any different from showing up to work in a pressed suit when your bedroom is a three foot deep pile of clothing, books and old coffee cups or wearing carefully faded jeans and rumpled shirts which cost an arm and a leg and which you keep very carefully arranged and only ever wash on cold.

    One of the absurdly bad (and excessively literal) assumptions inherent in Facebook's new “page” system is that I want my public persona to be an accurate reflection of what I like and don't like. I like a lot of lolcats dorkiness like cute overload and Regretsy and Unhappy Hipsters but I don' really want them to shape my public image. If I “like” a news story or blog post, it is rarely the one that made me laugh loudest. More likely it is the one I'd most like my network to read for some logical and concrete reason.

  12. Robert

    Such a valid point here that people are worried about public perception and their image. We know that many, many people go to McDonald's each day due to their sales figures so either we are to believe that ALL the folks that go to there each day do NOT have a FourSquare or Gowalla account or just forget to check in? What makes Starbuck's sexier than McDonald's? An over priced cup of coffee vs some of the greatest fries ever?? I can see the prestige that a high profile restaurant brings but we know that this is not everyday life and people stop at the convenience store, go to the grocery store and eat fast food.

    I do not think that we have to treat our check-ins like billable time and account for each place that we are at every minute of every day but I do think that if you go to Target, Walmart, the grocery store, etc, that a check in creates an even better image as it shows respect to the people who work there each day and keep these places running so you can go there and also out of honesty to ourselves that we are real people and not an image we choose to create.

    @SuzanneVara

  13. I think it's a fault of the nomenclature. We all “like” tons of stuff, but if we recommended everything we liked to our friends (real life and/or social network friends), it would be information overload. When we “like” something on Facebook, I think we mean “really like/recommend”. Or better: we are a “fan” of something. ;-)

    If something was really new/awesome at McDonalds that I thought people should try, I'd “like” it. But I'd rather save my likes for @BurgervilleUSA, a local chain that is healthier, greener and more innovative. Cooler, in short.

  14. I agree with John Serra that this is little more than human behavior amplified through technology.

    It's like trying not to be seen at an out-of-style store; you selectively endorse some locations while ignoring others that you actually use much more often, just because it's fashionable.

    Is it good or bad? I'm undecided there. It seems to make the “like” feature more of a barometer than a bulls-eye.

  15. While I agree with the premise, I think you're missing the point with your examples. McDonald's and Subway are giant, standardized companies offering a good product at a low price in as many locations as they can. They have ads everywhere and mascots (Ronald) or spokespeople (Jared) that most people could probably identify. It's a shared experience. No one is going to tell me there had the best burger of their life at McDonald's and urge me to go down there to try it.

    For all the people who check in everywhere, and I'll admit I'm the mayor of a a small convenience store down the street, what catches their followers eye is the location they are unfamiliar with.

    It's not necessarily lying to not “like” McDonald's even though you enjoy a Big Mac. People know the Big Mac already. Starbucks is trying to get in on the action today with coupons but had Foursquare been around in the 90s people would have checked in with abandon to show they were part of the new wave of coffee achievers. I have a number of songs in my library I don't give star ratings to. I like the song but I don't want to say 4 stars and saying I only like to hear it occasionally isn't a fair 1 star rating. Nothing tastes like McDonald's fries, but I don't feel like I'm lying by not telling everyone I “like” them. If everything is liked except the places you really hate the whole system is bloated.

  16. Good point Robert, I've been wondering how to talk about this affect of perceptions on Social Media. But its in everything we do isnt it from the way we dress, cars we drive, pictures of perfect smiles and ever happiness online. Its pervasive to our way of trying to position and sell ourselves in a better light. I dont really care and will put McDonalds and catch crap for it, which is interesting. Funny thing is people remember what I eat – (More stalker material!).

  17. OMG! dude, get off your pedestal, Everybody isn't a tree hugging hypocrite hippy, like apparently the people you socialize with, who spew out all sorts of green buzz words and then turn around and buy redwood made houses or buzz around in private planes polluting the air.
    Yes, I do believe that there are people that are doing just what you said but I'm sure those are more the exceptions than the rule.

  18. You just said “stole” and “music” in the same sentence. Now the RIAA is assembling a task force to investigate this new “like piracy”, and it's all thanks to you, Robert.

  19. Very interesting article. Sadly, I check-in at 7-Eleven and McDonald's in Gowalla. I will admit that I checked into 7-Eleven so much that it appeared as a Top 10 spot on my passport. Trying to stop checking in because I wanted something else to overtake it and pop up on my top spots. Yeah know, to look more interesting. But I can stop checking in there!!

  20. Interesting article Robert. If I may take this in another tangent…I have been using Foursquare recently in the same manner that many others use the service. There are many facets of the experience that brings questions to mind. I often check in at places that I have checked into prior…some of them menial locations such as the Gas Station, my home, fast food places etc. More often than not, I'll use the “Off the Grid” feature so as to not announce these places and annoy those that I'm 'connected' with in some way or 'friended' in some way.Its more of a consideration for them and their phones or feeds.

    I have to admit, that sometimes I don't mind seeing my friends 'check in' at these places and then sometimes, when I'm in the middle of an application, it pops up and annoys the hell out of me.

    I guess you can take the “Off the Grid” one of two ways….as a lie and as being considerate”.

    For those…playing the game to get as many points as you can with Rapid Checkins while driving by a new location doing 75MPH just for the points is a flat out lie! But for some reason, I think the app has some cool upsides too.

    I've been using it to evaluate where I've been all week and evaluate my productivity.

  21. A long time ago I learned: “Figures lie and liars figure!” Think about that everytime you read a review on YELP, Google Places, Trip Advisor, etc.
    This sentence “Or are you also checking in at gas stations, super markets, or other lower-class places that you don’t really want to advertise that you’re at?” Is it lower-class to buy gas, food, or maybe just stop to use a clean restroom. I think you might mean “routine places.” I had an uncle that always told me that when he went on long road trips he would always stop at McDonalds for breakfast and lunch. Why? Consistency (food quality and value) and clean bathrooms. He trusted them!

  22. There has always been those of us who prefer to portray ourselves in a better light (most of us), and then the few who share their raw self in a take it or leave it manner.

    The “like, er, lie” economy is just the same old behavior facilitated by technology. Therefore extended to a much more vast community and spread thoughout a lot faster.

    The only way this effects marketers is in a good way…

  23. There's definitely something in what you're suggesting. I was embarrassed to become the 'Mayor' of Target the other day (hey, I was in there and checked in so it's my own fault!); I'd rather become the mayor of a cool bar or restaurant. Shallow and stupid, yes probably, but the whole basis of status updates/tweets etc talks to our need to show-off to an extent. You should have seen the number of tweets/photos I was posting that time I had the opportunity to travel by corp. jet. Way more than whenever I head to the local supermarket :-)

  24. Lately I was thinking: Scobles's posts are getting better and better.
    Now, I realize my mistake, it's a terrible bias: your post are getting closer and closer to my own opinions.

    I think it's pretty obvious that many people lie when they are expressing their taste on social websites, may it be on FourSquare or any other, and I think the trend is getting even more toward the “lie” with all the negative buzz around FB's privacy settings.

    Now, what's grinding my gears: Is FB's business model based on lies? And how useful is it really for small advertisers? Do you know a reliable source that could quote not the money FB makes thanks to their ads system but the conversion rate these ads really generate?

  25. Just as your likes/checkins/whatever is you projecting to the world what you want to say about yourself, isn't it the same with your purchases? You don't buy a Ferrari because it's a fast car. Most of the things we buy aren't for who we are, it's for who we want to be. I think this aspirational aspect of it all isn't very much different than traditional marketing in this sense.

  26. Whatever you want to call it, cool, hip, people have always 'liked' things that they feel an association with. And they most certainly have always projected only what they feel is socially acceptable to whatever circle of friends they are with.

    Social media and the web has made our circle of friends infinitely larger and more diverse, so the things that we consider acceptable are growing. This latest trend of 'liking' things can only, I hope, force the brands into making their service or products more acceptable.

  27. I think there is a fundamental issue here which FB is constantly coming unstuck trying to resolve. (Privacy, Integrity, Monetization, Scale, Purpose etc.) – As far as brands are concerned, if they want to stand out from the crowd, they can't afford to become part of it. So Facebook's perceived only hope is to create the mother of all big brother targeting systems to try and gain the ad dollars and restrospectively trying to poach Wikipedia's data in a vein attempt to commercialize those pages within Facebook and attempt to force attention from brands to their highly presumptious community pages. (That action is highly suspect imho on the basis they are currently using those brand references within Facebook and selling ad space against them without explicit permission from the brands as they did to several of mine. I still question the legitimacy of using Wikipedia data provided by people as a public contribution to a public asset, now bent to Facebook's favour in such a manner. I think Creative Commons has a lot to answer for here…)

    In any event, in both cases, they forget that they simply run a platform not a media company and in fact all that data is ours. In terms of public identities on the net, Facebook is the 'long tail' or the 80% of the 80:20 rule and no matter how hard they try they cannot re-invent themselves to resolve that. The 'head' or 20% is the final realisation of the migration of traditional media online and elegant platforms where brands can engage at a level of sophistication concomitant with their hard fought images. IMHO all roads lead to Famebook, where all that will come together!

    It is also amazing to see how much power Facebook has created over some sections of the media who have bowed in the face of such amoral actions and behaved like Facebook's own PR departments. That's scary. Glad to see you impartial and roughing it up as always Robert!

  28. Great post. This indeed has very important conclusions for the data captured by Foursquare – it might be inaccurate, and of limited use to, say, marketeers. I like your thoughts on ways to deal with this – more rewards to overcome our ‘shame’ factor, or automatic (involuntary) check-ins (you are clearly very much in the ‘open up privacy’ camp!).

    The issues are however not limited to Foursquare, but consistent with all social networking sites (at least for the 'smarter' people who do actually think before uploading a status update or other data), and even the way we personally (in real-life) interact with each other.

    There is also however a possible 'silver' lining. If people are thinking “I don't want people to know that I ate a fatty burger, but would rather they thought I ate a healthy salad” maybe this will lead to a greater self-awareness (“hey, I was about to eat a fatty burger – urrghh!”) and possibly lead to change (“hey, maybe I should be eating the healthy salad instead …”).

  29. I performed my likes, er, lies over at Facebook.com anyway. Oh, did you know I stole Mark Zuckerberg's music? I figure if he liked all that music that it MUST be cool. :-)

    Actually Iike Facebook employee Chris Putnam's music better. I stole his likes too.

  30. Don't worry Robert. Thanks to the IFRA ME hidden behind the Like button, Facebook knows exactly which store you like (er, the ones whose page you visit, at least). Have you noticed your Facebook userid is passed in cleartext in the request?

  31. We are all actors and the Web is our stage. There's no avoiding it, especially if you want to be successful. Everyone is presenting themselves in the manner they want the world to see them, whether they deny it (or even realize it) or not.

  32. I always lie on social media. my mum is not hortense happy-flower and my birthday is not 1 April 1965 (sorry hackers and phishers, try again.

    I recommend that we all lie on social media. Eventually marketeers will realise and pull the plug on the money pipe that is feeding this (mainly pointless) narcissism. But not for a while yet. The marketeers are too busy lying about the ROI their amazing datamining tools are creating for their clients…

  33. If you think you like BigMac from McDonalds but don't want to push the like button for it … maybe you were already lying to yourself ?
    Advertisement was already lying to us by selling things through biased ways … now everyone is part of such system, until we use more reliable source of information (maybe auto-geoloc in your closest McDonalds :p).

  34. Interesting twist on privacy: Replace keeping information secret by promoting outright lies. Pretending to be open to the whole world due to peer pressure but trying to keep your own privacy. Accepting bribes to be honest, and be dishonest if not.

    I think some of our common values are at stake here. In the past, dictatorships were perverting values. Is it the social graph now?

  35. Lies ? imho, “like” buttons are just real-social-life information propagation metaphors …
    We all report only choosen things to friends.. The lie is the filter.

  36. This illustrates how clumsy the whole ‘like’ phenomenon is.

    How much do we like something?

    What’s our relationship with the place, service or product?

    It’s a bit like pushing a button saying ‘happy’.

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