The unearned follow

I wanted to keep this one to a separate post from the Quora issues, because it’s an issue worth discussing on its own.

I’ve been getting too many follows on too many services without earning them.

On PicPlz I have 2,034 followers.
On Quora I have 17,713 followers.
On Instagram I have 9,249 followers.

Did I earn these by having the best participation? The best photos? The best answers? No. Although I put in some good time, with 409 questions answered on Quora and hundreds of photos posted to the other systems, I can’t say I earned every follow.

I’m not the only one benefitting from unearned follows.

First, how do you get an unearned follow?

Well, let’s say you are following me on Twitter. Then we both join a service like PicPlz.

Did you know that PicPlz will automatically follow me for you? Even if you hate my photographs?

Did I really earn your follow on these new services like I did on the older services like Twitter or Facebook? Yeah, you could say that I didn’t earn them there, either, since I had hundreds of thousands of readers on my blog before I started tweeting, but on Twitter you needed to manually “follow” me and other people on the system. On the newer systems they automatically follow people based on their Twitter popularity.

I don’t think so but I don’t know what to do about it.

This presents a distorted picture of who is putting the most effort into the system. For instance, of the top five most followed on Quora, other than me, here’s how many questions they’ve answered:

Evan Williams has 17,373 followers and has answered five questions.
Kevin Rose has 16,486 followers and has answered 11 questions.
Tim O’Reilly has 13,122 followers and hasn’t answered a single question yet!
Jason Calacanis has 11,528 followers and has answered 29 questions.
Michael Arrington has 11,499 followers and has answered 15 questions.

As comparison, I went through the Quora reviewers (these are people who’ve answered a question well enough to have gotten “reviewer” status, which gives them powers that I don’t have, like the ability to mark questions as not helpful, and the power to not approve your question, which means no one will see it).

Most of these people have “earned” fewer than 100 followers.

Do you see the problems this causes?

Jealousy, for one (because no one can really get as many followers as those who already have them). Non-transparency for two (because the follower counts don’t mean anything on the newer services).

Why do companies do this?

Because it gets popular users onto the system, which drags their social networks onto a new social network.

What does that cause? Virality.

How many of us are talking about Instagram and PicPlz, but not Path? Why not?

Path resists this system and forces people to manually add their friends in their new system.

This retards virality but causes something else to go way up: loyalty and lack of churn. It also ensures that the social graph that is built on Path is one that’s earned on the new system, not dragged over from an older system where it might not make sense.

Path has other problems that keep me from using it (it’s not cross platform, for instance, and it is too limiting on number of friends, at 50) but this experience has me wondering if forcing all users to “earn” their follows might not be a better way?

What do you think?

UPDATE: I added a question on Quora to get feedback about this post.

The mistakes I made in Quora

So, I woke up early in Davos, Switzerland, excited to go skiing, and look at Techmeme and see that the Quora Review has published a post which could be titled “Scoble stay off the Quora lawn.”

Ouch.

Then I look at email. In my email I’ve been sent evidence by some of the 53 reviewers that a small group of reviewers has been marking posts of mine as “not helpful” in retribution to some things they don’t like about my behavior there.

Ouch 2.

Then I see Mike Arrington has posted that Quora is not about my hopes and dreams.

Ouch 3.

I should have just gone skiing without looking at my computer, but now I thought I’d recount some of the mistakes that pissed off these people.

Why?

So you can avoid making the same mistakes and getting the ire (and collapsing button) of them aimed at you.

1. At first I tweeted just my answers to questions. This ensured that my answers would be seen by a pretty sizeable group of people and would gain at least some upvotes, which would ensure that my answers would appear at the top of comment threads. Later, after getting this pointed out to me as a negative bias, I would link to other people’s questions, without my answers, and also to the entire question, so you’d see all answers. On Quora you do this by using the Twitter link on the right side of the page, not the one on the bottom.

2. I broke convention by using photographs in many of my answers. More than anything this seems to have gathered the ire of the reviewers and others. I did it partly because I know that posts with photos and images get more audience and more consideration than posts without, but partly for fun, and partly to, well, get more upvotes. But Quora is already being seen as a place that’s free of photos and videos so this gathered a great deal of hate.

3. I participated too much. In a little more than a month I wrote 400 answers. These made it seem like I was attempting to dominate the service. In reality I was just addicted and liked participating, but when most of the other people answered only a few thoughtful times (Mike Arrington, for instance, has only answered 15 questions) it was behavior out of place and got people to wonder about my participation there and the reasons behind it.

4. Some of my answers were controversial and caused flamewars. Quora is a place that’s free of flamewars and controversy. Why? Because when it happens reviewers pull those answers out of the stream and mark them as “not helpful.” I’ve seen this happen many times, not just to my own posts, but where I’ve answered in a way that got a flamewar going I’ve seen my answers pulled out too.

5. I answered questions too quickly, Part I. Why did I do this? Because, well, I was living on the service. At one point a week ago I was the number one user according to OneTrueFan and most other users, even reviewers, didn’t have the commitment to stay online all times of day and night just to answer the question first. First answers tend to get more visibility and upvotes. Why? Well, let’s say an answer gets five upvotes in first two minutes, because it shows up on the home feed, then it is very hard for a following answer to get the six upvotes it needs to beat the first answer (especially since the first answer keeps getting upvotes after that).

6. I answered posts too quickly, Part II. By answering posts too quickly, and because I knew that first answers were treated better than following answers, especially if the quality of the answer is the same, I would answer first with a poor quality answer and then come back and improve the answer over time. Again, this behavior pissed off people who couldn’t type as fast, or live on the system. Not to mention they saw the first, poor quality answer, and made up their minds that I was a poor quality answerer.

7. I was narcissistic and self promotional. It just leaks out of me. Why? Because I have 4,600 photos I’ve done on Flickr, 694 videos I’ve posted on YouTube, and the hundreds I’ve done on Building43, etc etc. and I pull upon that body of work to answer questions. Yes, many of these things augmented answers, but they pissed off people who don’t have a large body of photos, videos, and blog posts to call upon.

8. I didn’t understand soon enough how my participation in the system, which was mostly due to my own addiction and excitement, pissed people off. IE, I didn’t have my ear to the ground quick enough.

9. I really did think it was potentially a blogging service, not just a QA one. It looked different to me, and based on the answers I was reading (and the feed it generated for each user, here’s mine) that it was closer to a blogging service than to Wikipedia. I was wrong, but funny enough, no one at the company refuted my posts about it.

So, what can we do now? Well, I’m not addicted to the system anymore (partly because I was at Davos and DLD conferences for past two weeks — Louis Gray even noticed I’m not the top user anymore, but also partly because I have learned that if I want to participate I’ve gotta change the way I participate here, which means learning from these eight things myself).

That said, Quora had a huge impact on me the past month. It got me through writers’ block, and I learned some techniques to get me to post more here on my blog. For that I’m very grateful and you’ll see a different kind of blogging here thanks to it.