I think we really have to compare Namesake, Quora, and Twitter, and Facebook. Followers on Facebook are your actual friends and family, or people you used to know but lost touch with. Twitter is the general public who follows you. They are really structural opposites of each other in many ways, and through that dualism between them we can explain their popularity. Small posts not big enough to express a thought on one, so we are left with signs and pointers and quips or aphorisms, on the other more genuine posts that have meaning for others like pictures of the grandchildren, or your old boy friend’s wife.
Namesake and Quora are also opposites in many ways. Namesake is closed, and Quora now open. Quora mediates our relations with each other through free-floating questions and answers in a nihilistic plenum. Namesake is realtime chat between selected and invited conversant. You can edit your post and perfect it, taking out the errors on Quora, whereas you cannot edit your post on Namesake. I have found no limit to the length of posts on Quora, although I have tried to test that limit many times. On Namesake there is a limit to a post of so many characters, but there is just enough room to express a whole idea. Namesake and Quora are the thoughtful alternatives to Twitter and Facebook, this gives us a very different duality. Quora and Namesakes are the darlings of the social-spherical intelligentsia, and Twitter and Facebook are for the non-discerning masses for which social media was invented so that the CIA and FBI etc., can keep track of us and our associations more easily.
Now I am very concerned about my Klout rating (which is 42 right now by the way) but Quora and Namesake interactions are not included in Klout, so I must really be wasting my time here at Quora and over at Namesake. These are like unrated movies; we watch them and participate at our own risks, because our social engagement in them has not been properly measured.
So what are we doing here anyway? Why do we need mediation between us all through Q&A? Is it because we have first burned out on email lists and newsgroups, and then after that exhausted talking into the air on Blogs? We need distance from each other and the Q&A form gives us this safety of an intrinsic distance. On Quora it is irrelevant if you follow others or are followed by them, because the fundamental organization is around the questions which you decide to answer, or read answers to. And when we have grown exhausted by negotiating this distance we can turn to Namesake, feel privileged to be there. Enjoy the clarity and meaning of real questions for a change, and engage in tet a tet that is brief, and unsustainable dialog. Questions on Quora last, they accumulate answers, reviewers who know nothing really about the subject at hand can downgrade your answers with a sovereign might. While the realtime chat at Namesake is unfiltered and final when you post it mistakes and all, which can only be deleted or left showing your errors forever.
Facebook followers matter to us because they are our real friends, family and acquaintances that we have decided to give over information about to the powers that be, and may eventually be tortured like in Syria to get our passwords, so that others can be discovered who are thinking independently or some other transgression, that compromises our friends and family and fellow conspirators longing for freedom. Twitter followers do not matter, and we can see that because they are the fundamental ingredient of our Klout score. The best example is Empire Avenue where we are sold as slaves within the meta-system of the social market for a few bitcoins on the dollar. We have our fifteen minutes of fame, or 29 seconds these days, and then we vanish back into the human information filter again which we participate in in order to get recognition in an economy of spectacle.
On Quora, we try to show off our intelligence, or our humor, in answering silly questions, for the most part that float in an endless plenum without and relation to each other. Here followers do not matter, because comments are too hard to find and see, which is our only genuine means for interaction, the comment trail of the answers or the questions to which we cling. Occasionally someone writes a post to their followers, but that is not the main attraction. For instance there is the post about this question I am answering now and how silly it is, because it lacks context, it is not part of any problematic, and it lacks relations to any other question, but merely floats here in a void of meaninglessness isolated from all other questions except to the extent it has been flung into the bin of a topic.
Namesake has endorsements and thus you can be endorsed as an expert in something, whether or not you know anything about it, just because you can dazzle them with your fancy footwork. But the followers of a question matter, because the community that these people are chosen from know each other by reputation, and Namesake gives them a chance to interact in a very direct way.
So in this structural duality of dualities, it is Facebook and Namesake where followers count, while on Twitter and Quora they do not count for anything. On Twitter they do not count because they are mere metrics within the great asymmetrical information filter as I talk about in my posts on http://Ourtalk.net. On Quora they do not matter because the mediation is through the free-floating questions and answers, which are the focus rather than the personas of the individuals involved.
These are four monuments in the field of social media and social forums that have recently become the rage. But speaking as a sociologist it is interesting that the new social moguls know nothing about sociology, social psychology, psychology, or for that matter anthropology or political science. So they are inventing this new medium out of whole cloth and the fact that they produce Question and Answer systems without understanding the very nature of Questions and Answers, is a sign of the crucial lack of homework, and negligence of these startups in taking into consideration what we already know, when they design their “social media” through which our interaction is channeled, measured, and filtered, and approved or disapproved, as is the case with Quora. They want to bring some sanity to the insanity of Twitter, and email groups, and the other forms that have been destroyed by advertisers and spammers. Namesake does the same by limiting admission rather than filtering. But my sense is that Namesake is more in tune with the nature of its medium than is Quora. In Quora we sense the distance between ourselves and those who filter our content. On Namesake we have been filtered as individuals prior to admission. But the key to both is filtering. In Facebook we create our own filters by inviting our friends but refusing to allow in our parents. But then Facebook sells us down the river to the various advertisers to whom it has sold its soul that is seen in the very complexity of the privacy measures. They are hoping that they are complex enough we will throw up our hands and just allow all our personal messages and content meant for friends to leak out into the arms of businesses waiting in the wings to find out everything about us. On twitter it is all about self-promotion, and so we have our 140 characters for a billboard we can share with the world, and our messages are lost in the stream of billions of others that are insignificant from our perspective, but by entering that flow and gaining our Klout we lose our selves in the flow of global instantaneous information.
What stands out against this background, of structurally opposite social systems that are the main pillars of the social media landscape. Well quite clearly LinkedIn which has recently made its forums public. There we know that we are engaged in serious business when we converse about the subjects that we claim expertise in within our professional lives. LinkedIn and sites like Gplus.com are where our Q&A banter comes into contact with reality of our professional lives. And what is interesting is that the Questions and the Answers are very good there, and who follows who really counts. But that is the business world, the reality, from which we seek an escape.
So hopefully I have answered this deprecated Question and brought some thought to bear on it, in the attempt to turn the coal of a thoughtless question into the diamonds of substantive answers, that go beyond what the Questioner asked to the heart of the matter we are all wondering about, which is Why do we follow each other at all? For the most part these are meaningless links. We are interacting with strangers that we are unlikely to ever meet. We are creating false personas, in a virtual world, and trying to earn ephemeral Klout which does not translate into any real social value at all. My own answer is that this is a sign of our alienation and anomie, and its intensity and that Zizek is mostly right in his Lacanian analysis of our society, as lost in a dream while trapped in a fading empire. In other words our klout is precisely the opposite of what it appears, it is not our reputation but the sign of how enmeshed we are in the illusory relations that this interactive media engenders. We need the mediation of Q&A to shield us from any encounter with the Other, as we find ourself in a fairly safe environment where there are not so many flame wars, spam, porn, and all the other signs of social deterioration that appear outside this gated community. At least we might actually know some of the people on Facebook, and occasionally see them face to face. But in actuality much of it is faded and forgotten relationships briefly revived. Namesake filters us rather than our “content” building a new intelligentsia of the chosen few who are creating a culture that is meaningful but still only within a bubble.
Of all of these it is Twitter that is the most interesting. The 140 character length of messages was an arbitrary technological design decision produced by phone makers and telecom providers. We in the US seem to be the only country in the world dumb enough to pay extra for text messages, to companies that lie to us about the bandwidth they are selling us, as they seek to cap it, and refuse to give us higher speeds we need to keep up with the rest of the world. But this purely technological decision is crucial because it is just not long enough to express any ideas, because there is no room for context, so the messages are reduced to signs like @monikers, #hashtags and http://shrtln.ks and a few abbreviated words, or pointerless posts that are merely aphorisms spoken out into the void of the information stream. There due to the asymmetry of follower and followed relations we act together like a free ‘mechanical turk’ filtering the information of the world and the Internet and its web of interconnections (a true rhizome in the spirit of Deleuze and Guattari). This is what we do with our surplus time, we filter the information, as we cannot get AI agents to do it for us. There the only question is how much of that chaotic stream can you handle. But if you follow the right people you encounter all kinds of things that no search engine could ever deliver to you. So for those who have the time there is a huge benefit in quality of information to be gained. With search engines like Google, and Blekko there is an inherent limitation by the sheer volume of information on any given set of search terms. You care limited to the search terms you can dream up. But if you can stand the randomness of the stream you can encounter all kinds of things you would never have searched for in the links that appear in the twitter stream, and you can also experience vicariously events happening in the world though the tweets of others that are there. But you also get to experience all the crud that is pushed at you by idiots as well but at least you can quickly unfollow them. If we take this as the standard, i.e. information filtering then we can see how Quora fits into this ecology. People type in questions all the time into Google and get no coherent answer. Quora is designed to answer those questions, because it generates both questions and answers that will come up in a Google search. However, when someone types a question into Google and gets back random pages, they are real questions that they have in the moment that are significant or relevant somehow in their lives. But here on Quora the disconnect is that the questions are not good in many cases, because people are just making them up out of thin air, very thin air. Namesake comes to the rescue by filtering the people who are allowed to enter, and thus choosing the people rather than the questions or filtering the answers. And of course Facebook gives us peaks into the lives of people we once knew, or are far away from, or our classmates and our real friends. But even this intimacy comes at a price, because facebook has sold its soul to the corporations, and is working hard to spill your data to them, after promising many times not to do so. Therefore, the inauthenticity of Facebook is in the interface to the corporate structure of the company itself and its monetization plans. The same will probably be true of Quora, Namesake, and is becoming more obvious with Twitter lately, as they strive to actually make some money off of their ventures. LinkedIn has no problem here because it is explicitly selling access, and so ultimately is the most honest about its intentions and goals as is reflected in its recent IPO which was very successful.
Following is a false social relationship and a sign of our alienation and anomie. So the valuing of followers itself is a negative sign of our enmeshment in an illusory set of “social relations” that is merely a fantasy, or for us as a group a delusion. However, teenagers can commit suicide when they are bullied on line so this delusion has some teeth. If we were to be followed on the street we would we worried. One site is honest and calls followers stalkers. And on some sites actual followers really are stalkers. It is a dangerous world out there folks. You are followed by the secret police or by criminals seeking to do you harm, or by enemies. You are not followed by “Friends” except in a cult. So the very word “follower” suggests the sinister nature of this social construct that exists only in a virtual world, on in the fantasies of fandom that worship celebrities or rock bands.
What each of us value with respect to our followers is an index into the depth of our alienation. Facebook is obviously the least alienated on any scale, because we might actually know the people who we follow on facebook, and see them face to face on occasion. Namesake is a bit more alienated because it is interacting with people you do not know in realtime conversation where your words can only be taken back as a whole, by deleting the whole comment. But you are interacting within a bubble of those who have been chosen by the founders of this amazing service. Quora is then again more alienated due to the fact that our relationships are now mediated by Q&A where the Questions and their answers are persistent, and who is following whom, or a given question is not so important as who answers and what they say in answer even to ridiculous questions. (contextless, with no driving problematic and free-floating without a position in a dialectic within which it makes sense as a movement from question & answer to answer & question). Then obviously LinkedIn is more alienated than Quora, because it is immersed in the corporate power structures, but interestingly enough both the questions and answers are more real in that business environment because there are real reputations at stake. And then there is the alienation of Twitter, which is just a blizzard of meaningless information, that we filter in order to gain Klout. Klout is the ultimate Power in the artificial social scene as Foucault says within the surveillance society. Klout is the proper Jouissance that Lacan speaks of and which Anonymous calls LUZ which is the absurd extremity of LOL. Finally the most alienated and ephemeral, anomic and anonymous is 4chan and /b/ which actually has taken a stand against corporations (imaginary persons as undying legal entities, i.e. gods), and other injustices in the world from their headland above the world called TOR. As Dreyfus says Foucault merely substituted the concept of “Power” for “Being”, and “practices” for “beings”, and constructed an ‘epistemological difference’ against the ‘ontological difference’ defined by Heidegger in Being and Time. In the extreme of our alienation we find ourselves ultimately anonymous in a radically ephemeral world. We find ourselves alienated from a corporatist global world and we experience anomie, or meaninglessness, that is the result of the production of nihilism by our worldview. This is the extreme that we can use as the limit by which to measure these “anti-social” or “non-social” media of distance, deferment (timeshifting), and differing and mediation which embed us in a web of static relations we build as a web that enmeshes us and in which we might ultimately be caught reduced to the identities that are generated in that virtual world.
Quora: A Plea For Fewer Lazy Questions
Asking questions and getting meaningful answers is something of an art. It’s not just a matter of banging out a sentence and adding a question mark at the end.
Case in point:
Twitter Followers vs Quora Followers: Which is more significant?
I don’t point that one out to embarrass anyone, it is just the question that finally pushed me over the edge to write this post.
Post by John Morrow on Quora.com
Response by Kent Palmer:
Ahhhh…… Precisely what I have been saying Quora = Bad Questions + Good Answers. There are lots of reasons for this but the Scariest is that Quora itself, i.e. the people behind the scenes here, do not understand the nature of questions and the nature of answers, and that leads to perfectly sane people sitting in front of their computer screens and saying to themselves, I have to come up with a question quick, and what invariably appears is a really bad question, because it is not a genuine question, or an authentic question, but a made up question, just to be asking a question. Now when people are in this terrible situation where they feel they must come up with a question quick, like a reporter who does not know what to say to the person they are interviewing on camera and just blurt out what ever first comes to mind, the questions are inevitably bad, and not worth the time of day, but a question like “Why do we exist? or Do I exist? for instance, I can go on all day about, because I am a philosopher, so I try to turn these poor questions into something interesting just to keep the rest of us amused. But the person, who asks this poor question, is really the victim of the system that has been created here. That is because the Quora folks who are creating this question and answer environment just don’t understand questions or answers very deeply, but especially questions. As you say, and as I have said previously, questions need context or they are meaningless. I have expressed this by saying that questions need the problematic out of which they arise to be made explicit, so that the person who is trying to answer it knows where the other person is coming from. My suggestion for solving this problem, since the Quora people don’t seem to notice the asymmetry between questions and answers here, was to suggest we use Google Knowls to express our problematic. I created a brief example here . . .http://knol.google.com/k/kent-palmer This is really needed in order to show that the person asking the question actually has a standing toward the issue raised and actually interested in the result enough to have thought about the question for at least more than a second. But I have also pointed out that the traditional context of Questions & Answers is the dialectic, but here they stand in isolation, as if floating in a plenum only organized by topics without any real relation to each other. So I whole heartedly applaud your message and I hope the Quora folks take note, because this is a real problem. Philosophically yours . . .
Quora/Namesake differences on Namesake.com http://namesake.com/expertise/quora-and-namesake-differences/