When I worked in academia, we used to joke that universities were great places to work — except for all the students.  We loved the ability to work along side bright people, and contemplate new ways of addressing old ideas.  The same is true for Social Media.  It is a great resource to contemplate new ways of addressing old ideas —  now, if we could just ignore all the people out there.

There is an inherent problem with Social Media tools (in this post, I’ll limit my discussion to blogs and Twitter.)  It was apparently glossed over yesterday at Legal Tech, but was astutely picked up by Ohad Reshef after the presentation.  Very soon, spammers are going to make some of the best parts of social networking tools worthless.  
Currently, those of us that are pushing the benefits of Twitter, or the comment strings on blogging, are telling our colleagues that this is a wonderful resource where you can truly get a water cooler topic going on a global scale.  I can post this blog, and someone in Australia can comment almost immediately.  I can follow a discussion on Twitter by searching for a hash tag topic (such as #LTNY) that is being used.  It is truly a great process of sharing ideas and having that global conversation.  Unfortunately, it is also ripe for being crushed by the very openness that makes it so great.
Consider this –  If I were a spammer, or someone with malicious intent, I could practically disable a Twitter topic with very little effort.  For those of us that every used Yahoo or AOL chat rooms, you remember the chat bots that would inevitably come in and take over a room?  Well, unfortunately we face a similar fate with Twitter topics.  All it would take would be someone to start blasting hash tag comments on four or five automated Twitter accounts to make the effort of following the topic too difficult.  So far, we’ve lucked out that this hasn’t happened…  but it will.
As for blogs, we already see that one of the most popular legal blogs, Abovethelaw.com, has had to adjust its comment viewing policy due to the fact that the openness that allows everyone to comment, has become so inundated with trash and obscenities, that it makes it virtually worthless to monitor anymore.  And, the sad thing is that the readership of this blog is very bright, but apparently so caught up in the “game” of creating noise on the comments, that I seriously doubt that half of the commenters even read the story.  Even on this blog, we’ve had to remove comments because they are comment spam.
I’m dreading the day that we have to “monitor” or “hide” the comments because half of them are either spam or trash.  I’m dreading the day that I can no longer monitor Twitter comments because half the comments are spam.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying the social media honeymoon while it lasts!
  • I think the unique aspect of twitter (being able to filter on people you follow) might mitigate those woes. We need to work with the tools twitter provides for us. Sure, searching by hashtag is easy and useful, but very primitive. I can imagine a more powerful and sophisticated method of determining who to follow and for what topics and for how long. Maybe a dedicated control panel that lists twitterers participating in a discussion (based on hastag, for example), with the stats of those tweeting. Then you can choose to follow only those with a non-spammer ratio of followers, or based on other criteria…
    I remain optimistic, despite being certain that my optimism will ultimately be crushed. 😉

  • Moshe – I, too, hope that the technology can keep ahead of the problem makers! The hash tag is privative, but effective (and very simple to explain to new users.) I just hope that that “cure” doesn’t eventually kill the patient.

  • Anonymous

    Good points and good comment by Moshe.

    I think the bigger risk is that the users have to be in tune with the privacy settings and pay a lot of attention. They (we) have to pay attention to what we say as well. Most people are going to get into “trouble” using social networking tools (the same way we have email snafus). We’ll end up revealing something to a client we didn’t want to or some detail that opposing counsel picks up on. Maybe the consequences of this are not great, but I’m betting it will happen to everyone who is using these tools.


  • Greg –

    Your thoughts just prove the point that Twitter is just like any other communications tool.

    Roadways were littered with billboards, phones are clogged by telemarketers, email is swamped with spam and blogs are crammed with spam comments. Of course these forces will push into Twitter.

    As Moshe point out, the controls of twitter may just keep them out.

    I am more interested in the future revenue model of Twitter. At some point they need to get a revenue stream or they will eventually run out of investors and money. That will have a more dramatic effect than spammers.

  • Doug,

    I think the “revenue” issue with Twitter is a valid concern. Free tends not to be a good business model, and the marriage between Facebook and Twitter can’t seem to get past the first date phase.

    There are so many good things with Twitter, but there are so many bad scenarios that I can think of off the top of my head, I’m just wondering if we’re in the middle of a Twitter bubble that is eventually going to pop.

  • Greg –

    I think the one way Twitter would not change (much) would be if Google or Yahoo bought it as a way to enhance search. All this linking in twitter would probably benefit a search algorithm.

    I expect that we will end up with occasional ads in the twitter stream. that would not be too bad. We tolerate it on television, the movies, DVD, search results, etc.

  • I’m actually quite worried that Twitter will degenerate into a cesspool of spam. Right now it seems like the worst of 2 worlds. From a user perspective, I actually don’t find it very approachable, and had to snag some articles on how to use Twitter before getting any value out of it. At the same time, as you point out, from a spammer’s perspective it would be quite easy to bomb Twitter with waves of automated messages.

    Maybe we’ll be doing regular word verifications, like I had to do to enter this comment. By the way, have you noticed that word verifications are getting harder and harder to read? It often takes me several times now on Yahoo!