Social Media Experts Are Poets, Software Developers Are Novelists

While checking out hundreds of social media blogs it surprised me to see how many "social media experts" there are. The number of people blogging about social media seems to be easily twice that of the number of people blogging about software development. It's because social media experts are like poets, and software developers are like novelists.

Allow me to explain.

I was once told that at least 10% of the people in my country busy themselves with writing. That's 1.6 million writers among 16 million people! This number shocked me, as I was intending to write a novel at the time, and the idea of having to compete with so many people was daunting. Fortunately, I then learned that most of those people are writing diaries, poetry, and self-biographies. (And blogs about diaries, poetry and self-biographies.) Only very few are actually trying to write something interesting. Like science fiction novels.

Poetry and novels, like social media and software development, find themselves at opposite corners in my barrier-of-entry-vs-quality-perception diagram:

Diagram

The horizontal axis of this diagram shows you the barrier to entry of a certain profession. This barrier to entry refers to the hindrances that someone will face when trying to adopt a profession. These hindrances could be education, licensing, guilds, control of resources, quota limits, government regulations, craftsmanship, etc. The barrier to entry for novelists is much higher than it is for poets, because writing a novel requires a huge amount of time and energy, while writing a poem doesn't.

Here's my proof:

The earth, the stars, the sun, the moon,

This poem's end comes much to soon.

There, I'm done. I just wrote a poem. (You can expect my novel in about ten years…)

The vertical axis of the diagram shows you what I'd like to call the quality perception of consumers. This refers to how easy it is for consumers to distinguish between high quality and low quality products. The quality perception for novels is much higher than it is for poems. Even for amateur readers it is easier to distinguish between fine novels and badly written novels, than it is to distinguish between good poems and bad poems. (Note: my poem is a good one.)

Another example: Have you noticed that, with the exception of infants, rodents and blind people, the whole world has picked up the hobby of digital photography?

I remember my mother developing photographs in her own darkroom in the attic. I knew nobody else doing things like that 30 years ago. But these days everyone, including my mother, is walking around with a digital camera. And nature lovers even feel the need to publish rules of conduct telling those 6 billion digital photographers how to behave and how to treat nature. (It has been reported that people are freezing butterflies to make their pictures look better.) In the age of digital cameras the barrier to entry to photography has completely vanished.

Likewise, quality perception in photography has dropped tremendously. Thirty years ago it was easy to tell good pictures from bad ones. Now it's different. Yesterday one of my friends told me he had taken 3,000 digital pictures while on vacation in Italy. He will probably delete the 2,800 pictures that look like barf on a tree stump. The remaining pictures will look quite decent, maybe even pretty after some tweaking and tuning in PhotoShop, and the average viewer won't be able to see the difference between such amateur pictures and professional ones. Only professional photographers can see that.

It's the same with modern art

I was in Tate Modern in London a few weeks ago. One of the pieces of "art" was a big rope lying on the floor. I'm not kidding. A rope lying on the floor… My first thought was that the real art piece was stolen and the thief had thrown away the cord. But apparently, the piece of cord was the art. Both the barrier to entry and the quality perception of art have dropped so low that I wonder when Tate Modern is going to exhibit the works of art that I create in my restroom every morning.

Rope-emborg-2934958838

And thus we come to social media

Social media is like poetry, and digital photography, and modern art. Anyone with a Twitter or Facebook account can call himself a social media expert. The barrier to entry is virtually non-existent. And quality perception is on the low side too. How can we tell good experts from bad experts? I wouldn't know. Hell, you could call me an expert! I gave you some tips on how not to waste time with Twitter, didn't I?

It's very different for software developers. Programmers are like novelists, movie directors, and traditional painters. The barrier to entry is high because the work is hard, complicated, and requires craftsmanship. Nobody among my friends is silly enough to "give programming a try". It's much easier for them to take pictures, write poems, or to empty a trash bin on the floor and call it modern art. And the quality perception of software products among consumers is high as well. Just an hour ago my non-geek boyfriend was complaining that most software sucks. And he's right! There are only few high quality software products, and they shine like rubies on a salt flat.

That's why social media experts are like poets, and software developers are like novelists.

Note that I don't claim there's anything wrong with either profession. It's just the way the world is.

(picture by Emborg)

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  • http://www.methodsansmadness.com Jeremy Kriegel

    Two other things to add to your graph:
    Low barrier to entry: Dismissive sarcasm
    High barrier to entry: Understanding context and meaning
    I typically find your writing typically thoughtful and insightful and I was quite surprised to see you use modern art as a punch line. I can’t say that I ‘get’ all of (or even most of) modern art, but there have been many evocative creations.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    @Jeremy: I didn’t say there is no good modern art.
    I’m just saying that bad modern art and good modern art are very hard to tell apart.
    So I don’t understand what your point is.

  • http://www.digitalsolid.com Jeff Larche

    Your post funny, and like most humor, has a lot of truth in it.
    You’re right that barrier to entry is low, so of course the blogosphere is lousy with SM “experts.” I’m reminded of something that Martin Amis (a brilliant novelist, by the way) once wrote about poets. To paraphrase, he wrote that no “real” poet is capable of operating a car.
    Although this could be said for a lot of modern artists (residing outside of LA at least), most social media experts have managed a driver’s license, at least for the rental car drive from airports to marketing conferences. 🙂
    Your blog is a new one for me. I look forward to following it.

  • http://rubenlicera.com/social-media-expert RLCOMM l Social Media Expert

    Thanks for sharing this blog!!You need to have many skills in social mediato be socially successful in real life. You need to establish a respect and presence before you will earn respect, authority, and the ability to succeed

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