Are You Posting into a Black Hole?

Bob Leggitt | Thursday, 5 December 2013 |

How do you feel about posting on the Internet?... If you walk away for a month, will you still be in the limelight when you come back? If not, and you constantly have the feeling that you need to say something at least once a day in order to stay on the radar, you could be posting into a 'Black Hole'...



‘Black Hole’ content management is a massively prevalent but insufficiently identified style of website operation, employed by UGC (User Generated Content) platforms. The concept, whether by intention or as a happy accident, induces users to post far more regularly than they’d need to on a site of their own. Twitter epitomises this type of setup, but most socially-driven platforms have the same modus operandi.

The Black Hole system is insatiable, consuming everything users throw into it – typically within a matter of hours. Rather than aiming to preserve and make permanently available the best posts from each user, a Black Hole site is engineered to almost immediately bury everything out of sight. Therefore, anyone who wants to remain in the limelight MUST keep posting. It doesn’t matter how good the content supplied to these Black Hole sites is – it’ll quickly disappear from view, into a backwater no one generally explores.

Content theft is rife on these sites, so even if material does survive for a longer period, all recognition of the original poster may be lost. The mentality which prompts users to steal content on a Black Hole platform is primarily down to the Black Hole system itself. Virtually no one could legitimately supply the quality and quantity required in order to ‘stay on the radar’, so they’re compelled to cheat, and that means surreptitiously (or not so surreptitiously) re-using other people’s work.

HOW THE BLACK HOLE SYSTEM WORKS


The Black Hole environment is typically achieved by a) serving content on a feed to ‘followers’, and making that the primary method of access, and b) prioritising on post date (most recent at the top) rather than on quality. Whereas Google Search aims to respond to users by providing the very best of what they ask for (and that could mean the same posts remaining relevant and highly accessible for many years), the Black Hole sites simply keep replacing everything with newer additions. Users see a ‘timeline’, and at the top of that timeline is not the best material, but the most recent. Any site whose main feature is a timeline, is a Black Hole site. If, as a poster, you’re relying on a timeline to get your material to your audience, you’re posting into a Black Hole. That can be immensely soul-destroying, because the rewards for your efforts are only ever momentary.

Not only does the Black Hole system keep users' noses to the grindstone; it also keeps their eyes on the timelines, and that makes monetising the site with ads effective, and highly viable for advertisers. Everyone wants to circumvent the Black Hole. By making that possible, but only for those who pay, the site gains huge commercial potential.

Black Hole sites aim to achieve a high visibility on the search engines for pages that matter to the business, but little or no regard is given to achieving good search visibility for users’ individual posts. This forces most or all users to depend on the site’s internal timeline for visibility, and that enslaves them to the timeline. Tumblr is a good example of a site which is actually built around a standard blogging platform, but which has been feature-disabled in such a way as to enslave the majority of users to the timeline and keep them pumping content into a Black Hole. It is still possible to circumvent the frustrating limitations Tumblr imposes and optimise for a lasting presence on the search engines, but it makes posting a massive chore, and the chore is getting greater with each update Tumblr makes.

WHY DO BLACK HOLE SITES WORK THIS WAY?


The simple answer is: because the system keeps users far more active. These sites know that their users are, above all, looking for attention (be it for commercial or egotistical reasons, or both), and the Black Hole system puts everyone on an attention-treadmill. Users can’t just make a few important contributions and ‘dine out’ on them for evermore. The attention comes only in a short burst after a post – IF you’re lucky. It’s enough to keep users hungry, but never enough to satisfy them.

Beyond instant and promptly forgotten feedback, there’s never anything to be gained by the user directly from Black Hole sites. By and large, the users are all so wrapped up in trying to stay on the radar, they overlook the fact that the site is pocketing the fruits of their relentless efforts. That, I suspect, is the whole idea.

If users ‘get’ that they’ll only stay in mind for as long as they’re feeding the almighty mouth, and aim to ‘use’ these sites, rather than let the sites use them, there’ll probably be little harm done, and many users will indeed benefit. But timeline-based sites are staggeringly voracious, and nothing you feed them should incur you in serious effort. Use them to promote your work, but don’t let them have the work itself. The former could be a recipe for success, but the latter is only likely to end in bitterness. Knowing from the outset, as a user, that "you are the product", is a healthy way to go in. If you don't see yourself as the product, and you're posting purely to feed a timeline, with no reward beyond momentary bursts of digital applause, stop now. In five years' time, you'll be so glad you did.

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