No feature that I can recall in recent memory has polarized the social news sphere more than the ability to mass-alert stories to other users for immediate votes. StumbleUpon has the “send to” feature, Propeller has “site-mail,” and Digg has “shouts.” As I’ve said before, the feature is a great one in principle but can be a horrible one in practice. As with any tool you give to people, half your job is to educate them on how to use the feature and set some guidelines so that it’s not abused.
Social media loses its soul if you take away the social aspects, and sharing stories with others is one of the most essential elements. Even without a shouting mechanism, these sites have had other methods of sharing. Each user has a profile where they can list their contact information, which you can use to share stories with them, and for the most part, email works just as well. Shouts (or site-mail, etc) are more controversial because they are so streamlined and because you don’t really need to know the user at the other end before you shout at them, that they can very easily be abused by spammers to promote bad content.
Personally, I think shouts serve as a stop-gap until more robust mechanisms are implemented that allow users to find stories that they would like to see (based on past activity and declared preferences, e.g., a recommendation engine) but haven’t seen yet. The same feature would also help determining which of your stories should be sent to which friends. That said, the solution is not to remove the feature, but to make sure it serves its purpose. In fact, most sites that have implemented a shouting feature have already realized that the system needs improvement. Digg doesn’t allow you to shout to all friends anymore, Propeller only allows you to do five at a time, and StumbleUpon has always allowed one at a time.
Prefaced with all that, here’s a look at how to use these sharing mechanisms without offending anyone’s sensibilities.
1. Embrace shouts. The first step to fair participation in the shouting system is to embrace shouts yourself. It’s simply unfair to be shouting at others while not accepting shouts back from them.
2. Shout to shouters. At a very basic level, when trying to determine who you should shout at, start off with those friends of yours who shout at you.
3. Shout once. Most people are okay with infrequent shouts, and many are even okay with one shout a day. Don’t, under most circumstances, shout the same story to the same person twice, or more than one story to the same person in the same day. Sharing is fun, but too much of anything is bad.
4. Don’t shout randomly. Chances are that many of your friends already checked out a submission from you. Check to see who’s already voted on something before you blindly start shouting at people who you shouldn’t shout at.
5. Get personal. Shouts are supposed to be your personal recommendation to other users. This is not always possible and not always efficient, but if possible, try to make your shouts personal. If it’s an article that is appealing to one particular user for some reason that you have discussed before, bring it up.
6. Shout eloquently. Shouting random submissions that you know aren’t getting traction because they’re no good is not the right way to go about sharing. Share only your best, and, if you can, good submissions from other users.
7. Don’t just shout. Sure, the feature is popular because it allows people to share stories, but at the same time it is a much more powerful on-site, micro-blogging tool. Don’t just use it to share stories. Use it to talk to other users, share your thoughts, send personal comments, or even shout to yourself to update your current status.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.