Why The Power Of Social Media Is Selfish Media – or – An Ode To Continuum

Rachel Nichols as Kiera Cameron in Continuum. (c) Kharen Hill
Rachel Nichols as Kiera Cameron in Continuum. (c) Kharen Hill

It has taken its sweet time, but the use of social media is finally settling in for me. Look, let’s be honest, I still don’t really know what to do with it. I am not a particularly social person. I like interacting with people, but have trouble just to be in contact with people out of nowhere.

For me, social media is more interesting for the part you don’t see; it informs me about myself. Yes, social media teaches me more and more about myself, or, better yet, it is helping me discover a part of all the functionalities available to use these days, that I would never have found out about. For me, it is more about the social-media-powered elements than really being social. But we are not there yet.

Let me illustrate this with an example; Continuum. It is a series I have never heard of before. It is brand new, pretty polished, and most likely aired in Canada. I haven’t seen it here yet, but it might be because I am simply not looking for it. It was NetFlix that offered it to me as a recommendation. That is the other thing, I am not scouting around for new things any more, I am getting it handed over on a platter. Doing a little bit of research shows that Continuum actually does really well, has some nominations, one win, and people really seem to like it.

Well, here you go. By use of social media I am going to provide this plug too, just maybe to get someone of you actually also just casually checking it out.

With the gazillion television channels, and then the load of web-enpowered services that allow us to watch even more television, just finding out what is all out there is useless. It is to be compared to go to the library with just the idea to get a book. You most likely will find a good book, but you will never know about all these other amazing collections of written words that are out there. And social media helps actually with that. And makes it fail quite hard too.

First, the good:

I like the way that NetFlix uses social media. It learns from my own ratings of movies and series, and compares that to what others rate, and finds similarities. I don’t know these people, they don’t know me, it is simply a system that starts working once it is used a lot, and it is working quite nicely. Pandora also has a sort like social-media platform behind it. By rating the songs that you hear, and comparing that to the millions of other ratings, it guesses what you might like based on your song selection. And by providing Pandora with more of your ratings, the bigger the fingerprint is that Pandora can match you with. I hardly skip any songs anymore on my Pandora account, because the selection is now so good that it almost always matches what I like.

Continuum was delivered to me this way too; as a top-10 recommendation by NetFlix. But, I almost did not watch it, simply because…

The Bad:

The ratings themselves do not work. At least, not for me. I think rating something a certain amount of stars works fine. But it doesn’t work for me to see someone else’s rating. Because, it is of absolutely no value to me. And I don’t need to see it. If you watch the series, and decide to give it 1 star while I give it 4 stars, I don’t care. Social media is actually about anti-socialism. It is about narcissism, it is about making yourself heard. To show yourself. This is not about being pretentious, it is simply true.

The name social media is completely wrong. It is about you. And it is about your networks, your friends, your life. It is not about someone else’s. NetFlix is there to serve me. That is why I pay them. It sounds absolutely selfish, but you have to understand what I am saying here. I love it that NetFlix tells me that it recommends the series of Continuum. And that should be it. Just like Pandora, I should trust it. Pandora doesn’t show me any ratings. I can simply say that I like it or not. And it is fine. It recommends music, and if I like it or not, I rate it. Pandora makes me feel as if it is simply listening to me. It doesn’t tell me I should listen to it because everyone likes it. I don’t care. Music, movies, books… they are so personal in taste, that it is not of any value to me what how many others think of it.

Worse, there are enough people around who will not watch, listen, read or like something purely because so many people like it. Don’t bring others in my personal experience.

Continuum showed up with 4 stars. And that is why I almost did not watch it. Why didn’t have my personal recommendations 5 stars? Who are these people who like it? What if all the people liking it were people related to the show and Canadian, while I am Dutch, living in the USA, and never have been involved in developing a television show. I don’t feel related. As it turned out, NetFlix was right on the money. But that is what it should be, NetFlix, to me, is right on the money. When I rely on our electrician in rewiring our house, I rely on his experience and expertise. That he built it up because of other people, fine, but it is his knowledge that I am counting on.

The same goes for NetFlix. They should man up, and just mention that they recommend it. No stars, no ratings; ‘Peter, I’ve got a series here for you you really are going to like.’ ‘Oh, thank you NetFlix! I will watch it right away!’. NetFlix is my friend. So NetFlix should claim that honor. That they have learned to form their opinion because of thousands, or millions of others, is not important. That is called experience.

Just like with Amazon. Amazon gives the ratings in the famous five stars. But because there are so many nay-sayers, people who are negative about everything, the ratings become distorted. It is something I mentioned earlier on social rating systems like with the release of Mass Effect 3, which became a historical example of a critically and publicly massively highly rated game, but a large vocal group, smaller than the positives, were not happy with the ending, and bashed the ratings down in Metacritic, eventually even leading to the ‘retirement’ of the founders of BioWare. The company had to work around the clock to rebuild the public opinion, and with their extended edition of the game, in my opinion, destroyed a beautiful and strong ending. Or in other words, other people’s ratings were not in my best interest.

Amazon even now splits up their social ratings on products; top positive and top negative. Which actually defies the whole purpose. Because, now a product more or less gets two ratings. The rating from people who don’t like it, and the rating of people who do like it.

That is why, for movies, I stopped reading any ratings at all and I would not let my mind being set up by RottenTomatoes anymore. I would simply find a critic that I share a lot of taste with, and rely more on that person. Sure, it might not always be an exact match, but more or less, it feels like having someone who helps you out, instead of a complete anonymous crowd that I don’t know.  Sadly enough, my personal movie critic, Roger Ebert passed away earlier this year, about which I will write more in a following posting.

So, I do see the power about this social-empowered recommendation system, but it still can use a lot of tweaking. But then, nobody said we are done with developing it, so it will be interesting to see where it goes.

But for right now; if you don’t mind some small inconsistencies, like SF, and an original storyline with actually very good special effects; I will recommend Continuum.

Your personal tv-series critic. Out.

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