Egg, Meet Face: Zuckerberg’s Book Club Off to a Rocky Start
It looks like Mark Zuckerberg’s two-week-old book club isn’t having the rousing success that some in the media expected. And who’s fault is that? According to the WP, it’s not the fault of the media itself.
In an article titled Mark Zuckerberg’s book club is off to a pretty lame start, the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey notes the contrast between the media hype vs reality:
When Mark Zuckerberg invited 30 million people to his brand-new book club on Jan. 2, the Internet reacted hysterically: Sales of his first book pick, Moisés Naím’s “The End of Power,” skyrocketed overnight, jumping into Amazon’s top 10 books from its previous rank of 45,140th. The Atlantic predicted that the book club presaged some kind of big move into commerce. At the New Yorker and the New York Post and everywhere in between, pundits prepared to anoint Zuck “the new Oprah.”
But the new Oprah he is not.
See, when Zuckerberg actually hosted the first book club “meeting” — aFacebook Q&A yesterday with the book’s author, Moises Naím — he faced a problem familiar to far more plebeian bookclubs: Hardly anybody showed up. (And of those who did, few had actually read the book.)
And how exactly is that the fault of Zuckerberg? Did he proclaim himself the next Oprah? Did he write the articles that mistook the clicktivism of FB users joining his book club for real interest or actual participation?
In both cases, no.
As I recall from the story a couple weeks ago, he merely said that he planned to read a new book every two weeks and discuss it on Facebook. That was more in line with his ongoing efforts at self-improvements (the guy learned Chinese, yo) than a plan to be the next Oprah in any way shape or form.
Anyone who expected he would be the next Oprah (and then was surprised when it didn’t happen) got caught up in the hype.
As I pointed out two weeks ago, Zuckerberg may run a huge social network but he doesn’t have Oprah’s impact.
To be fair to the WP, they did get one point right; Facebook is designed such that it cannot be used as a book club:
There is, however, another far more technical problem here — and that’s more interesting, for our purposes. Simply put, thanks to its ranking and filtering algorithms, Facebook just doesn’t make a good place for this type of Q&A. For starters, those algorithms guarantee that the transcript is hopelessly jumbled by default, ordered not chronologically (as it would be on Twitter) or by community votes (as it would be on Reddit), but by some more abstract and randomized measure of quality.
The algorithms also mean that — though Zuckerberg advertised the book club to his 30 million followers, and though a quarter of a million people signed up for it — many of those people probably never saw the news of the Q&A with Naím in their feeds. Facebook had, in essence, hid its own news algorithmically.
This is, of course, a problem that every publisher and user faces on Facebook — its whims are both all-powerful and unknown! — but it’s ironic to see Zuck himself suffer this way. Several club “members” even wrote that they would have participated in the inaugural book club “meeting,” but they didn’t know it was happening.
“For some reason (algorithm?) this post only showed up in my notifications two hours after it was posted,” one woman complained. She had a good question for Naím, too: How will the power of algorithms change?
I’ll be honest; knowing that Zuckerberg had been hoist by his own petard made me smile. It’s petty, I know, but Zuckerberg getting tripped up by algorithms he helped create (and which many people have complained about) strikes me as poetic justice of a sort.