3 Must Read Books for Social Media Advocates, Addicts & Sharecroppers

3 Must Read Books for Social Media Advocates, Addicts & Sharecoppers

These are three books I recommend we should all read.  The strength of the Internet and promise it held to empower individuals has been hobbled considerably.  In fact, I’d argue that rather than holding promise as a tool of empowerment, the Internet is causing us harm.  Corporate entities have co-oped the Internet turning it into a tool, to monitor our activities and manipulate our behavior, to better sell us things.

These books delve into how corporations are exerting increasing levels of control and how this impact us.  Lanier’s, Who Owns the Future, discusses how corporation with the largest servers exert monopolistic ownership over the web making it difficult for individuals to profit from their labor.  Turkel’s book, Alone Together, discusses how our constant connectivity through social media leads to a new form of social isolation.  Finally, Pariser’s, in his book The Filer Bubble explains why, despite super powerful search technology, we are actually accessing less information.

We have all seen the effects; as we observe a couple, dining out, fully engrossed in their smart phones rather than each other; maybe it is the feeling we have that there are no new perspectives online; or the frustration we experience having our email, browsing habits and social contacts scrutinized so that we can be more effectively bombarded with advertising.

The emergence of social media, the launch of Amazon, Google, even Wikipedia, promised to eliminate barriers to entry and empower individuals with greater connectivity, reach, lower prices and fast access to information.  Instead we now have oligarchies abusing their power in pursuit of more and more money.

These three authors address these issues, and more, with far more clarity and completeness than I can:

the-filter-bubble-150The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think by Eli Pariser

Penguin Books (Paperback: 304 pages April 24, 2012)

In December 2009, Google began customizing its search results for all users, and we entered a new era of personalization. With little notice or fanfare, our online experience is changing, as the websites we visit are increasingly tailoring themselves to us. In this engaging and visionary book, MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser lays bare the personalization that is already taking place on every major website, from Facebook to AOL to ABC News. As Pariser reveals, this new trend is nothing short of an invisible revolution in how we consume information, one that will shape how we learn, what we know, and even how our democracy works.

The race to collect as much personal data about us as possible, and to tailor our online experience accordingly, is now the defining battle for today’s internet giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Behind the scenes, a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking our personal information to sell to advertisers, from our political leanings to the hiking boots we just browsed on Zappos.

As a result, we will increasingly each live in our own, unique information universe—what Pariser calls “the filter bubble.” We will receive mainly news that is pleasant, familiar and confirms our beliefs—and since these filters are invisible, we won’t know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation and the democratic exchange of ideas.

Drawing on interviews with both cyber-skeptics and cyber-optimists, from the co-founder of OK Cupid, an algorithmically-driven dating website, to one of the chief visionaries of U.S. information warfare, The Filter Bubble  tells the story of how the Internet, a medium built around the open flow of ideas, is closing in on itself under the pressure of commerce and “monetization.” It peeks behind the curtain at the server farms, algorithms, and geeky entrepreneurs that have given us this new reality, and investigates the consequences of corporate power in the digital age.  Join our online conversation about this book


alone-together-150Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

Basic Books (Paperback: 384 pages, October 2, 2012)

In Alone Together, Turkele argues that we are at a point of decision and opportunity. Technology now invites us to lose ourselves in always-in mobile connections and even in relationships with inanimate creatures that offer to “stand in” for the real. In the face of all this, technology offers us the occasion to reconsider our human values, and reaffirm what they are.

Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication. But, as MIT technology and society specialist Sherry Turkle argues, this relentless connection leads to a new solitude. As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down. Alone Together is the result of Turkle’s nearly fifteen-year exploration of our lives on the digital terrain. Based on hundreds of interviews, it describes new unsettling relationships between friends, lovers, parents, and children, and new instabilities in how we understand privacy and community, intimacy, and solitude.  Join our online conversation about this subject.


who-owns-the-future-150Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier
Simon & Schuster; (Paperback: 448 pages, March 4, 2014)

Jaron Lanier is the father of virtual reality and one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers. Who Owns the Future? is his visionary reckoning with the most urgent economic and social trend of our age: the poisonous concentration of money and power in our digital networks.

Lanier has predicted how technology will transform our humanity for decades, and his insight has never been more urgently needed. He shows how Siren Servers, which exploit big data and the free sharing of information, led our economy into recession, imperiled personal privacy, and hollowed out the middle class. The networks that define our world—including social media, financial institutions, and intelligence agencies—now threaten to destroy it.

But there is an alternative. In this provocative, poetic, and deeply humane book, Lanier charts a path toward a brighter future: an information economy that rewards ordinary people for what they do and share on the web.  Read our review of the hardcover version of this book.


These are just a few of the books I feel are important.  I’m sure there are many others.  Please share any you think are important in the comments section below or, if you are highly motivated, participate on one of the conversations linked above.

Troy Johnson

3 Must Read Books for Social Media Advocates, Addicts & Sharecroppers

Posted in 2014, books, Independence, internet, social media, Troy Johnson, Troy's Rants, Website Tips and Recommendations, writers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Join the Fight for Independence on the Web

Join the Fight for Independence on the Web

This article is intended for writers and other content providers, who are active on social media and have a goal of generating revenue from their content.  However, people who use social media to share photos and thoughts with friends and family can benefit from reading this article too.

The best way to experience AALBC.com’s content is not through the peep hole of a 140 character tweet or a stripped-down, plain text post on a Facebook wall, but by visiting the website and enjoying our curated, multimedia content.  This may sound obvious to anyone reading this blog post.  However, given the energy I’ve invested posting content on a variety of social media platforms, it might not be obvious by observing my behavior.

As a publisher of book reviews, interviews, videos and articles, I generate revenue by attracting visitors to this website.   For over 16 years I’ve been pretty good at it, particularly when you consider the content, books written by or about Black people, is not the most popular subject on the Web.

After years of experience using social media to market AALBC.com, I’ve noticed several adverse trends.  As a result, I’ve decided to not allocate my increasingly limited resources to social media.

“So Troy, why bore us with the details?  Why don’t you stop whining, take your marbles and leave social media already?”

Well this is issue is much bigger than me or AALBC.com.  In fact, I’ve been doing relatively well, compared to my peers, using social media to drive traffic to my website.  Consider a snapshot of the insights of an AALBC.com Facebook post highlighting the work of Peniel E. Joseph (less than 24 hours old at the time of this writing):

Peniel Insight Image

There is nothing unusual about this post. Some of my posts perform better, and others perform worse, depending upon the metrics considered.  As you can see (click the image for a enlarged view), the Peniel post was viewed 1,827 times in less than 24 hours and the link was clicked six times.  While this may not sound like a lot of clicks, the ratio between the number people who saw the post, and the number who clicked the link it contained, is relatively good.  Besides, it only took about 10 seconds to share the information.

“Now I’m really confused Troy.  If Facebook is working for you, then what are you complaining about?

The popular belief is social media is a mandatory tool for anyone interested in promoting their business.  The vast majority of us have brought into the hype without question.  The reality is everything we do on Facebook, to drive traffic to our websites, enriches Facebook and depreciates our websites.  The minor, short-lived, benefit some of us might extract individually is simply not worth what we give up collectively.

everythEverything we do on Facebooking-we-doPrior to the popularity of social media, generating traffic was much easier.  It was very common for a writers to refer visitors to other writers’ websites.  We had related links pages, web-rings, blog rolls and other ways of promoting and supporting each other online.  Today there better tools that could allow independent websites, acting together, to be much more effective at promotion that Facebook can alone.

The more power we give to Facebook, social media in general, the less control we have over what is seen on the Web.  I suspect you have already noticed the effect of social media’s dominance of the Web; scandalous or celebrity driven content is recycled and dominates what we see; sponsored content (paid advertisements) masks itself as news and editorial; and advertisements are embedded everywhere you look.

Another profound and troubling problem is the ongoing weakening of platforms dedicated to promoting Black books and authors.  In a 2011 article, Black Book Websites Need Love Too, I noticed that we were losing Black book website’s at an alarming rate.   That trend has continued; the remaining sites are receiving fewer visitors and generating less revenue as a result.  With less revenue, the ability to create content and attract visitors is diminished, furthering increasing downward pressure on revenue.  Pretty soon the website is no longer a viable business—assuming it ever was.

It is an extremely hostile environment for independent websites today.  Despite social media new websites have virtually no chance to build an audience.  So not only are we losing what we had, new websites are discouraged from ever launching.

Ironically, these conditions tend to drive people to social media even more, because it is much easier to establish a web presence on a social media platform than launch and maintain an independent website.  But the result is more people competing for attention on that social platform and everyone ends up being heard by fewer people.  The writers and potential readers are the losers.  The social media platform is the only winner.  Indeed, the more we struggle to be heard, by being more “social” or paying to promote posts, the more the social media platform profits—whether we connect with our readers or not.

If what we are losing from independent websites was compensated by equivalent content on social media, it would not be so completely tragic.  Not surprisingly, social media has failed miserably in delivering the richness and variety offered by individual websites.  This is understandable as the goal of social media is to maximize revenue for their owners.  Independent websites, on the other hand, are primarily driven by their mission.

Social media is seemingly an impossibly tough opponent in the competition for visitors.  As writers and owners of websites we can not continue to exacerbate the problem by fueling our competition with content and sending traffic directly to social media with every “Follow me on Facebook” request.  The trick is to exploit social media, not to allow social media to exploit us.

AALBC.com is not immune to these pressures.  I’ve been able to grow and monetize my eNewsletter, obtain concessions from vendors, use my time more effectively and leverage the support of partners in creative ways.

Actually, I’m not pulling up my social media stakes completely.  I plan to continue to share some of AALBC.com’s updates with on social media, but posts will executed remotely from AALBC.com, using AddThis.  For automated social media updates I’ll use Twitterfeed.  I suspect my remote and automated updates will eventually be shown less frequently by social media and therefore become less effective, but I will continue to adapt my strategies as I have done over the last two decades.

I will only engage with readers on independent platforms.  Engaging with readers on social media platforms about AALBC.com content is the activity that saps the most of my time and provides social media the most value.  In the past I often found myself engaging with readers on AALBC.com and multiple platforms over the same content—I can no longer afford to do this.

Today writers struggle over the effective management of their social media.  This is understandable as they are often judged more by the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers than the quality of their writing.   Again, many say social media is a requirement—in fact I was one of these people.  When you consider the fact, the majority of top earning authors barely use Twitter and many don’t even have an account, you have the question the value.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers.  This is a tough problem, but not an intractable one.  If we do nothing, diversity on the World Wide Web will continue to decline.  In exchange, we will be left with a handful of social media platforms algorithmically determining what we see and how we see it, invading our privacy and profiting from the content we provide.

My goal is not to get rid of social media (though personally, I would not miss it for split  second).  My goal is to ensure that independent websites not only survive, but thrive.  The last thing I want to see is a world where the presentation of Black books (our culture really) is controlled, owned and operated by a corporation, solely driven by profit.  With the closure of the most of the Black owned bookstores over the past decade, we are essentially at a place today where Black books can only be purchased online from Amazon.

Remember, as writers it is our content that provides the most value to social media.  It is time we work together to reap the fruits of our labor and stop the digital sharecropping.

I’m working with others to develop strategies for us all to utilize our collective websites, to share and promote our content.  If you are interested in learning more, sharing your experience or joining our effort, email me at troy@aalbc.com or share your ideas in the comments below.

Finally, if you are a writer with a website send readers to YOUR website and encourage them to engage you there.  If people are desperate to find you on a social media platform, they know already how to do it.  Social media does not need any additional promotion, but our websites certainly do.

Join the fight for independence on the Web.

Join the Fight for Independence on the Web

Posted in 2014, AALBC.com, partnership, social media, Supporting Literacy, Troy's Rants, Website Tips and Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

What is Wrong with Goodreads and Wikipedia?

…and why are they promoting Zane’s tax liability rather than her literary accomplishments?

“The Web is critical not merely to the digital revolution but to our continued prosperity—and even our liberty. Like democracy itself, it needs defending…”
—Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, Long Live the Web (Scientific American, December 2010)

Given the current corporate control over the World Wide Web, we don’t need to defend it we need to be protected from it.  The world wide web has taken another turn for the worse, in fact it has gotten down right nasty.

Recently, I ran a Google search on a one of AALBC.com’s best-selling authors, Zane.  It was very easy (too easy) to discover that Zane has been accused of owing local and federal tax authorities hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes.


snapshot of page #1 of Google search results for query, “zane author” on February 6th, 2014

One can argue that this is information is “news” and deserves to be thrust high on the 1st page of the search results.  I’m not one who’d make that argument.  However, I understand those who suggest Google is just giving people what they want to see.

When I reviewed Google’s top three search results, #1 Wikipedia, #2 Goodread and #3 Goodreads, I found that Zane’s tax liability was also prominently mentioned on those sites too!


It is worth pointing out here that Google ranks, Wikipedia and Amazon (who also owns Goodreads and Shelfari), ahead of Zane’s official website, Erotica Noir.  AALBC.com, which includes far more information about Zane than Wikipedia, is on the 2nd page of results.  The adverse impact on other independent websites, and those who would have visited those sites has been catastrophic.

#1 — Wikipediazane-wikipedia

Why on Earth would Wikipedia choose to include, “In 2014, she was cited by Comptroller of Maryland Peter Franchot as one of Maryland’s top tax cheats, owing the state $340,833.58,” in an encyclopedic reference of Zane?

Not only is this so called citation inappropriate, the use of the phase “tax cheats” is rude, insulting and reads more like copy from the National Inquirer, rather than an encyclopedia.

Why does Google consistently rank Wikipedia so high in it’s search results, particularly when there are so many other sites that have better information on any given topic covered by Wikipedia?  I noticed a year ago how both Amazon and Google were using Wikipedia’s content for commercial purposes.  That could provide one explanation.

#2 & #3 — Goodreadszane-goodreads

Similarly, Goodreads shares the following, “Roberts topped the list of tax cheats in the state of Maryland, a list released by Comptroller Peter Franchot in January 2014. She owes the state of Maryland about $340,000 in back taxes.”  That statement represents 23% of everything Goodreads has to say about Zane.

Did Goodreads not believe it worthy to mention Zane’s numerous and prodigious accomplishments?  Did they think Zane’s unresolved tax liability was more important than her making the New York Times best sellers list 26 times (at least), her philanthropic efforts, her work as a publisher, screenwriter and TV producer?

Perhaps it is because Zane is not a “Goodreads Author,” and Amazon wants her to join.

I’m also not a fan of Google’s current trend to return multiple pages from the same domain in a search result.  These search results are usually Google’s own properties (books.google.com) or Amazon.com’s.  These results are not just redundant, they crowd out other, often better, results—leaving those sites virtually undiscoverable through search.

This is Much More Than About Zane

Zane is one of the most popular writers today.  However what we learn about her on Wikipedia and Goodreads does not reveal this fact.  Indeed, what those sites are doing, fully supported by Google, is besmirching her reputation.

At least the newspapers, spreading this scandalous story about Zane, put the names of the authors next to their stories.  With Wikipedia and Goodreads there is no accountability, no ownership and no responsibility.

I first started to notice that Google was serving up scandalous information about authors, highest in the search results, a few years ago and wrote about it in 2011.

The manner in which Google controls the web has not escaped regulators in other countries (read the New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller and Mark Scott Feb. 5, 2014, Google Settles Its European Antitrust Case; Critics Remain).  Reaction U.S. government officials, sadly, has been virtually nonexistent.

I’ve been active online before the world wide web existed.  I have been building websites since the web became a commercial entity about 20 years ago.  This website, AALBC.com was started in October of 1997 almost 17 years ago.  I have also been a keen observer of Google since it was invented.  All of this experience, and data collected along the way, informs my opinions today.

Inspired by the freedom the Web offered, the ability to uplift and help share the stories of my diverse culture and people, and the ability to monetize those efforts led me to make AALBC.com my livelihood.

Sites like Google, Amazon and so many other initially served to complement my efforts.  But those days have been over for sometime.  A few years ago, an independent website with good content could expect to be discovered through a search engine query.  Today one has to pay for a sponsored search result in order to be found with the same ease as they would have been just a few years ago.  The quality of your content is not nearly as important as the depth of your pockets.  When Google first started it was much more egalitarian.

As a result, fewer new sites are launching.  If they do launch they languish unable to generate traffic.  Others try to establish a platform on social media, but that simply results in the social media platform being enriched, not the folks creating the content.

Before Google, or even an search engine, was on the web, sites were discovered through the efforts of people.  People shared information with others by word of mouth, through email and even a link on their website.

Today Google will have you believe you can hurt your site’s ranking in search results by linking to a lower quality site.  This actually discourages some webmasters from linking to other websites!  Meanwhile, rich social media sites have brilliantly brainwashed many of us to provide free advertising my making it a cliche to say, “Follow me on Facebook and Like me on Twitter,” often to the exclusion of their own websites.

If you want the web to be run by Google, Amazon and the hand full or other corporations that control the web, then do nothing.  If it does not matter to you that one of our most popular authors are disparaged, don’t lift a finger.

If anything I’ve written resonates please share this article.  You most likely did not discover it via a Google search or a link from a corporate website.  You found it because I (Troy Johnson) or someone else shared it with you.

The web needs defending more today than ever before.  No corporation will do this for us.  We must defend the web, our “prosperity—and even our liberty.”   Please share the article: (here is the link: http://aalbc.it/goodreadsfail).

You may also read additional commentary about this article here.

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Posted in 2014, AALBC.com News, Authors You Should Know, books, Troy's Rants | Tagged | 2 Comments