The PlanetLotus effect

Volker has been having fun with PlanetLotus over the past day or so, pointing out in the comments that:

People tend to follow the herd. Large numbers lead to larger numbers, or in a swarm effect: more fish. And “more fish” does matter, since you are not writing this for yourself, or do you? A site like Digg (or Connections for that matter) leads more people to “popular” links. Making a link appear more popular leads to more people following that link, which ultimately means more readers. Pimping your posting on Twitter with a link through PL helps you achieve that. Apparently, a lot of people have recently discovered that effect, so it was time to level the playing field. And thus, this demonstration.

However, from my point of view, this isn’t the biggest side-effect of PlanetLotus’ overwhelming (and well-deserved) success in this community.  

My concern is the impact that site has on what people post and how quickly they post it.

This is just MHO, but I find that I am tending to check PlanetLotus before I post any content to check that others haven’t already posted it.  Whereas previously you would have regularly seen 4 or 5 posts on the same topic from different people’s points of view, I think this is happening less and less often, meaning that there fewer different views being posted.  Of course there are still situations where that does occur, and debate does take place within blog comments.  However, it does concern me that PlanetLotus could act almost as a proactive filter on content being posted.  Now this might be a good thing – less “echo-chamber”, less duplication etc.  But I have to say it concerns me that one site can have such a large influence in this way.

Secondly, it puts the pressure on to get new content blogged quickly, else one is in danger of appearing as a “me too” following rapidly after someone else’s post on the same subject.  The impact that this might have is that topics aren’t being thought through as they might be otherwise.  Unfortunately this is compounded by the inability to refresh PlanetLotus after a post is displayed, meaning that any typos, mistakes or ill-considered remarks are set in stone.  

Just to reiterate, I love PlanetLotus from a reader’s perspective and go there regularly each day to catch up on the news.  I applaud Yancy’s work on it and congratulate him on the site’s success.  However, I do worry about the “PlanetLotus effect”, and whilst it might just be me over-analysing the situation, I do think we should be aware that it does have a huge impact – both positive and (sometimes) negative.

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!