An interactive map that shows the relative popularity of media outlets by state? Sign me up! I am straight-up fascinated by this project between Bitly (the peeps who shorten web links) and Forbes. For instance, seeing my Oregon bathed in the pea soup green of NPR overflows my giant bowl of Portland pride. Notice I say Portland and not Oregon. That’s one of the issues with this study as it tracks social media sharing, and I seriously doubt residents in rural Oregon are chatting about one Melissa Block. Have you ever been to John Day? I didn’t think so.
Before I continue to point out some other concerns with this study/project, I want to stress how cool I think it is. They get a gold star for grabbing my interest, for making me share and care. Their advertisers should be pleased. Now, on with the rub …
“When you share or click a link on a social network like Facebook or Twitter, you’re most likely using a Bitly link.”
Uh, this was written by “friends” at Bitly. What’s in it for Bitly? Facebook has their own proprietary link shortener called fb.me. I’d have to research if they still use it, or if they’ve dumped it for another service. My point is, the way this is phrased, it is unclear how the process works and how many people are using these links. I may “likely” be using Bitly if it is shortened automatically due to an agreement with Facebook and Twitter, otherwise, I can assure you, I’m likely not. What’s the ratio of traditional hyperlinks to shortened links (regardless of ownership)? It’s also likely that the data makes claims about the population of Bitly users in a state and not the entire state of Oregon, for example. But it is more impressive to look at a map of the U.S. vs. a map of Bitly users.
This is where I would expect Forbes, as a media outlet, to force their friends at Bitly to show a little more Jolie leg, i.e. lift the shroud over the research and give us some numbers, please. I think a standard deviation is some sort of ho-hum night at a gay bar. So when I ask for more numbers, your eyebrow should be arched high, very high.
Pesky Apples and Oranges
Is the Onion (number one in Wisconsin) a media outlet? Here our “friends” at Forbes and Bitly conflate entertainment and news. This is actually a fun debate, and I typically come out on the side of potent vegetables as news; ditto for John Stewart’s show. But if it is news, I think we can all agree that an onion is not an orange, the Colbert Report is not the New York Times. The way information is delivered matters, in this case, to consumption and sharing. What does it mean that satire is more popular than reportage among Bitly users in Wisconsin? This is the state that has shown incredible union solidarity in the face of a particularly nasty Republican campaign to bust unions and feed the rich. I know this because I watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. What does this say about me? Are Bitly using Wisconsinites more inclined to share satire because they need more comic relief? Does the Onion simply “cover” Wisconsin more? If so, did this push this result or will Wisconsin Bitlyheads tweet the Onion out of some form of media pride, the way Portlanders drink NPR by the gallon and eat their libraries?
And what of the medium itself? Is there something inherently more “shareable” about print news over audio/visual news? If more people consume news at work, is the A/V content too obvious, i.e. more likely to be detected on the boss radar?
Finally, who are these Bitly users? We may assume they are on the computer holding side of the digital divide. This fact alone leaves a lot of people out. Again, I want numbers at the very least. Idaho peeps may indeed watch a lot of MSNBC, but you say potato and I say potato. I’m not sure which tots we’re talking about. Hey, Pennsylvania, pass the ketchup and the Huffington Post.
Link (non-shortened-heh,heh) to the Forbes story: