In one of my all-time favorite movies (especially for enduring quotes) The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya turns to Vezzini after hearing him say “Inconceivable!” one too many times and says rather earnestly: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.“
One of the problems when you’re in the business of communication is that words are kind of slippery. One day you’re happily using a word the same way you’ve used it for 20 years when along comes someone and uses it in a way that is not at all the same way you and pretty much everyone you know has been using it and the next thing you know, the new definition has caught on with a bunch of people.
The biggest problem with this happening isn’t that the definition changes – it’s that it stays the same some of the time but not all of the time. And it can get pretty confusing when you run up against someone who really doesn’t seem to care if his or her usage fits the word’s meanings any of the time at all.
Is there a way to tell if someone is using the old version, the new one, or the utterly wrong one?
In theory, it can usually be determined by context. Say, for example, the phrase ‘social media’ (because it’s such a good example.) If I said “we use social media to transmit our message on the Internet and to hear back other peoples’ replies,” and Bob said “we’re hiring a Social Media Expert to figure out our strategy,” and Susie said “we need to get some of this social media to put on the Twitter and Facebook accounts.” You could pretty easily tell that I was using an older definition, Bob was using one that has become common acceptance, and Susie is not someone you should ever let near the Internet.
But what if the context is used to hide the meaning so that you will mistake one for another?
See, that’s what prompted this post. I read something that made me realize that a word had been co-opted to mean something else, and then had been put into paragraphs that contained sentences with the original meaning in such a way that it was easy to confuse the two. I’m not sure if it was intentional – but it sure is messy.
My always-worth-reading friend Geoff Livingston (seriously, he’s always worth reading, even when you don’t want to like what he says) had posted to his Facebook wall the pie chart to the left accompanying the text:
More than half of all content shared on the web occurs via Facebook.
So like the half-sleepy, ready-to-be-impressed audience member I was. I saw it, used the “share link” to put it on my own Facebook
wall and into the newstreams of my friends with a pithy remark.
Only then I realized that if you look closely, there’s just no way that any of those numbers add up to 56%. 38, 34, 17, 17… even if you’re a C student in math, those don’t ever add up to 56%. (*Edit: apparently TechCrunch readers are not easily fooled – they added up the 106% and commented – this brought an updated chart from Comscore 18 hours after this entry was initially posted.)
Rats. Suckered by a Pretty Pie Chart & an impressive sounding statistic!
I looked more closely. I clicked through the link that promised me such interesting math! All the while thinking with my critical voice now “Wait a minute… half of all content shared on the web occurs via Facebook. That sentence doesn’t just have grammar issues, it’s also impossible. Facebook isn’t in China and they share enough content over there to make a significant dent in that figure. What are we defining as “the Web” now anyways? And does the sharing occur on Facebook, or does the shared content reside/occur on Facebook?” By thus time I was clicking through to yet another link to ‘read more’ and I had a new chart with more info (seen far right).
Now suddenly there was an added metric at the bottom “Sharing is 31% of site referral traffic!“ and a mystifying headline about “Clicking on Links by Sharing Channel“. There was also a slew of incomprehensible text that sounded like it should be good, until you tried to make sense out of it instead of just basking in the numbers.
Facebook clearly dominates in the sharing category, accounting for 38 percent of all sharing referral traffic (the next closest are email and Twitter, tied at 17 percent each.) And that’s just the percent of folks who click through.
When examining the raw numbers (links shared but not clicked on), the figure is even higher. In that case, Facebook accounts for a whopping 56 percent of all shared content on the Web, up 11 points from August, 2010. - via allfacebook.com
Well, at lest now I know where the 56% in the headline came from. But I’m even more lost. Because someone clearly has taken the words “share” and “sharing” and has given them alternate meanings. If 38% if all sharing referral traffic comes from Facebook, how does that number go up if you take out the links “shared” but not clicked on?
By share here, do we mean “displayed”? or do we mean something else – because if we’re using share like “display” then the first sentence is whacko “38% of all displayed referral traffic” doesn’t make sense. But if we remove the folks who click through? Then apparently those Facebook people have shared even more. (Which really makes no sense now, does it?) What metric makes “posts links about but that only about 1/2 of the people follow” makes the 56% metric meaningful in any way?
I had to get out of that mad logic loop!
The only place to go was to the source! There was something about a TechCrunch article at the bottom there. I went off to TechCrunch to save my sanity! ShareThis Study: Facebook Accounts For 38 Percent Of Sharing Traffic On The Web. Well, at least they got the 38% right, so th is must be better, no?
No. Not really.
Looking across the sharing and clicking habits of the more than 300 million people a month who pass links with a ShareThis button on over a million websites (producing 7 billion pageviews a month), a few things stood out.
Sharing is bigger than fans, friends and followers. Sharing generates almost half of the traffic for websites and brands that is created by search — 10 percent of website visits come from sharing. Sharing also accounts for 31 percent of referral traffic.
Or not. http://blog.sharethis.com/2011/06/06/sharethis-an…
“The study focuses on ShareThis’ database of sharing activity for the month of March 2011 and includes a detailed analysis of more than 7 billion sharing signals across all major sharing channels, specifically looking at the sharing patterns of more than 300 million monthly users across the top 1,000 publisher websites of ShareThis.” http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/06/sharethis-facebo…
Even TechCrunch’s article gets it right “Overall, sharing now produces an estimated 10 percent of all Internet traffic and 31 percent of referral traffic to sites from search and social. Search is still about twice as big.”
To put a nuance to it “shared on the web” is not the same as “posted somewhere else by using a ShareThis widget.” 56% of data reposted using a Sharethis button which only accounts for about 10% of internet traffic – that’s the line you’re looking for.