Posted by: P. K. | 27th May, 2008

Scobleizer v. copywriter: do social networks enhance productivity or are they a waste of time?

An excellent debate is going on at Robert Scoble’s blog. It’s started by an email from a professional copywriter named Bob Bly as thus:

As a Fast Company subscriber, I occasionally read, with much bewilderment, your column.

What bewilders me is why you are excited about the things you write about.

I am not being facetious but ask the question respectfully — and I hope you might write a column to answer it.

I can’t understand why anyone would bother with or get excited about all the Internet and electronic stuff you talk about.

It seems to me that all these things — Twitter, Facebook, iPhone, Flickr — are a thundering bore and an utter waste of time.

I don’t have any of it — for that matter, I don’t own a Blackberry, iPod, wireless laptop, or even a cell phone — and I get along fine without them.

In fact, I’d say my productivity is greatly enhanced by not fooling with all these useless gadgets or reading the endless blather on social networking sites.

Can you help an old guy from the old school understand what he’s missing?

P.S. Your column is well written and there are obviously a legion of people who get all this stuff. I’d like to see if I could become one of them or at least understand what all the fuss is about.

It triggers a lengthy response from Scoble which is interesting in its own right. But what’s more interesting is that, odd may his email sound to you, Bob Bly is not your average Internet dummy. He has a website. He operates a newsletter. He blogs, posts frequently, has a pretty respectable following, and engages with his readers through comments. You may even subscribe to his blog through RSS or PageFlakes. And one of his businesses nowadays is to do consulting work on e-marketing and landing page. He makes between US$4,000 and US$10,000 a week from his business. Alright, it’s odd that he doesn’t have a mobile phone, but at least he does write emails. In short, Bly is no n00b — far from it, he’s perhaps more Internet savvy than I am.

That’s why I think Scoble has gotten it wrong in his reply — what Bly has asked is not your granny asking what’s the use of the Internet, or William Gladstone asking Michael Faraday what’s the practical value of electricity. Rather, the crux of Bly’s question is this: can an Internet practitioner perfect his/her job without using (or wasting time on) social networks? And this sounds like a perfectly sensible question to ask, which deserves respect and not trivialising.

And my take on this debate is this. While the Twitters and the FriendFeeds of this world (and, about a year before, the Flickrs and the Diggs) have become the daily bread and butter of some parts of Silicon Valley, it’s still far from being quintessential to the majority of the world who do reasonably well on the Internet. How many Twitter users are there, when compared with the world Internet population? It’s as well that those who write and blog and make influence in the tech world write more about those tools dearest to them, but it’s time to reflect whether these stories justify their amount of coverage. After all, we do not expect more stories on MacBooks simply because more than 50% of bloggers use a MacBook, great as they are. Otherwise, the tech world media risks writing for the mythical audience of 53,651 and not for the many.



  1. Interesting and well written summary PK! There does seem to be a somewhat obsessive focus on these social networking apps lately.

  2. Not to nitpik, but I am a copywriter, not a copyrighter — meaning I write marketing copy.

  3. One of the best things to do is get paid what you like to do. For example, if you love to write blogs, you make money doing that. There’s site coming out call Where basically they’ll pay you to write reviews about a product.

  4. @Bob Nice to meet you here. Of course you are entitled to nitpik on your title — the typos have been corrected.

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