Plurk Fever

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If you haven’t yet been introduced to Plurk, the newest and fun-nest micro-blogging service out there, you’ve been missing something good.

You’ve probably seen the Plurk timeline on the right-hand side of this blog (and those on my other blogs). It provides real-time updates of my “plurks,” or mini-posts and gives those of you who care an idea of what’s going on in my life at that moment. Like Twitter, Plurk limits your posts to 140 characters, but the difference between the two sites (and likely what makes Plurk so addictive) is that, unlike Twitter, your “plurks” are each given their own boxes so that people can respond directly to your posts. It makes it easy to keep track of who’s responded, what they’ve said, even when someone has posted a new respones. Twitter, for example, lists each tweet on one page, and while people can respond directly to each of your tweets, you have to go to a separate page to see the response better. Plus, Twitter doesn’t make it easy to keep track of your friends; if you want to see older posts from, say, 12 hours or 12 days ago, you pretty much have to go through several pages and find the ones you want. If you have a lot of Twitter friends, that can make for some serious searching.

Plurk, on the other hand, provides a horizontal timeline of your conversations with friends. It tells you if any new plurks or responses have popped up and will take you directly to those new messages and responses with one click. You can then choose which conversation you want to follow by simply opening up each message box.

I’ve found Plurk to be much, much more addictive than Twitter. One of the ingenious inventions of the Plurk folks is the whole concept of karma. Forget the Dalai Lama for the moment; on Plurk, your “status” in the Plurk community is all about your karma. You gain karma points by posting “quality plurks” every day; updating your profile; getting people to respond to your plurks; and inviting your friends who aren’t on Plurk to join in. You can, however, lose karma points if you, say, miss a day of plurking or if someone rejects your request for “friendship.”

One of the funniest and oddest things I’ve found in the short time I’ve been on Plurk is how zealously attached people become to their karma levels. On the one hand, it’s amusing to read people’s anguished posts about losing karma because they took a day off or because Plurk was down for an unusually long time (happened a lot this weekend). On the other, it’s crazy to think that something so arbitrary as karma from a mere Web site (and remember, there’s no money or fame or even M&M’s tied into karma — they’re just random numbers) can drive people so batty. People have gotten angry at losing karma. People have threatened to storm the Plurk castle because of losing karma. People have posted unnecessarily large numbers of plurks because they’ve lost karma. And it’s not even real karma. You don’t come back in your next life as a cockroach or anything. You simply…lose karma points. In a Web site. On the Internet.

Yeah. It’s weird.

Still, I love it. I love how much more interaction I’m getting from people. I’m cynical enough to wonder if perhaps part of the reason why people “friend” me is because they want to gain more karma points. I’ve grown tired of the handful of Plurk friends who “friend” me, only to do nothing but send what’s essentially Plurk spam by posting only links to their latest blog posts. They don’t post anything else, nor do they bother responding to my or other people’s plurks. I’ve seen people become overly concerned about “de-friending” someone, whether they’re on the “losing” end or if they’re the ones who want to “de-friend.” The psychology of Plurk is what fascinates me the most, but I’ve also met some amazing friends, from whom I’ve gleaned so much non-Plurk wisdom about the Internet, blogs and social media.

One thing that someone pointed out is that, unlike Twitter, Plurk doesn’t necessarily reward the “big guns” of the Internet. In other words, in order to gain the karma status so coveted by Plurk folks, one actually has to do more than throw up a bunch of links to one’s high-trafficked blog. You gain points by interacting with your fan base and writing frequent plurks. No slacking allowed here. And unlike Twitter, where being “un-followed” doesn’t result in a diminished Twitter status, each person who “de-friends” you on Plurk means the loss of more karma points.
I haven’t de-friended anyone yet, but I have learned to be a little more careful about adding friends. Once you have more than a couple dozen, it can be difficult to keep track of and respond to everyone’s conversations in a meaningful way, even with the help of the timeline. I’ve seen a couple of my “friends” who do nothing more than post “good bye!” and “hello!” messages on my plurks, which I don’t mind, but I would have liked them to be more engaged in conversation. Still, some of these friends obviously have dozens, if not hundreds of friends of their own, and I can’t even begin to imagine how they keep track of them all. At some point, people are going to start being ruthless and “de-friending” those who don’t interact with them. And then — horrors! — you start losing the karma points you invested so much time harvesting.

I’m curious as to how Plurk will play out in the war for more eyeballs in the social media sphere. If it can attract more people like myself — i.e., the “civilians” of the Web 2.0 world, those who don’t necessarily make their living writing/blogging/analyzing social media tools and the Internet — I can see it overtaking Twitter, whose interface I still don’t like, although I maintain the account just because, well, everyone has one.

Possibly the one thing that can stunt Plurk’s growth is their recent display of more frequent downtimes and outages. The weekend (Friday through Sunday) especially saw some complete downtimes, with no one being able to plurk for hours. I saw it as a good thing, in a way, as the addictive nature of the site means that any downtime can be a welcome excuse to actually get work done. But it didn’t endear Plurk to its new followers, especially those who’ve only been on the site for a few days (which includes a lot of my new friends). I’m wondering if it’s suffering from the same fate as Twitter, which still can’t seem to handle its massive traffic growth and is actually down as I type this. Let’s hope it’s just temporary on Plurk’s part. Addictive or not, I do miss my friends.

Stay tuned for a round-up of Plurk-related posts on fellow Plurker’s blogs tomorrow!

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