Vanity Sells

If there is one thing that social networks have exposed about the human condition, it’s that we are much more vain than we presume. All across the internet there are recorded traces of people motivated to share pictures of themselves, seek upvotes, attain badges and farm up so-called “internet karma”. This is by no means an exhaustive list of attainable metrics, but these have been categorically the most effective methods of objectifying vanity. Viewing this from pretty much any lens other than the one that I’m about to provide, usually leads us to the conclusion of “it makes no sense why people want useless internet points”. But they do.

Why on earth do people try to get worthless internet points? 

This question has long plagued us since the dawn of internet point based systems and will continue for a long time. It simply doesn’t make any sense for us to attain points that aren’t fungible – as opposed to say, money, which is. The most visible of these today being “karma” and “likes”. So, I’m offering an explanation:

We are all inherently vain.

We’ve only just recently exposed this vanity by attributing a clearly identifiable objective system – “karma”, “likes”, “points” – whatever you call them. They sound meaningless on the surface, but everyday people spend minutes, hours, and even days on end attaining them, with no clearly articulated goal.

If you’re a mid to late 20′s adult like myself, you may notice that your Facebook feed is littered with baby and marriage pics. There’s a simple explanation for this – they get the most likes. This has less to do with Facebook’s algorithm, and more to do with our own mind optimizing for number of likes. Sounds silly doesn’t it? I think it’s a lot less silly than we presume.

Here’s an example of how vanity is being transferred with the transmittance of real currency as opposed to social currency. Believe it or not, but today people are spending billions of dollars on digital vanity mediums and statuses on popular “free to play” gaming platforms. This is everything from popular mobile apps such as Candy Crush and Clash of Clans to the more hardcore e-sporting games such as League of Legends and Dota 2. My favorite explanation of this is by Gabe Newell, founder (and CEO?!) of Valve:

Why do people buy Porsches?

The most important takeaway is, in my opinion, that vanity is no longer about physical products. People will buy vanity and status only if there is a market liquid enough for them to purchase themselves into. What I mean by this is that you can’t simply attempt to sell vanity points to a small community. It has to be at scale. Extend this concept even further as we progress into an economy that will be mostly based on experiences (read -> entertainment) and this gets even more interesting. As the only monetization strategy will be to simply scrape dollars off of vanity seeking humans. What we will see and continue to see for that matter, is companies spending oodles of money creating large scale communities, simply to create a marketplace for new vanity measures. This is the real monetization power.

So next time someone says “well that’s just stupid, because <insert internet karma points name here> don’t mean anything”. Actually they do. I’ll bet you a billion dollars they do.