While there is lot’s of enthusiasm and sometimes over hyped investors reactions to what now is commonly known as web 2.0, there is also serious warning that it is flawed. I have written some earlier posts on it (here, here). Rolf Skyberg wrote a very nice article in which he basically states that social networking platforms such as Facebook and MySpace are really crappy interaction platforms. A quote from Rolf: ““Social networks” are the crappy proto-versions of a coming integrated “online” communication system. The future is not in social networks, but in the type of communication they represent. Social networks are just one form of that communication.”
And this morning I saw an interesting article by Seth Porges, called “Will Human Laziness burst the web 2.0 bubble“. In this article he states that although initially everyone is enthusiastic about setting up profiles in social networking applications, this enthusiasm wears down due to laziness. In the end people will not put the effort into these platforms.
I agree with Seth up to a certain level. People are spending far more time on their profiles, than on what these networks should be about, communication. We all have experienced this laziness once the initial “coolness” factor wears down.
There is also an interesting sidestep to this. I was pointed to Andrew Keen by this article in Emerce (in Dutch). Andrew argues that “the Internet is killing our culture and assaulting our economy”. He basically objects to the enormous amount of anonymous additions to the content of the Internet (Wikipedia as an example). The sources are not verifiable and the crowd that fills Wikipedia, Digg and other sites is essentially very small.
But,I don’t think that is the only reason why web 2.0 is flawed. A much more important reason why most web 2.0 platforms will not be sustainable in the end is that they were essentially not build to provide true value to its users, but instead they were build to create en leverage the value of a large network! The larger the network, the more value it creates to the platform owner in terms of advertisement revenues and of course the possible take over by one of the larger companies which have too much money to spend anyway. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t really help the user. Users are putting much more energy and creativity into the networks than they get out of it. Be honest, have you really gotten as much value from other (often unknown) “friends” on Facebook, Myspace etc than the amount of effort you have put into this?
So, what to do about it? Well, for starters, creating services that are truly centred around the user, instead of the network itself. Easy to say, very difficult to do. I don’t really believe in the yet another social network start-up in all kinds of niches. The efforts of service creators and the user should be focused on interaction, communication, not on profile building. Your profile is your communication and interaction with others.
I believe that next generation services will provide the user easy ways to do just that. Be in touch with their friends whenever they want, in which way is convenient to them. With open interfaces to all services (check out this article on developments here). No walled gardens on social networks, which basically enforce the seeking value in the network, instead of providing value to its users. Communication with true friends should be private, interaction with larger groups may be public (but only if the user chooses too). Sharing emotions, stories, pictures, real-life events will remain the main driver of such platforms. But not necessarily public, more e-mail like (but better). Social networks are not the main issue, Social interaction should be. It is this social interaction that creates value for the user, and in the end will also create value for the service provider and advertiser!
What do you think, what will next generations services be like? Do you agree that the current services will not survive once the dust clears, or am I missing the point?
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You are missing the point. The world of Web 2.0 is not only about facebook and myspace. Companies are leveraging Web 2.0 technologies like Wikis, Blogs and Discussion Boards to have meaningful conversations with their customers. These tools also provide self support mechanisms with user generated content that rivals the quality that could be produced in house.
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Alex, I agree with you – the iceberg for the web 2.0 titanic is the fact that the social networks are self-focused instead of being user-focused.
I only believe that those who rule the party of social networking are smart enough to somehow force the evolution of the networks into something more like what you ahve described, and do so before the “dust clears”.
In regards to what Seth Porges’ post… His statements are on the surface but there is a doze of true… Everybody knows that most of the profits generated in media sphere are somehow based on people’s lazyness, and the social networks will not only keep that in mind while developing, but they will also utilize it to bring more and more revenues…
In general, the topic is endless….
Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. I understand what you mean. The interaction between companies and their customers has indeed improved with these new technologies. Perhaps I should have talked about social networks and all services in that perticular area, instead of web 2.0 (too much generalisation here). I was referring more to the way many of the social networks are focussed on value creation of the network, instead of its users.
Josh had a post over at http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/gmail_can_be_a_social_network_aggregator.php that seems similar to me.
It echoes your sentiment about the flaws of web 2.0 and my sentiment that the problem is that social networking really ought to be a feature of the Web rather than a destination.
When everything exists as a *page*, there is still a tremendous amount of inefficiency searching/browsing those pages. My theory is that what’s “broken” (if I may call it that) with social networking / web 2.0, etc , is that we’re forcing the “people web” onto the same structure as the “content Web”. People aren’t content, in real life.
If you were to implement people as a separate layer of the Web, as a feature of the current tools we use (browser, for instance) that stay with us wherever we browse to, instead of as more pages, you could index the people in a much different way and add social networking value across users’ entire experience, while they’re shopping, searching, blogging, etc.
Jordan, thanksfor the comment. I have written earlier about integratoion of services into the browser. Much better alternative. I might write another post about that shortly. There was also an interesting conversation on e-mail being the ultimate social environment in GigaOM. Pretty good stuff there as well:
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Hi Alex – thanks for a great post.
I agree with your opinion that we’re currently not getting as much value out of social networking sites as we should, but I disagree with your viewpoint on why that is the case. As I’ve written before (http://www.ux-sa.com/2007/09/structural-holes-and-online-social.html), the social capital embedded in networks are extremely beneficial to users – if they have the right connections.
In my opinion, the network is what it’s all about for the user — the network *is* the need. That is where they will draw their information benefits and control benefits from (see the post linked above for definitions of these terms).
The flaw is not that social networking sites focus too much on the network, it’s that the user experience does not allow them to tap the full potential of their networks. Access and use of the resources in a network are dependant on an actor being aware of their presence. If an actor is not aware of ties or relationships between him and other actors, he cannot use the resources available to him. Social capital then seems not to exist, and will only come into existence for that actor once he becomes aware of it. The user experience needs to help with this discovery for social networking sites to become truly valuable and fulfill the user needs that you talk about.
As for the solution to this dilemma, I am in full agreement with Rolf Skyberg on the creation of an open social network. But only if we get the user experience right, and that is going to be the tricky part, of course. It needs to be an experience and an interface that allows people to identify the most important actors in the network, and tap into the benefits of those networks easily and without boundaries. And it needs to do that without relying on too much user input because, come on, we’re lazy! 🙂
Again – great post and great discussion, thanks!