Already in 2006 Time Magazine voted the most important person on the planet to be YOU. They were dead wrong of course. In that year it wasn’t YOU that was important, it was THEM. Them meaning all of your friends you brought along to the different social networks that rose like volcano’s in a flat landscape. 2006 might have been the break through of many social networks and their FREE business models. These business models didn’t make YOU important, it made the network important (or social graph, only they didn’t use that terminology then).
Advertising networks gained momentum too. Everyone trying to get a piece of the Social Networking Walhalla harassing the user (that’s you) with advertisement. $ BLN dollar valuations of companies who’s main objective is to get those advertisement dollars rolling. The user gets his service for free, but as a result he has to put up with advertisement. That has got to be by far the worst nightmare of any Marketeer right? You have a potential customer, according to all of the semantic and contextual data the Social Networking site has collected for you. You show this potential customer an advertisement, making sure it fits the profile. Only to discover that this potential customer does the same thing he did in more traditional media, he ignores it. It is the catch 22 of web 2.0. Everyone trapped in the FREE business model where advertisement money is pumped around but the only one paying the bill is the advertiser who doesn’t get much value for his dear advertisement budgets. The social networking site is the laughing third party who collects the dollars. It’s a business model that can’t hold up much longer. At some point the advertiser should be doing his math and discover that he is paying an awful lot of money for social experiments that aren’t very effective. The nature of the business model is what is wrong with it. It is a business model based upon lock-in, upon force instead of freedom. You get a free service so you MUST put up with advertisement.
There is no end to the optimism of both web entrepreneurs and advertisers when it comes to the promises of web 2.0. Advertising, uhm I mean engaging with you customers, being able to use contextual and semantic information to serve him even better. The Über social graph is already being build by Facebook and the likes. And once the user is being tracked and traced across every destination he goes, the exploitation of that data surely will lead to the promised land.
The data collection going on on the web is immense. It is nearly impossible to visualise the amounts of data being collected by Google and everyone else. I’m betting the actual web and it’s data is probably an infinite small fraction of what is being stored on data hogging servers around the world. I can understand why it is being done (given what I just said above). But I can’t help but feel that it’s a rush to fool’s gold. I haven’t seen a computer algorithm yet that has mastered free choice. I don’t know any data profiling scheme that can make people behave like their profiles suggest. Human nature isn’t that simple. That doesn’t mean no one is going to make a lot of money on this. I’m just saying that I doubt that all of this profiling will provide the advertisement world much benefits. You can’t make me like your message, just because the data says so.
We see this behavior now already. Even though this data analysis is in it’s infancy and much better algorithms will be thought of. Ever clicked on a Facebook ad served to you? Well, not many have. Ever bought some product because when it got in the way of you interacting with a friend, you thought, “hey, that’s convenient, gotta get me one of those”. It just doesn’t work that way.
I tried out the Friendfeed recommendation that has just launched and the Friendfeed community is wild about. It will serve you the “best” of Friendfeed of the last day, week or month. Using it brought me 2 important lessons:
- I gotta get me some friends that aren’t Friendfeed fanatics. Almost every recommendation was a piece of content or discussion concerning this tool. Man these early adapters aren’t doing Friendfeed any favor with it. Hailing their trumpets, predicting the conquering of the entire world with a tool. Idiots in my opinion. Friendfeed is just a tool, and a nice one. But they are on to the same data collection I talked about earlier. Instead of just computer alogrithms, they try to use friends recommendations and discussions to filter out the important stuff. Too bad 90% of the discussion on Frienfeed is about Friendfeed itself. That data collection isn’t going anywhere for a while (Crossing the chasm is pretty difficult isn’t it). Or maybe it’s just me and my Friendfeed friends, I don’t know.
- I gotta get me some friends that aren’t discussing the “downfall” of Twitter. Yep, that is where the other pieces of content were talking about. Same early adopters. Same boring stuff. Morons of course. The early adopters might have jumped the Friendfeed wagon, Twitter is king of 140 characters. They don’t have to come up with noise filters, ranking algorithms, friends recommendations, semantic data collectors, or anything of the sort. They aren’t in the business of data collection and serving advertisement on that data. They are in the field of interaction. And interaction is the only thing that matters in web 2.0. Social Media consumption, creation, participation, it is all interaction. Sure they have stability issues and an angry early adapters mob against them. But they rule the 140 character world, and given the $ 1Bln spent in mobile SMS in 2007 I say Twitter has a better chance of becoming a successful social utility than Friendfeed.
I don’t like the sitting back and let the feeds come to you mechanism anyway. RSS has brought us really great ways to distribute content. But it has also killed the adventuring sprrit of the web user. Instead of wandering around this marvelous world of content and people waiting to interact, we sit back and let the feeds bring it to us. Such a waist of creative processes, of discovery. And such an incredible noise generator. We are screaming for noise filters, ranking algorithms, trust filters (who the hell thinks up this stuff), all to get a grip on the never stopping river of information flowing to us via RSS feeds.
Honestly, I don’t need filters to trust people, to know who ranks high or low, to know who is producing great content or noise. And I have serious doubts that ANY consumer outside the top web elite is dealing with that problem either. RSS is convenient but lazy. It brings you everything you always wanted, and a whole lot of noise with it. It needs noise filters, raking algorithms and all that other stuff. Computer algorithms telling me what to like or not. RSS is unintentional, it is sharing because we can. If there is no intent in sharing it pretty quickly becomes less valuable. That is why we all still love it to get an old fashioned letter or postcard in the mail. It is intentional and therefore so much more valuable. Try subscribing to less RSS feeds if you keep complaining about noise. It will solve your problem instantly.
I always have felt the Internet should evolve around you. Making you and the things you want to do most important. Not the data hogging, or the social graph. But that doesn’t mean that you can sit back and enjoy the ride. It also implies that you have a responsibility in this. You have to be willing to look around, to discover, to make choices. Not just let that RSS juice flow to you. I’m convinced it will work out in the end.
The way RSS is used now is a bit like us reading great books on well known museums. It’s fine. But actually discovering a new museum, going there, seeing the things that are there, engaging, talking about it, that is where the value really is. And that is more valuable than any RSS feed I could possibly imagine. Friendfeed may be the early adopter king of RSS feeds for now. They are there to collect data, to see if a new kind of “Google” can arise out of social media. And I suspect they will be digging in the same hole where all social networks are digging into. But it’s content right now is a museum we have all seen already. And the discussions of the early adopters are running around in circles right now.
But Twitter is the king of 140 characters. They don’t need all that. They support a basic human need. They need more stability and a well executed business plan. But these 140 characters will be infinitely more valuable to us than any RSS feed with comments and likes will ever be.