Friday, January 23, 2009

Some Observations On Social Media

One of the advantages of living in San Francisco is that you can meet people who are in the thick of all things online and web 2.0. Over the last couple of days I have been to three different events with a social media or social networking focus. I shall be writing about these matters in more detail in the future, but for now, a few things seem clear(er):

1) Although there is a torrent of information about social media both online and offline and there are even ways of making money from it (indirectly) if you are good at SEO (search engine optimization) and SMO (social media optimization), the key for most people will be to stick to what you love - blog, talk or tweet about what you are really interested in and like doing. Be natural, don't try to fake it and don't try to sell anything too overtly - think about giving rather than taking. Blunt selling messages don't work, unless perhaps you are trying to sell your old sofa for five bucks (3.85 euros). Even then, CraigsList would probably be better.

2) The world of social media has not yet been professionalized and the worlds of marketing and advertising are still feeling their way. Somehow some of the services like twitter, Zannel etc are going to have to be seriously monetized, because as we saw in the first era and will see now even more, given the credit crunch and worse, if the tools that make social media possible don't make any money, ultimately they will go away. Advertising is not an easy sell in the social media context for many reasons, but maybe the confluence of many strands, including audio and video and various forms of interactivity, will make it possible for enough money to be made to keep the social media superstructure in development and maintenance.

3) Despite the missing business model and despite the grim times, the world of social media is fantastically vibrant and upbeat, especially here in San Francisco, where many of these services have started. Even so, I think everyone realises that at some stage the champagne has to be augmented with some meat and potatoes. From what I can see, the people at the forefront of social media were strongly involved in web 1.0 and many have quite fresh and hair-raising stories - and wounds - to prove it when things went wrong in 2001. Making social media financiall sustainable is a real and insistent question.

4) Audio and video recognition and search tools don't work very well yet, which may hold back audio-video from becoming a really integral part of social media. There is a lot of work being done on this and there should be no underestimating how difficult these kinds of pattern recognition problems are. The predictions of the 60s and 70s regarding voice and video recognition, not to mention Artificial Intelligence, have been hopelessly even ruinously optimistic. Even so, it would be great to see a lot of progress in this area (maybe some of the TARP money could be directed into this?).

5) At sfAMA Charlene Li talked about the need to tie different elements of social media together, including, for instance, single sign-on and cross-application information mining leading to applications being much more integrated. There are signs that this is happening with OpenId and ways in which Facebook and other similar apps can receive feeds from other streams. There are of course security and privacy issues that may be very knotty and should not be underplayed.

6) There is no substitute for real life. Believe it or not. But that can be a huge advantage of social media - it helps bring people together in real life, for talking, laughing, dancing, eating, you name it, and it keeps you connected in between. You don't have to join a mailing list, and you see (parts of) all kinds of conversations that can keep you in the loop, keep you feeling connected and belonging, and very often inform you of an event you had not heard of. In some ways, it's like being in an old fashioned pub - you hear a snatch of conversation and go over and listen or you see someone you were not expecting and are able to connect. People seem very friendly about this and non-cliquish, thank goodness.

In sum, there is a refreshing air of conviviality and inclusiveness about social media, especially twitter, which is so lightweight and inviting without being burdensome. Social media is about joining and belonging, and more than ever, in our fractured contractarian societies facing great economic hardship, anything that helps people connect in diverse yet guilt-free ways can help increase life chances and work chances.

I am willing to bet that through social media trust, social capital and mutual reciprocity are all being augmented, along with an increased awareness of common pool resources, but I don't have the data to prove it (yet), but I can say that social media are fun and an extraordinary resource and definitely increase levels of serotonin and oxytocin by somewhere between one and 100%. Or maybe more.

1 comment:

Big Mountain said...

Some good observations and relevant points.
without diving into security issues and the other points you brought up, my low hanging fruit of converstaion right now is about monitization.
Through experimentation and the use of these social media vehicles monitization strategies will emerge. Ive seen enough Social Networks and up and commers enter my office with only the desire to create community in order to create ad inventory. Its amazing how organically grown sites based on the need for community have had the most acceptance.
What I'm seeing in Twitter is a non paid media platform unfolding. They're not selling ad inventory because the sites to sticky and it wouldnt convert. But we are seeing an advertising voice present itself in the form of corporate profiles and the like...

More to come Julian. In the meantime keep up the good work.