This is inspired by a great post by John here, which is one of several I have seen recently that describe scenes some of us have been predicting possible for some time and to which this was my reply, now edited, but in the original comments. (Thanks John - read his 'Searchblog' it's great always!) For those of us not trapped by greed and business models that never made sense in the first place, the consumer is King and always will be. So how do we set them free? My humble starter as follows:-
3 BIG Hurdles To John Battelle's Internet Nirvana
You've cited the potential assumption that brands are 'publishers of content'. Actually in a social world, my view is that brands are the subject of the conversation, not the owners of it, however much the platforms and brands themselves are deluding themselves and/ or us to the contrary. The graph owns the conversation and the graph is made up of hundreds of millions of people still trying to define their digital homes in an environment where the same respect, ownership and privacy afforded their physical ones is being ignored. Current business models presume the platforms and the advertisers own the graph, a colonial right to enter those homes by stealth, digital rape or force and so that model needs to flip 180 degrees. The Customer is always right and the emphasis in my opinion should be for brands to work out how to earn our respect, such that they become increasingly part of our conversation. You are right about the end game, but note the subtle difference in the journey. Respect cannot be taken, it has to be earnt and that works both ways.
If I suddenly woke up one morning with a hangover from hell and in the middle of some saharan desert and there was just a stall selling Coca Cola, I would feel perfectly happy opening a bottle, safe in the knowledge that it would taste as I expected and not cause me any harm. I would suggest that the majority of internet users do not currently trust any of the main platform providers. (Some of whom, have been so abhorrently flagrant in their abuses of what trust we have vested that I'm not sure they deserve a resolution) I am also staggered for instance that Coca Cola would risk the brand value earned over generations by aligning themselves anywhere near those organisations in their current guise. However, I do think that if the business models of social networks were flipped 180 degrees and replicated the principles of one's physical homes, villages and towns, based on common interest instead of location, then the creation of content, value and aspiration would both allow for monetisation through underpinning that with a digital currency and likewise encourage a new age of global optimism and sharing. (It would also make Hyperlocal make sense of course and either make AoL's investment in Patch an embarassing mistake or help them redefine it into a content creation facility that has true value.)
The battle is for a Digital democracy vs the Digital Socialism/ Dictatorship path we are following. I don't 'like' anything on Facebook because I see that as offering the world a free camera into my own home. I think everyone else is starting to realise that they are all naive entrants to a Truman Show world where all the upside is in the hands of a few people who are repeatedly proving they cannot be trusted. Once we establish that our digital homes are ours to trade and our content is our currency, then some of us who enjoy creating and contributing might like to open up and deliver the advertisers wet dream. (The fabulous, but poor, train loving photographer in Chicago, might like the idea of a few cents from every person that enjoys his images and articles about trains) If consumers could trust the platforms and the latter weren't fuelled by a misguided business model and valuation driven greed, then perhaps the trust they require could start to be achieved. In the meantime, they, the media and politicians who are increasingly beholded to the dark machine are all losing our trust and just because 700m users have proven we all like to be connected, it doesn't mean the wheels of the machines they inhabit are really turning in a sustainable way or that you can treat brand loyalty as irrelevant or hide behind 'failing forwards fast'.
What if for example, the big brands who have entered the black hole of 'creepy social 1.0' on faith alone came to realise that a few million 'likes' is totally meaningless and even counter productive if the platform suffers a catastrophic viral rebellion based on a trigger we haven't yet seen signs of, or that in fact their long-standing cache has suddenly started to spiral downwards and out of control. (See Aspiration below) A new entrant into the market could turn up like Facebook did and with the benefit of hindsight, do it better, faster and with a more tangible consumer tie-in maybe; or perhaps one privacy abuse too many that touches a global and political nerve, brings the whole house tumbling down or at least sets all the world's decent politicians to unite in protecting their once held personal democratic values, they are themselves apparently now treating with the same contempt, the platforms are treating us.
Because we have a three way mexican stand-off between Apple, Google and Microsoft effectively dominating the world's digital engine rooms with companies like Facebook, Twitter etc. using their supply of fuel (social graph) to try and arrest a position at a higher level with the aforementioned or looking to create a new ship of their own on the one hand. And media conglomerates, who blinked and misssed them leaving port on the other; I believe your nirvana is fundamentally screwed until the final battle is fought and won. Traditionally, power has always resided with the world's most successful brands; Coca Cola, Ford, Disney, BBC, Time Warner, Viacom, CBS, Fiat, GE, Wal-Mart etc. etc. Now we are seeing the ever so subtle pressure developing which was the inevitable result of the fact that one or more of the big three is supporting the digital fibre of those businesses and as we know, the bigger the reliance, the larger the control. Collectively though, they all should be reminded that they are only in existence as a result of human aspiration. The founding entrepreneur's aspiration to change the world and the consumer's aspiration to want to be better. Social networks are destroying aspiration in my opinion and as brands succumb to 'the light' like flies to a UV lamp and in pursuit of short-term gain, they are no longer standing out from the crowd and increasingly, where once people looked up to them, the new flat environments simply force people to look across. How long before the only brands with any 'reluctant' reverance are the ones controlling the platforms and once glorious names are merely categories within a super-brand like Skynet or AGM?
My background for most of my career was as a Manager of some not so well known and some iconic Artistes/ Producers and I watch in horror as I see kids think the only route to fame nowadays is by getting their tits done or queuing in line for a TV show, where a back catalog song is milked for yet more life and money and a dumbed down public pays to choose it's fodder for the coming year until we start all over. All routes via traditional sweat, A&R and truly lasting global talent all but closed off. Will kids aspire to a viral hit on YouTube and being 'liked' on Facebook if they're still working the checkout at Wal-Mart and how will any of us be able to find talent outside of the machine if the only place it is distributed is within it and dominated by the big three and the media companies they can bring into line around or beneath them.
In a world of so much noise, there is only so much human capacity for infinite choice and we need to have places where real talent can reach us honestly and organically. I think there is a gaping hole on the internet for a platform where technology meets media and that would provide the absolute safety valve we need to prevent the big brands dying in the social vortex and the three 'Mexicans' carving up the world between them and killing the oxygen supply to everyone that doesn't comply. Aspiration only works when the top of the mountain is worth attaining.
The absence of a truly elegant environment on the internet where brands are revered instead of made to look ordinary and where kids can believe that however they express themselves creatively, they may achieve heights unparalleled in history, is becoming a critical necessity to preserve and encourage respect, trust and aspiration. The best way of persuading them has always been and will always be to buy music, art etc. and watch people get really rich. Facebook are currently focused on everyone knowing how rich they are getting on our content not encouraging a platform where the content we create is ours to share, trade and benefit from. Why should we create value for Facebook? Personally, I think it's time for Mark to go and Sheryl to take over leading up to and after the IPO, when the beneficiaries of the business done right should be the pension funds of our children. At the moment Mark can still claim rightfully the creation of the world's biggest change since the internet itself and even perhaps be forgiven for some of the ways he got there. But as an ongoing role model and safe guardian? No, certainly not... Facebook could provide a democratic mechanism to help the world discover talent, but trying to build, control and retain the media 'head' within their 'long-tail' technology platform is both an oxymoron and for reasons people can explore by visiting my blog, potentially also tresspassing on my IPR.
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