Tagged: Clay Shirky

Why Facebook is abandoning individuals in favour of communities

Here is a bold claim.  In social media you can’t make money out of individuals, only communities.

Here’s why.  In the good old days, the way you made money out of media was by being a platform that allowed commercially sponsored messages to be placed in front of lots of individuals. For this to work well, the message had to be be very effective (which is why advertising creative directors made lots of money) and the media had to attract lots of individuals. The more individuals a platfrom could attract, the more money it could charge for its real estate.

This model doesn’t really work in social media, because, as we are slowly starting to realise, platforms such as Facebook are not really media platforms. Facebook can more easily be understood as a tool or an infrastructure. Despite what the film says, it is not a social network, it facilitates social networking. There may be huge numbers of people using the infrastructure – but you can’t reach ‘all of Facebook’ in the same way as you could reach ‘all the readers / viewers’. In reality, Facebook is an eco-system comprised of a vast number of tiny interactions bewteen very small groups of people. This creates a problem, because the commercial opportunity within these types of interaction is highly restricted. In the same way that no-one would want a commercial message inserted into a phone call, people don’t see a role for commercial intervention or interuption in the individual, small scale, relationships people have on Facebook.

This is a big problem for Facebook, because its current very high valuation is based, in large part, its status as a platfrom that can access millions of people. It has the millions of people, but it cannot provide the access in a way which makes commercial sense and complements the way in which people use the infrastructure. It can only sell itself as an advertising platform, but it is slowly realising that the value of an individual person within Facebook is an awful lot less than the value of an individual reader or viewer. Facebook is coming face-to-face with one of the fundamental rules of commercialising social media: in social media, you can’t make money out of individuals, only communities.

Essentially, there are very few chinks in the armour within individual interactions in social media that allow a credible intervention by an institution or commercial organisation. That is not to say that you should abandon the individual. Listening to individuals and their conversations, and responding where necessary is still a hugely valuable exercise. It is just that 99.99 per cent of all social media activity is un-receiptive to commercial intervention and thus it is just not scalable as a way of reaching lots of people.

However, this starts to change when you stop focusing on the individual and start to focus on the communities that individuals might form (focusing on behaviours, not on platforms or tools). Community is undoubtedly the ‘Next Big Thing’ in social media. The community is the new individual and the community probably represents the only sensible entry or engagement point for most institutions. In working out how to extract commercial value from community it is important to recognise one of the other fundamental rules – which is that individuals will be reluctant to allow themselves to be managed within communities controlled by institutions, rather they will prefer to form communities to manage their relationships with institutions. As people become more familiar with the tools of social media, they will work out how easy it is to create communities that help them ‘do stuff’.

Facebook understands this – which is why it has recently made changes to Facebook Groups and Facebook Pages which are designed to make it clear that Pages are where corporate organisations can have their Facebook outpost but that Groups are for individuals. Facebook is going flat out to encourage its users to aggregate themselves into small communities (Facebook Group functionality starts to de-grade once the Group exceeds 250 members), because it knows that its user base becomes commercially much more valuable as a large number of small communities than as an even larger number of individuals. The problem, of course, is that there are many other tools individuals can use to create communities – many of which are better than Facebook and thus Facebook is in a race a aginst time to try and establish the behaviour of community formation within Facebook in order to try and steal a march on the competition.

This is consistent with Clay Shirky’s assertion that revolutions don’t occur when societies adopt new tools, but when they adopt new behaviours. It is also consistent with Facebook’s objective of being the single tool you use to “do” all your social media, rather than being an application you can use to integrate tools produced by others.

Leaking wikis: they only work if they stop being publishers

Clay Shirky has just published some thoughts on Wikileaks.  He makes some very good observations, not least the importance of ensuring that we use legitimate democratic means to work out how, as a society, we will deal with Wikileaks.  But perhaps the article skirts around the difficult and necessary question of determining exactly what Wikileaks, and the forms of leaking wikis that may be to come, actually are.  And this is an important question to resolve as part of working out what to do about it / them. Continue reading

Thinking l’unthinkable

About a year ago Clay Shirky wrote a brilliant article called Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, which is probably the best analysis I have read of the problems facing newspapers.  (This is something I have also written about in terms of the separation of journalists from journalism and the need to understand newspapers as a form of distribution rather than a form of content).

The Big Question is – what is it going to take for the reality, as outlined by Shirky, to replace the fantasy (masking as business models) being advanced by most in the newspaper world.  Probably it is going to take the demise of a player previously regarded as undemisable.  Could it be the Le Monde will be just such a player?  This analysis just published by Frédéric Filloux suggests it could be.

Thinking the Unthinkable: Clay Shirky may be wrong (slightly)

Despite being one of the leading gurus on social media, Clay Shirky has only just started publishing his articles via a blog – and a very minimalist and basic blog it is too.  I might venture to say this illustrates my point that social media is about space rather than place – Shirky doesn’t need a fancy blog (place), all he needs is a launch pad to create and contribute to conversations (spaces). Continue reading

The Rise of the Story or Why Social Media may Kill P&G

whats the story2(Warning – this post is 3,000 words, you may want to get a coffee)

Stories have always been a useful medium of communication – but the rise of social media has just made them essential.  If you haven’t got a good one, you could be in trouble.  Here’s why. Continue reading

NY Times versus TechCrunch – a silly argument

There has recently been a bit of a flap going on within technology reporting circles between bloggers and reporters.  At issue is the concern that blogs publish unfounded rumours, whereas newspapers publish only the truth (that old chestnut).  At the centre of this curfluffle is this piece in the NY Times.

At heart it is a stupid debate that is founded in the inability (on probably both sides of the argument) to recognise that social media is fundamentally different from institutionalised media.  As I have said before –  truth within social media is founded in process.  It is crystalised in the reception of information.  Truth within institutionalised media is vested in the publication of information.  Or as Clay Shirky has put it publish then filter versus filter then publish.  Jeff Jarvis also hits on the same issue here – although he couches it as product versus process.

It is only when newspapers work out how their world has been changed by social media and what their role is within it, that this debate can become fruitful.  Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

Andrew Keen’s head – and the shift from institutions to processes

A recent blog post by Andrew Keen has finally prompted me to write a post dedicated to the idea that Big Thing in social media is the shift from institutions to processes as a source of trusted information.  I have referred to this many times in previous posts, but when I get to say “as I have said many times before” I realise I haven’t actually got one place purely dedicated to the saying of it.  Well no more.

Also, the fact that Andrew Keen, of all people, has identified what he calls the emergence of a new inchoate discource and is writing a post about media streams and agreeing with the likes of Clay Shirky about the essential ‘differentness’ of what may replace traditional media has also shown it is time to pull my finger out on this one. Continue reading