Online Publishing Trends: Is There A Social Media Bubble?
Social media is booming, but is all of the activity surrounding its growth a precursor to a dot-com-like bubble burst?
Photo credit: Chekov
While in some ways investors may overextend themselves on the social media trend as much as any other social media is growing to become a trend that is based on countless tiny bubbles rather than the huge risk-takers that we're used to seeing in the media limelight.
At is core social media is about human communications returning to normal levels of discourse that may have been forgotten in the push to cash in on electronic content - and that will require more sophisticated monetization models than those being pursued by most media companies.
If you've ever gotten a little contemplative while sipping down a bit of fine champagne you may have noticed that the bubbles of gas that rise to the top of your glass are really very tiny compared to the big burps of gas found in your typical bottle of supermarket fizzy water. Good champagne costs more than your average soda pop, so perhaps we can say that tiny bubbles are a sign of refinement.
It might be thus also with social media. At the recent Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco there was much talk about whether we are experiencing a new "bubble" in online markets. Tim O'Reilly opined in his Expo keynote that no, we were not in a Web 2.0 bubble, that Web 2.0 represented a fundamental shift in how people interact with technology.
Yet the thousands of people crammed into the hall for this event and the desperate notes in the rest rooms seeking out AJAX programmers seemed to argue that on at least one level that there was a whale burp-sized bubble that has swept up nearly every resource in Silicon Valley that seeks out private equity.
Is there a social media bubble? Yes and no would be the simple answer.
There's no doubt that there is nearly as much ill-counseled money chasing so-so ideas for Web content as there was in the heyday of the dot-com boom. The difference this time around, though, is an explosion of tiny bubbles in online publishing courtesy of Web 2.0 technologies and the acceptance of social media as a key publishing venue.
With standards-based technologies, many of which are made available to people either for free for at minimal costs, the risks that individual projects need to take on are much smaller compared to the dot-com risks of yore that required oftentimes massive injections of capital just to get basic functionality up and running.
For every Brightcove sucking up tens of millions in investment there are tens of thousands of micropublishers like BakeSpace generating income for themselves and others in very focused niches with hardly a spoonful of capital.
Call it the trivialization of publishing, if you will, the demystifying of the erstwhile black art that has allowed individuals and institutions to create their own tiny publishing bubbles at will. Some micropublishing plays will come and go with hardly a whisper and others will be able to grow into superstar status with or without help from traditional media outlets.
There will continue to be big bubbles being burst as some big investments fail to pan out but by and large there is a permanent system being established that is enabling online content plays to surface organically on a regular basis. Compare and contrast this with recent magazine launches, which have been few and far between and increasingly risky ventures.
There is no going back any more from this trivialization factor: the one-to-one conversations of people in their self-designed content marketplaces have taken center stage for good. Yes, we'll always pay attention to big media companies to some degree, but the fundamental premise of centrally managed and produced mass market content forming the core of publishing is diminishing by the day.
The trivialization of publishing was on display also at ContentNext's EconSM conference in Los Angeles last week. There were lots of great insights presented at this event from some of the leading thinkers in entertainment and business media, but the truth of the matter is that few of these people seemed to have very compelling ideas about how they were going to monetize social media.
It was mostly back to talk of "stickiness" and roll-in ads for video clips - very conventional fare. Nowhere in this mix was the dirty little secret uttered: you're going to have to have to reward audiences who create and distribute popular social media content. So as much as these executives were speaking volumes about how they "get" social media they are not very close to "getting" the business models that are going to be required to make the most of its value.
Tiny bubbles will get tiny rewards - rewards that sometimes will grow into big rewards, but in general rewards that will have a hard time filling the office buildings along Wilshire Boulevard or the Avenue of the Americas with well-heeled media executives.
This is where the talk of "farm teams" emerging from social media to feed major content producers stumbles somewhat. Social media talent may fact make its way from social media into mainstream publishing to some significant degree as Vaudevillians used to make their way to Hollywood, but to a larger extent we're seeing mainstream publishing talent establishing their own social media outlets to gain independent credibility for their skills.
We're also witnessing corporations establishing both social media and more traditional media content via their own Web sites, obviating to some degree the need to employ mediation to get their branding and insights incorporated into the public's thinking.
In other words, social media is becoming the destination content of choice, content that can be accelerated to the peak of its market value with little or no help from traditional media experts. Social media is folk art unbound. The next Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Buddy Holly may never have to stray far from their roots to become a folk sensation. Or they may be happy just being who they are with whatever audience comes along.
The deployment of tools such as feed readers and widgets that accelerate user-generated content aggregation capabilities only emphasizes this trend. Before social media major media producers could at least feel comfortable in the knowledge that they had some control over the venues in which content could be found: now content can be assembled by anyone anywhere from virtually any source.
Not only do tiny bubbles reign, they also can appear in whatever glass we choose. So if personal and enterprise users control the production, the distribution and the aggregation of content and infrastructure companies like Google control the contextualization, what's left at the bottom of the glass of bubbly for today's media companies?
In the words of the late Johnny Cash: hurt...
Original article by John Blossom published on May 7th, 2007 as "Tiny Bubbles: Social Media Explodes in a Thousand Small New Ways" on Shore.com.
Find out more about John Blossom and the management consulting services of Shore Communications Inc., covering the business of enterprise, media and personal publishing at Shore.com.
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