Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Social Media: The New Public Access TV?

This analogy came to mind earlier this week when reading a post on Fred Wilson's blog about Virginia Heffernan's article in the Sunday New York Times about users leaving Facebook, The Medium - Facebook Exodus. Wilson, a venture capitalist investor in social media (e.g., Twitter), disagreed with Heffernan's column, and noted that the number of subscribers to both Facebook and Twitter are still rising. In the comment thread of Fred's post, I wrote something along these lines:

I don't get the enthusiasm about Facebook or Twitter either. Is the drop off rate analogous to that of blogging? I.e., anyone can start, and lots of folks do, and the prospect of connecting and sharing your thoughts with countless people over the Internet is enticing. And then most people find out that no one is listening to them.

It seems that active (i.e., roughly daily) blogging is becoming mostly the province of a relative handful of professional bloggers or bloggers who (like Fred) see a value in blogging related to their business. Might the same be happening with Facebook and Twitter?

Public Access television, too, gave regular folks a chance to broadcast their content. For a small handful of them, it led to bigger and better things (I can only think of two, both one, which happens to be food-related, off the top of my head -- Rachel Ray2 and Isa Chandra Moskowitz1, of the Post Punk Kitchen -- but I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few others). But for everyone else, the deafening silence mocking them from the aether caused them to drop off.

I'm reading a book now (The Social Network Business Plan) by an angel investor in social media named David Silver, who has a take on this that seems to be orthogonal to those of Wilson and Heffernan. Silver is enthusiastic about social media, but not about general purpose sites such as Facebook and Twitter. He writes,

You can forget about the sustainability of MySpace, Facebook, and other general-purpose online social networks. They aren't sustainable businesses. Their business model, based on advertising, is not demonstrably economically justifiable. Very few of their members look at the ads, and billions of dollars are being wasted trying to reach them. These social networks will continue to attract younger people who, ironically, lack spending power.

Silver's thesis, in a nutshell, is that the real revenue opportunities are in communities geared toward a particular product, service, or interest. E.g., a community that rates airlines on service, reliability, cleanliness of their planes, etc. Airlines might pay for access to anonymized conversations from this forum, to use as a means of quality control.

1I don't know if Rachel Ray's public access shows are available online, but ICM's are. Here is the first episode of her Brooklyn-based public access show with her pal Terry Romero (HT: Cheryl). ICM has since moved out to Portland, OR, where she has become something of a local celeb there, appearing on the local morning show. She's also published a few vegan cookbooks.

2My crack research staff informs me that Rachel Ray's first shows were on a local TV station, not public access.


Anonymous said...

No matter how hard I try I still can't get the point of Facebook. It's a case of understanding how it works, and what it's supposed to accomplish, but simply being unable to grasp the why. Perhaps, as Agnostic claims, it just doesn't work for anyone over age 30.

Twitter is really a different thing than Facebook. It makes far fewer demands on one's time, an important consideration for those with "lives" because AIUI Facebook can be a time-suck extraordinaire.


JK said...

Facebook is actually quite popular with older people (and maybe declining with younger people because of this). My mom opened a Facebook page and got in touch with people she hasn't spoken to in years, including some elementary school friends. It is easy to do this on faceboook because people use their real names, whereas on myspace setting up aliases is common. My younger brothers in college weren't to thrilled when she sent them a friend request though.

Twitter just seems pointless to me. That's one I don't really get. I just don't feel the urge to tweet about the insignificant happenings of my life, and things that are significant, I tend to keep private. The whole concept seems to be for gossiping high school girls. No offence to my friends who use it.

And Silver is right, Facebook and Myspace are unsustainable, as I've mentioned in the comments here before. They take tons of infrastructure and overhead and rely on overpriced advertising that no one pays attention to.

General purpose social networking is doable only if it is a decentralized P2P network, IMO. That would work much better and be profitable from the start. If I were more programming savvy and/or had lots of seed capital to invest, I would start such a network myself.

DaveinHackensack said...

I guess the point of Facebook initially was that if you saw a pretty girl walking across campus, you could go back to your dorm room and find out her name and more info about her (e.g., her classes maybe?). They you could accidentally bump into her outside of her Literary Criticism 301 class. Finding people, from the past, as JK mentions, is another application, I guess, but apparently there's a whole bunch of other time sucking stuff on there. I never signed up, so I wouldn't know.

Twitter I get if you are famous and lots of people care about the minutia in your life. But other than that, I don't get. Fred Wilson's blog has a "reactions" feature, which I think is a record of tweets about a particular post. I read his blog on a semi-daily basis. What would be the point of someone tweeting me to alert me to a post on his blog? I was going to read it anyway.

Incidentally, another company he's invested in that I don't get is Disqus, which sends these annoying e-mails after I leave a comment there. The 'killer app' there, as I understand it, is to let you know when someone comments on your comment (or, worse -- if it's a comment thread without nested comments -- when someone leaves another comment in that thread). Again, if I leave a comment somewhere, I generally check back to see if someone responds to it. I don't need e-mail alerts for that.

DaveinHackensack said...

I've recently come around to Disqus, as I noted in a post this week.