April 28, 2011

A Brick Wall

Newspapers, magazines, periodicals and most other publications have all felt the impact the web has had on their age old subscription model.

Information, news, facts, gossip, research and studies are readily available for free across the vast information superhighway.

Anyone can find anything at anytime for little to no cost.

But one must ask themselves... who creates all this content we consume on a daily basis?

Quality content is the one thing that cannot be manufactured without the need for highly specialized and creative professionals. The web has made us ravenously hungry for this content and at the same time we so freely consume it we simultaneously have taken for granted the amount of work that goes into its creation.

One of the major challenges for content and online utility creators has been to try and reverse the notion that content and utility is free and to get users to pay a premium for access in a similar way they pay for cable TV. Through subscriptions.

The problem with subscriptions is that it is fundamentally adverse to the way the internet is used. The birth of the web promised everyone free access to all kinds of content. Everything was free but that was only to make the case for the potential and the existence of the web.

We live in very different times now. The web is not only stable but it has become the backbone of our society.

In the past if you wanted to read a specific article in the New York Times you purchased the entire paper even though it was just the one article that may have interested you.

Sharing the article would require you actually physically handing the paper to the person you wanted to share it with.

I know this sounds like a painstaking task...

My grandmother has this great habit of clipping out articles and sending them to me in the mail, with an actual stamp on an envelope.

We see a similar pattern with cable television, if you wanted to watch a particular show on HBO you had to subscribe to the entire channel and even that was bundled into a package of other channels you may never even flip to. Then you would have to record that show on a VHS tape and somehow get that tape to whoever you wanted to share it with.

The horror!

Luckily the internet came around and the mighty web has fragmented everything.

We now gather our news, entertainment, research and other sources from a variety of different places on the web.

We may want a certain column from Wednesday's WSJ or only the Monday recap of Sunday's big games, we may only be interested in the Approval Matrix in New York magazine or simply want to watch a particular segment on a television show we may never watch in its entirety.

Paywalls have been one of the ways that publications have been trying to get people to pay for premium content. But the paywall structure goes against how we use the web.

I understand that Time Magazine wants people to subscribe to its publication, however I am not so sure everyone wants every piece of content in the magazine.

Apple was extremely successful in the way it allowed people to buy a whole album or just a single song. That model completely revamped the music industry and actually helped to almost completely eliminate the illegal pirating of music.

I believe that every piece of content on the web should be available a la carte.

Every article, news snippet, utility, video, image or anything that a content creator should receive compensation for.

If there is an article in the Times I want to read then I should be able to pay an access fee to read just that article or agree to view an ad that will justify the cost of my consumption.

Fragmentation is the key to monetization.

Subscriptions are just too much of a commitment for people who hoard and gather information from a zillion different places.

Everything can be made available in a fragmented format or in a limited access format so we can pay for what we actually want.

I may need to read a chapter of a book that I certainly don't need to own. I may need a certain tool offered in Photoshop for a single use but I certainly don't need to own a full blown copy of the application.

I strongly feel that by fragmenting premium content and utilities their creators will find that getting users to pay for usage will become a much easier sell.

April 22, 2011

The Social Media Stratification

The massive adoption of social networks within the lives of billions of people has naturally created a new layer of social classification within today's digitally oriented society.

Access to inexpensive computers and mobile devices has given everyone a personal platform to express practically everything they do, see and hear instantly.

One of the most popular channels of expression come in the form of social networks.

Social networks started off quite simply as a way to share stuff.

They have quickly become refined into hyper focused channels of communication offering a wide array of ways to express and share extremely detailed and targeted information.

Social networks give its users the ability to easily acquire a new type of control over a resource that is quickly becoming more and more valuable.

This resource is a new type of social capital that can be gained, shared and returned.

This new form of capital has stimulated waves of investments and shifts in power within the realms of technology, politics, communications and entertainment.

It has ignited heated debates over the control of and valuations of platforms, services and channels that help facilitate the ability to attain this power.

The debate dujour is the overvaluation of companies that create and innovate these channels.

Networks that are focused more on ubiquity and usability than the ability to generate actual revenue, and to the dismay and confusion of many, receive record breaking valuations.

Most see this as a bubble waiting to burst. I disagree.

There is a new wave of visionaries who are pouring billions of dollars into companies like Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, Groupon, Instagram, Tumblr and other channels that are able to garner its users the ability to grow social capital.

These people have a vision and a belief that social capital will eventually be or is already as good as gold.

These vast digital plains are being mined for innovative ways to allow billions of users the ability to grow their social wealth.

To help stoke the desire to possess the power to control these social resources by building digital extensions of personalities, knowledge, insight and experience through apps, websites, games, services and devices.

We are essentially mining the human mind and soul and the precious ore that emanates is a new commodity that has a tremendous value.

My experience in both using and building social networks and extensions to social networks has driven me to try and codify some of what is going on.

I have attempted to identify a class system and have patterned it after Max Weber's famous Three Class System of Social Stratification.

This breakdown is based on my own attempt in identifying the highest tiers of the social network ladders.

I break it down as follows:

The Initiator: those who are able to effect wide spread interest in content, trends and discussions particularly in the realm of consumerism and purchasing influence.

The Celebrity: those who have gained celebrity status within their respected fields. Accomplished social climbers who are widely followed more for their antics than their opinions.

The Dynamo: people who use social media to help motivate others. Content is typically altruistic in nature however the widespread following inadvertently gains them strong social power.

This classification system is still very much a work in progress and will be something that I will be expounding on more in the coming weeks.

What I hope to achieve is to gain more insight and understanding into the new social structures that I find crystallizing around me every day.

As an advertising professional it gives me greater insight into how we communicate and share, how information flows and is interpreted based on its origin and the many paths it now takes to reach the masses.

We are now all a channel, a conduit, and it is up to us to decide how it is we want to refine the information through our personal spectrum and how valuable it is when we present it to the world.