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« A Social Networking Bill of Rights | Main | The New Musical Functionality »

July 22, 2004

Discussing Social Media

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

This post is in lieu of Powerpoint to introduce the Defining Social Media panel at BlogOn tomorrow with Dan Gillmor, James Currier, Reid Hoffman, Michael Sikillian and Jim Spohrer.

How We Got Here

The Internet has always facilitated conversations and augmented relationships. When a critical mass of participation is gained, cooperation ensues and simple tools have complex results. The earliest innovators in this adoption lifecycle were geeks and hackers. Put enough of them together and you get a new mode of production to disrupt the software industry and enable a new phase of growth — open source.

What we are witnessing is segments of early providers and early adopters form previously unrepresented networks and apply participatory technologies to disrupt industries. Earlier adoption segments include software, media, advertising, entertainment, politics, dating, recruiting, consumer electronics, sales, management, the list goes on. All these segments are information intensive and rely on relationships. And as Doc says, its a revolution in demand-based supply:

Social media are another example of the demand side supplying itself. We’re seeing this with open source software, with new standards like RSS, and with the new media we call blogs. We’re even seeing it in movies such as Outfoxed, and with Internet radio (in spite of destructive fear-based regulation). None of these things came from the Big Boys. They came from you and me and the rest of us here.

There is little point in defining Social Software, Media, Search, Computing or Networking, except that new language parallels innovation. Here’s my way of mapping the space, feel free to modify and make your own.

Social Software, a term coined by Clay Shirky, is the design of systems that supports groups with an underlying value proposition of building social capital…

Social Software is not that new, but its currently a growing and evolving sector marked by a high level of cross-polinization. The level of innovation defys easy categorization.

Properties include people-centricity, low communication costs, low transaction costs that encourage adoption, easy group forming, triads rather than pairs, treating groups as first class objects in the system and adapting to the social network (heterarchy) rather than requiring it to adapt it it (heirarchy). Second order effects include emergence, reputation, different values at different scales, transparency, decentralization and fun parties.

Other dimensions to view this space include enterprise vs. consumer, how connections are formed, different values at different scales, what markets are cannibalized, what cultures (not markets, but don’t reach for your gun) are served and open vs. closed.

These dimension easily blur. Take for example the distinction of enterprise vs. consumer. Social Software adoption is being driven in the enterprise from the bottom up. Initially, it users as developers bringing in their own tools like personal publishing and wikis plus (shameless plug here) enlightened companies serving both users and enterprises at different scales.


  • Sales of camera phones with outpace cameras and phones within five years. The fastest growing consumer electronic device hasn’t yet been matched with robust sharing services, save Photologs and Moblogging. These are the fastest growing segments of social media and Incumbents are catching on.
  • People spend time with other people. 2 Hours Per Visit on Friendster (pdf) make it ripe for ad revenue.
  • We have an innate human need to mess with media and make artifacts their own (call this a plausable generalization). What you share makes us care.
  • Countries and cultures like the US and UK have a latent demand for social capital
  • Pull models of attention management and social networks as filters are solutions for attention scarcity and information abundance
  • Relatively low costs for personal publishing, group forming and network management are expanding markets from the supply side
  • Above all, ease of use. Simple tools yield complex results.
Talk of Bubblet
After initial events like the Blogger acquisition by Google, Six Apart funding, Socialtext seeding and the Social Networking bubblet — there is a recent spate of significant fundings in this area like Technorati, Newsgator, and Feedburner that bring it renewed attention.

The Consumer Internet is a ripe investment thesis where a small up front investment can yield potentially large returns and many of these companies represent a reinvention of the way the web works and viral growth.

Opportunities still remain within the enterprise. The vast majority of employees are not involved in process that software can automate, they manage exceptions to process. Today all they have is email (90% of collaboration and 75% of knowledge assets is trapped there). Enterprise Social Software seeks to serve the unmet needs of knowledge work and business practice, beginning with a proposition of making group communication efficient and effective.

Expect a byproduct of the BlogOn conference to be coverage that suggests an investment bubblet. Reason being that the early entrants who paid their dues and have success stories to tell are reaching a level of investor interest that’s attracting copycat competition. But skepticism is more than warranted.

Risk Factors

  • Privacy — relationship data is extremely sensitive and conflicts between enterprise and individual incentives abound
  • Growth — many models require scale for return and not all achieve viral levels
  • Low Barriers to Entry — there isn’t much in the way of technology risk, the network is accessible and the LAMP stack drives down startup costs. Network effects are the natural and equitable barrier.
  • DIY — if you fail to serve the network, the network will serve itself
  • Intellectual Property — regimes prevent sharing and development of the commons
Value Proposition

The underlying value proposition across social software is enhancing social capital. But a couple of unique factors are worth consideration.
  • Influence — when you increase the level of participation, so too increases the value of reputation. In advertising, at a time where ad space is starting to become scarice, new metrics and formats could build upon influence. Within enterprises, the trend towards decentralization requires revealing the power law and augmenting the heterarchy.
  • Economies — used to be that competitive advantage was driven by economies of scale and speed. A more networked economy shifts the focus to economies of scope and span.
  • Embracing Change — when vendors hand over control to users as developers (as is the case with wikis enabling users to create information architecture for their own situations, it shares risk and reward.
  • Pooling Risk — Social Software vendors have cooperated early with standards like RSS, Atom, FOAF and Kwiki. This pools risks for vendors, enables new combinations and reduces lock-in for customers and users.
So I’ve tried to frame ways of viewing the space. Now its time for questions and conversation. Here’s another way of thinking from Mr. Conversation himself, Doc again:

Computing is growing up. When computing was personal, it cared mostly about itself: me and my programs, my printer, my stored information. Now computing is social. A PC off the Net is like a disconnected telephone. The Network is a social place. What we’re doing now is building out that place — that commons, using a variety of tools and building materials.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. Mike Rowland on July 24, 2004 1:32 AM writes...

Interesting take on the idea of Social Media (as coined by BlogOn), but I'd like to throw out my view after attending the conference and talking with many of the attendees and presenters:

This whole idea is just the next step in the progression of Online Communities. There are new tools which allow community members to discuss their ideas without waiting for a sponsored site to provide them a space. HOWEVER, what I saw seriously lacking was any learning or knowledge transfer from the best practices of Online Community techniques including promotion (RSS doesn't qualify), moderation, analysis of content, building trust through blogging, and measuring the impact of your efforts.

I don't want to say the king has no clothes, but the only thing new here is tools. Perhaps I missed something, but we're not breaking open a new space, we're simply giving people another option and tool to communicate on line. Will it change the world? No. Will it be a lasting communication tool or will it go the way of Chatrooms? Only time will tell.

Please feel free to engage me with your viewpoint if you think I am off my rocker.


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2. Ross Mayfield on July 24, 2004 12:26 PM writes...

It was a business conference, not the best place to pick up shared practices.

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3. Mike Rowland on July 26, 2004 12:01 PM writes...


Umm, the whole idea of business conferences is to not only learn about tools but to network and learn what others are doing. Otherwise it is just a glorified sales presentation. Perhaps that is all that BlogOn aspires to be, but the advertising is different and there certainly were enough panels and sessions to discuss 'business issues' that failed to do so.

Btw, I also believe that your solution is about the only one that makes commercial sense now that I've played around with it.

Good Luck,


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