Posts Tagged 'discovery'

Discovery vs. exclusivity: the emerging tragedies of the digital commons

Sheep on the commons via Brian Griffiths

This is getting intense.  It was one thing to read that women over 55 are the fastest growing demo on Facebook.  It was another for that reality to hit my home page.  In the last week alone, I’ve been friended by an aunt, a friend’s mom, and the den mother of my second grade cub scout troop.  I’ve watched my humbly-unaware parents struggle to interpret the snickeringly-inappropriate status messages of my little brother’s friends.  I’ve seen similarly-blushworthy updates posted by people I’d grown up thinking of as grownups and never imagined doing certain things in Vegas.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing but love for family and distant friends, I think it’s healthy for people to take each other out of context, and I believe that broader networks which facilitate greater discovery are (almost) always a good thing.  But this sudden diversification of my Facebook stream is indicative of a deeper tension building across the social web; the symptoms of a problem whose solution will fundamentally alter the way we interact online.

The web has always thrived on more users, more content, and greater access.  These things cost essentially nothing and drive the fundamentals of value for everyone involved — users benefit from more things to do and more people to interact with; publishers benefit from more traffic, clicks, page views, contributions, and passalong; advertisers win with more interaction, enhanced tracking capabilities, and of course revenue.

But. There are at least two critical roadblocks that undercut this interconnected value of more.  The first is a classic Internet paradox: more users and more content has always meant more clutter.  The web faces a persistent relevance problem. Signal-to-noise ratios are a fickle factor in the success and failure of almost every great Internet brand.  Google made its first fortune by cutting through the noise with relevant results, but now thrives on the proliferation of content from which to monetize.  Microblogging is on an opposite arc, bursting with the novelty of multidirectional noise but now facing the real challenge of organizing an overwhelming stream of irrelevance.

There is another paradox built into the relevance battle, however, and it’s more abstract than the functional challenges of filtering massive content streams.  The ironic secret ingredient that has nurtured the infancy and adolescence of the social web is precisely that — an element of secrecy.  Exclusivity.  Superiority.   It’s the edge that keeps early adopters adopting and the intrigue that leads the masses to follow.  And it’s in serious jeopardy.

Practical resource scarcities like access and bandwidth aren’t the real threats to the social web.  The emerging tragedies of the digital commons are a crisis of relevance, a bubble of attention, and an impending crash of exclusivity. It’s this ominous threat that pushed Twitter to hastily limit @replies last week and has driven Facebook to refocus on filters and friend lists.  And it’s this brewing storm that is lifting the wings of next-generation micro-communities facilitated by services like Ning and FourSquare.

I believe that a new era of disintegration is inevitable, driven by offline social groups and common interest areas.  What will it mean for the future of cares, causes, and communities?  Will metabrands like green become increasingly isolated as the uninterested tune them out?

Is that a bad thing?

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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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