April 15th, 2006
There’s so much uncritical, blinders-on optimism in the Web2.0sphere that I savor the rare occasions when I stumble on a skeptic/contrarian after my own heart, in this case Rob May, who writes for businesspundit.com:
A small percentage of the population enjoys doing things just for the sake of learning, exploring, helping, etc, and we hold them up as examples of why Web 2.0 is the future. But that isn’t altruism, it’s selfishness. Those people do those things to fill personal needs of ego, knowledge, or whatever. Altruism happens when there are selfish reasons to be altruistic (i.e. to go to heaven, to take the tax write off, to look good in your social class, to support a cause you personally want to see advanced).
The point of all this is if your business model is built on the goodness of people’s hearts, it is going to fail. The real Web 2.0 isn’t about wisdom of crowds, new models of behavior, or being more social. And it certainly isn’t about altruism and giving valuable things such as knowledge and time away for free. The real Web 2.0 is about control. It’s about letting each user control their own interactions, and that is why people like it. At the end of the day, Web 2.0 is about being selfish, and the projects that will succeed are the ones that are embracing that fact.
This reminds me of a comment that another of my favorite cynics, Seth Finklestein, deposited on my post about “user-generated content”:
For Ã¢â‚¬Å“User-generated contentÃ¢â‚¬Â, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m partial to the term Ã¢â‚¬Å“Unpaid freelancersÃ¢â‚¬Â. The latter seems to capture what many people really mean when they say the former.
“With less than 10 people on the payroll, they had millions of users generating content, millions of users organizing that content for them, tens of thousands of users distributing that across the Internet, and thousands of people not on the payroll actually building the thing,” says Yahoo exec Bradley Horowitz. “That’s a neat trick. If we could do that same thing with Yahoo, and take our half-billion user base and achieve the same kind of effect, we knew we were on to something.”
If WE really are the media now, and if all the value really is being created at the edge, at some point WE the citizen users creating social content at the edge (blah, blah) are going to wake up and realize that Web 2.0 is all about making money off of the fruits of OUR labor, and we will rise up and demand fair compensation.
It’s all so ridiculously marxist, isn’t it?
But in all seriousness, if social media really is a REVOLUTION, there’s still another (much larger) shoe waiting to drop. If the first half of the revolution is about participation, user-generated content, metadata, ajax apps, tagging, commenting, etc., then the second half is going to be about the business model shake out.
Think about it — all the Web 2.0 companies from Google on down still have a completely 1.0 approach to the business of 2.0 — they think they can have US do all the work while THEY keep all the money. Can there really be “edge competencies” without “edge compensation”? (Help me out here, Umair.)
Now one might argue that the utility of web service/application (e.g. Google search, Flickr tagging) is fair compensation, but think about how quickly consumer expectations are changing. Is it really such a leap to imagine that consumers will eventually become aware that companies are using them as a cog in the social media network. and that someone will figure out a way to exploit that sense of exploitation?
Imagine a Robin-Hood-like application that could somehow take a percentage of the revenue that we generate through our attention and redistribute it to us. Imagine if Google had to pay YOU for the attention that you give each AdWords advertiser when you click.
Root.net and AttentionTrust.org are pointing in this direction, but I don’t think even they have imagined the massive economic disruption that would result from individual consumers demanding fair compensation for their attention.
Still think Web 2.0 is all about the “generosity“?
Then I suppose you probably think Microsoft has found religion:
Redmond has big plans for tools and partnerships that will let users consult a circle of friends when conducting Web searches
Microsoft is desperate to get that stock price moving again — why don’t you help them out of the goodness of your heart.