Thursday, October 06, 2005
The Corporatization of Web 2.0 and the Countdown to Hypercivilization
Long title, I know lots of you hate it when I spout sociological theory - but bear with me, it'll be worth it.
OK. AOL + weblogsinc, Yahoo + upcoming, etc - you know the score by now. The land grab is revving up. So what's the bigger picture? Here's my take:
Media 2.0 is what Baudrillard called hypercivilization - a space where everything is hyperreal; hyperlinked, simulated, plastic, liquid, etc.
In concrete terms, I've been asking myself the following question: since most new things end up being syntheses, if mass media is the thesis, and micromedia is the antithesis, what does the Media 2.0 synthesis end up looking like?
Now, to understand this we have to get past the false dichotomy that leads to questions like: is a Media 2.0 world really better than a Media 1.0 world? Are blogs better than books and newspapers? Are vlogs better than newscasts and flicks?
Micromedia isn't a total substitute for mass media; neither is it a total complement. So where's the threshold?
I think NYTSelect has helped us understand that that threshold may be much higher than anyone suspected. From the rumblings I've heard, most people are defecting to blogs rather than subscribing to NYTSelect (which is no big surprise). Micromedia may not be an effective substitute for the WSJ or Economist's content; but it does seem to be for more mass 1.0 media.
Now, the downsides of micromedia are something I've discussed extensively - hyperpolarization is a biggie. Another is a drop in average quality (perhaps compensated for by a greater rise in average creativity).
For now, most players in the media space aren't really asking these questions - they're either busy building imitation barriers (like NYTSelect), or on acquisition binges (FIM).
One of media's biggest value drivers is to challenge people - to make them think. Think John Peel and the incessantly wierd stuff he used to play - until many of his choices ended up gaining not just market acceptance, but attaining iconic status. This is media innovation, and it's tough, because you're deliberately not giving people what they (think they) want.
Let me tie this into disruptive technologies for a sec. Disruption happens when something new is more efficient on a new dimension of value creation, but maybe worse on others. The point is the new thing (good, mode of production, service, etc) is orders of magnitude better on the new dimension, more than offsetting it's shortcomings on older dimensions.
I think this - the John Peel effect, what lately I've been calling novelty - is the missing link in the synthesis. I think this is micromedia's most powerful and possibly disruptive feature - it can cheaply drive novelty; it can create value along an entirely new dimension.
This should be intuitive, because for a very long time, we've lived in a world where studio execs tell us what media we should like - there is, effectively, almost zero novelty in a Media 1.0 world.
The problem is that between everyone's belated realization that Media 1.0 is dying a slow but sure death, and that Media 2.0 is hugely sexy and exciting...novelty is kind of being left by the wayside. Note, it's not even remotely the same thing as 'discovery' (one of the latest buzzwords in Media 1 and 2.0 boardrooms). Discovery is stuff you already know you want - it's the output of simple collaborative filtering most often.
To put this in concrete terms, what happens after Ask acquires Bloglines? Not much. What happens after Yahoo acquires Flickr? Not much. What happens after Fox acquires
Not much - incumbents use micromedia to derive marginal synergy benefits value along the same old dimensions (discovery, subscriber acquisition, etc). The point is that so far, none of these acquisitions are really creating new sources of value, based on entirely new kinds of sociality/mediation - and until they do, there's a long way to go until we hit hypercivilization.