November 24, 2005

Rough Type: Nicholas Carr's Blog: The MySpace (bottle) rocket

Rough Type: Nicholas Carr's Blog: The MySpace (bottle) rocket

Nicholas Carr suspects the attraction of community hosting and social network sites might be ephemeral. That the sites just aren't interesting enough to hold attention, and only the act of initial migration is actually fun.

Would this be such a surprise? Isn't a lot of consumerism about the initial fun of shopping for and getting a new thing, while just having stuff is pretty much a disappointment?

If this is true, and a large chunk of the web 2.0 audience are essentially a swarm of cool hunters, always chasing the next big thing but never interested in staying in one place, what does this mean for strategy? That you need to keep developing new spaces?

In fact, does this mean that "stuff hosting" (whether MySpace or GoogleBase or Flickr) is actually a hit-based industry? No long tails here. Who wants to be part of a failed community or failed social bookmarking service?

The argument against the idea that this is all ephemeral is that, once developed these have lock-in properties. I won't take my bookmarks from del.icio.us because the degree to which it's become intertwingled with everyone else's data.

How compelling that vision is, is hard for me to guage. I've never used del.icio.us, prefering my own personal folded network of annotated bookmarks.

What I think is revealed, though, is a tension between personal and public / shared.

The problem with public / shared anything is that it isn't personal. Your shared bookmark list is everyone else's. Your posts in your blog are part of a continuum with everyone else's. They'll say much the same thing to the reader if they turn up as yet another bubble on the river of news. The media is the message, and the media is homogenized. And so is the message.

I want to put this together with the ongoing discussion about OPML and Attention. If your OPML is your personal subscriptions file, and that says something about where you're putting your attention, then that is a personalized slicing of the world.

It's the opposite of your del.icio.us bookmarks which are getting creamed in with everyone else's. (Although, undoubtedly you'll be able to publish your subscriptions, and probably sync. them with del.icio.us too.)

Nevertheless, there's always the tension. How much of your attention do you reveal? And, more importantly, how much do you allow your attention to be blown along with the swarm?

The swarm finds and filters good stuff for you. But at some point, you'll want to strike out on your own. To look into things no-one else in your peer group is. To manage private attention.

This is the big problem for the social host-stuff platforms. Ultimately you don't want to depend on them, not because they might be unreliable, but because they'll cramp your individuality. Blogs are a personal asset, so you'll want to be able to move them : from Editthispage, to Blogger, to TypePad to WordPress, and beyond. Ultimately you'll want full control (and archives) of your blog in some kind of format you can take elsewhere, or manage from your desktop.

If your stuff is tied to other content on the platform, that still doesn't mean you'll want to stay.

Instead you'll want to leave and have the benefits of connectedness too.

You'll still want the photos you added via Flickr to Blogger, to appear on your blog, even if you've left Flickr and your blog's gone to TypePad. As we rush to throw our content into web 2.0 applications, we're actually storing up trouble ... or rather demand - for a new wave of products which will rescue us from dependency on these platforms. For a new kind of indirection or later-binding.

Update : Actually, one pessimistic thought. The chances are that people will be driven off platforms by spam rather than because they get bored in the way Carr predicts. Can I start mis-tagging bookmarks in del.icio.us or pictures in flickr?
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