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15Dec/092

Entrepreneurship Social-Media and Skeptics Oh My! (Prt. 3)

This is the final part of a three part series I wrote in 2008. It was my take on the developing web 2.0 landscape. Now that the fall semester has come to a close, I'll be able to dedicate a little more mindshare to this website. I want to put a capstone on this, revisited, 3 part series and this year by offering my thoughts on a book I read about a month ago - Guy Kawasaki's Rules For Revolutionaries. I offered some brief thoughts over on my "short-form" tumblr blog, but I really want to expand on those thoughts here. Check back within the next week or two for that.

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In my last post on this subject, I spoke to the benefits I've experienced thus far with social-media, where I think social-media is heading, and how social-media is all in all a good thing. I'm going to try to address some of the concerns present with current day social-media as I see them and also try to cover some of the criticisms skeptics have raised pertaining to social-media and maybe a rebuttal to them.

Time to wrap this thing up.

The Skeptics

The internet, since its inception, has been criticized for its lack of credibility and rightly so; the internet and its predecessor has been a hotbed of piracy, copy write infringement, porn, and all things sinister and evil. Services such as Apple TV, Netflix, and iTunes have only been around for a few years and those services have only recently become widely accepted mediums for utilizing the internet as a legal source of media. The long and skinny of it is that the internet is still a very unrefined place - the wild wild west of our generation.

There is no clear model of how to generate revenue from the internet; although many have profited greatly from the internet thus far, those successes are few and far between and there are no clear answers why some have succeeded and others have failed miserably. Furthermore, there is no sign of what will and won't work in the future of the internet. We're all pulling at straws, hoping that something sticks and this is the very reason there are so many skeptics of web 2.0.

In the past, the most effective way to make money on the web was through banner ads. But banner ads have been just a piss poor attempt at digitizing traditional advertising formats, producing abysmal performance per dollar spend in comparison to their traditional counterparts. Furthermore, it's been argued that people don't want to be marketed to while online - that they want to get in and get out and move on while surfing the web. Others claim social-networking is superficial, too time consuming, dilutes your personal brand, and is no replacement for face to face contact

I can't help but think of Guy Kawasaki when discussing this topic because he seems to have been on the forefront of some of the trends brought on by the internet, if not create some trends, but I asked my business formation professor about what he thought of him (since he referenced him in one of his lecture notes) and my professor had one simple question: What successful ventures has he created or financed?

The question floored me to an extent, mostly because of the sheer simplicity of it. He had a way of cutting straight to the chase in his lecture style and he definitely delivered in this razor sharp questioning. He continued (and I'm paraphrasing here):

He [Guy Kawasaki] seems to have written some books on the subject of business formation and have had some success there, but be careful about what you read and really vet your sources because anyone can write anything they want, especially on the internet. Look into what they have actually accomplished and always take everything with a grain of salt.

Fairly basic advice, but for some reason it really resonated for me: So I asked myself "I like Guy Kawasaki, what ventures of his do I know of that have been wildly successful?" Well, I can't really say for sure. I can only assume his "Alignment of Interests" section on his blog indicates some of the ventures he's involved in and that his venture capital firm Garage Tech has a pretty impressive portfolio of companies listed (at least I'm impressed by the fact that one of my favorite finance sites, Motley Fool, is listed).

Like I said before, I came across an article in the WSJ about Penelope Trunk and through her blog found out about Guy Kawasaki, then alltop, then all kinds of super relevant and informative blogs and people like Zen Habits, Unclutterer, Life Hacker, Chris Brogan, Problogger and on and on. I kind of got so enthralled in all this new and intriguing information, I think I kind of lost a little bit of my analytical and usually skeptical approach to new or untested information. Once you start clicking through a lot of these links, you'll notice that a lot of information will end up getting reused and recycled in a flurry of almost circle jerk proportions - not necessarily a bad thing in its own right when the information is relevant, useful, and legitimate. But very dangerous when one blogger makes baseless claims that get substantiated by multiple bloggers who may find that stance convenient to what ever world view they promote. Copyblogger speaks to the "circle-jerk" nature of bloggrolling I'm referring to here as a barrier to success for social-media as a means of revenue generation.

One of my close friends is very much anti social-networking. The irony here is that he's a programmer who spent a significant amount of time in the bay area during the mid to late nineties who worked with a lot of start ups (even to the level of being the CTO for one). His gripe? He wants to spend less time on the internet not more. He shares the sentiments of social-networking being too much of a time commitment for little personal gain. He also argues that every time he logs onto what little sites he's a member of (a fairly infrequent occurrence), one site falls out of light in favor of another. There's really no keeping up with who uses what site and to what end, leaving you with a disconnected network of friends in different circles spread throughout the internet.

Look, I get it... I get that the "true" utility of social-media has yet to be defined, I get that no one wants to be pitched wares by their "friends" every time they log-in and check their messages, I get that legitimacy is in question every time you open google reader to check out what's happening in the your world, I really do. But look, there is a new landscape out there, and I'm not talking about technology, I'm talking about new attitudes to and expectations of the internet.

Web 1.0 didn't look any different from web 2.0 (well, maybe there were less annoyingly flashy websites in web 1.0), no one really knew what to do with it or what to think of it. We were still used to very limited sources of news and opinion at that time, and for that reason, those sources had to be highly scrutinized, editorialized, and legitimized through a systematic source of checks and balances. That process lead to a centralized monopoly of information providers simply out of the necessity to develop and maintain the resources needed to maintain the infrastructure of information. Web 2.0 isn't about new internet technologies, it's about new ways of generating and processing information, it's about new attitudes towards an open channel of information that democratizes our most precious asset - knowledge.