The worst part of not being a full-time blogger, i.e., other work precludes me from jumping on every story, is that you curse a lot. As in, “dammit, I was going to say that.” That happened to me this morning when I read this post by Rob Diana. He was building off a post by Chris Brogan that does an excellent job of examining real-world consumers and what technology means to them. Both posts echo Guidewire Group’s sentiment that the current financial crisis should be a call for the tech world to focus attention on the masses.
Rob’s post, though, takes it one step further to just where I wanted to go. The tech world has at its fingertips a ready-made, gargantuan network of users who have dipped their toe into the social media universe and are primed for more – Facebook. Tech insiders regularly deride Facebook and, at times on Twitter and FriendFeed, there seems to be a game of who can hate Facebook more. We could certainly spend an entire post talking about Facebook’s flaws. But the fact remains that the people who are on it are, for the most part, not involved in the blogosphere. Those are precisely the people entrepreneurs need to reach and, for the moment, they’re lying fallow, playing Scrabble and throwing things at each other.
Just in my little world, Facebook has exploded in the past few months, with seemingly every college acquaintance joining up. In general, their activities are limited to posting pictures, playing games and sending messages. And that, from the entrepreneur’s point of view, is a waste of one hell of a network. No company has nailed this yet – found the chink through which to pull people into truly immersive technologies. Take FriendFeed, for example. My Facebook news feed is primarily populated with FriendFeed updates and a few of my non-tech friends have noticed. But their initial forays into the FriendFeed site itself have proven short lived. There’s too much of a behavior change required to really get the value of FriendFeed. In addition, it can be lonely for a first-timer; you post a link and anxiously wait for comments that don’t come because you have few followers.
In fact, that is the primary hurdle for most social technologies – users don’t get the value without a large circle of connections and you don’t gain connections without a deep level of involvement. That kind of chicken/egg problem will be the death of the social Web. The answer is to deliver these immersive technologies to networks that already exist. Facebook attempted this in part with the comment feature added to its news feed. It took a bit for it to catch on but is now thriving and creating real conversations on once flat pages. There is much more on that page to plumb, though. Smart entrepreneurs who’ll need to watch every dollar in the coming months will recognize that it’s much easier to build on top of an existing social graph than attempt to build your own. Let’s hope they realize it before we lose consumers’ interest.