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Why App.net Is A Threat To The Free Social Media Landscape

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I’ve been on App.net for a few days now. Its Alpha iteration is basically a clutter-free Micro-blogging site that works very nicely. Nothing special to report so far, except that it’s kind of paying to have the privilege of being on Twitter in 2006.

But that may be the point.

People have written off App.net before it’s even begun. But even if it fails – and I don’t think it will – the service will still have proved a major point. The message is this; social media is virtually without financial value to consumers. Nobody wants to pay for it. They want it for free or don’t give a shit about it at all. In other words, if the fact that “we are the product” becomes too clear, we’ll know we’ve been stiffed and we’ll move on to another technology.

Ning was supposed to be – and frankly should have been – the answer to a serious problem in social media. It’s too damn public. Google + came along and enabled circling which, with management, definitely makes your feed your own, but that pesky organizational thing is an issue. And the elephant in the room, Facebook, has been busy mimicking G+ in order to keep its billion users happy.

Social media is a double time-suck for the most part. There’s the obsessive over-featuring on the one hand, along with the organization burden that comes with it. And on the other, there’s the constant and frankly pathetic human need for narcissistic validation that’s like a lead weight of insecurity following you around, like a slave’s ball and chain. We’re wasting our time with this stuff, and we know it. But it’s a drug. A social ME-dia drug. My guess is it will – ultimately – give way. And services like App.net will help fill a growing need for something more – or more accurately, something less.

Facebook is rapidly turning into a money machine, feeding on your content to satisfy its shareholders and big advertisers. Well done them. They’re bringing us the ability to buy more crap, and get into more debt, which we’ll be passing on to our kids. My guess is that over time it will get out of the Social Network game, and turn itself into a vast corporate bank, the Berkshire Hathaway of the future. And because money begats money in this grand old world, its future looks rosy indeed. The same is probably true of Google, which is diversifying into real world industries pretty fast.

And where will that leave the Social layer? Over time it’s likely to become transactional. If you value it, if the service is good enough, you will pay for it.

App.net is built on the same model as HBO. You pay for it, so you don’t have to dvr the ads out of the way. In other words your stream isn’t cluttered. It’s clean. You don’t pay much. Thirty-six bucks a year. But it’s money well spent if you like feeling emancipated from the frenzied, over-colonized, ad-obsessed world that social media has become.

So far the HBO model has failed to penetrate the world of social media and for that matter journalism to any meaningful degree, but if it does, and it could, then normal service could be resumed. Life and culture could be restored beyond a viral lurch this way or another according to the latest boring, repetitive meme.

And who pays the price if App.net and other paywalls work?

The celebrities and their microceleb cousins, the marketers, the publicity whores, the social media experts.

Seems like a good trade to put them out of business.

Written by coolrebel

March 10, 2013 at 10:21 am

Apps – A Paradox Of Choice Is Coming.

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The best-selling Swiss Army Knives don’t carry everything, they carry the blades and tools that people use regularly enough to feel they’re worth having in their pocket. A Swiss Army Knife that’s fatter than it is long once, twice, or even three times over is an absurd idea – but in a way that’s the direction we’re headed in the App universe.

Apps are like Swiss Army Knife tools. People can only have so many before the addition of a new item becomes meaningless. They just don’t need it. They already have one that works.

Every days a hundred new apps go live on mobiles or on the web that are trying to usurp the position of another. People tend to stick to the familiar, to the app that works, to the one that’s most practiced and reliable, and widely used. It’s becoming harder and harder for a new app to replace an established app – unless it actually offers something that both makes life easier and has an Oh My God impact. ( MLE + OMG = A winner). In other words, the new tool has to be different enough or a big enough leap on one that’s already on your Swiss Army Knife.

That’s a tough nut to crack, and with each day that passes, it becomes even harder.

Just re-conceptualizing a current online practice doesn’t cut it with anymore. Simply being evolutionary is not enough, because existing and established apps can evolve and do every day, swallowing up minor innovations with ease. Successful new stand-alone apps have to be revolutionary, with all the problems that entails. People doubt true newness, and it’s hard to pull off.

It’s a challenge that we all face, if we want to take our place on the online version of the Swiss Army Knife.

Written by coolrebel

January 5, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Why The Instagram TOS Mess Matters

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Instagram was bought by Facebook which is doing everything it can to make more money and keep its shareholders happy, so it’s no surprise they made the now infamous changes to their TOS. And while there’s nothing wrong with making a buck, one does have to be careful about HOW one is making that buck.

The rise of social media has brought with it an ongoing debate about whether we, the user base, are the “product”. After all, without us Instagram and all the other social media outlets are nothing. There’s no there there except for us.

We get to “share” our stuff for free to one, two, a hundred, a thousand, or everyone on the planet. The apparent, the marketed, and the supposedly compelling need to broadcast ourselves is seen by the companies involved as a “service”, and because it has to be free so there’s no barrier to “sharing”, they have to earn their money in a myriad of ways that don’t involve direct fees from us.

Most of those fees involve advertising or data mining or sponsoring or sales of third-party applications and services or licenses. All these are fair game. No user gets harmed in the making of that movie. Sure, they may get a little squirrelly at being picked over by all those big-data peeps, but it’s a price almost all of us will pay.

But Instagram went too far, and if the same basic construct is in the TOS of Twitter and FB, it’s also beyond the pale. Signing up on any site is a contract, which users see as a trivial matter, but it’s not. We’re told not to trust the small print and this is a good example of why. The license we sign up to on Instagram is something that they companies themselves would never agree to in a million years, but we, the pawns, have to suck it up – and that’s if we notice in the first place.

They can make ads out of our stuff, books, magazines, movies, stock photo libraries, you name it, to sell, market, and sell again, and we, the peons, get bubkis, except, what? Glory? Bragging rights?

That’s snake oil, ladies and gentleman. It’s subterfuge. It’s just not right.

It’s not going to matter, of course. Even in the new world of slave labor with a smile, crowd-sourcing as source of singular profit, and even while this move has lifted the veil on the social media crowd more than just a little, nobody is going to care. There are already hints of an adjustment coming from Instagram, but they’ll keep pushing until finally, and irrevocably they get away with it. The truth is these companies treat our content as pig and cattle feed, as slurry, as filler, and the pigs, that’s us, just keep on snouts down at the trough. It’s the new way of the new world.

Instagram and Facebook, among others, want to appropriate just a little too much of us this time, blurring the lines of ownership, expression and privacy, as they march towards the creation of a new information, media, and content plutocracy, based as much on gilt-edged greed of the bricks and mortar fat cats and bankers they profess to hate. The new elixir is just as intoxicating as the old ones, but this time the illusion is delivered with a sincere emoticon, a mocha latte, a pair of torn jeans, and a mean libertarian streak that’s hidden far, far beneath the surface.

Happy snapping, everyone.

Written by coolrebel

December 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm

API No Go. Twitter Makes The Right Move.

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Third Party Apps Be Gone.

LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram are likely to be the first of many to be cut off from some aspects of Twitter’s API. There will be more, and contrary to what many are saying it’s a good thing too.

Twitter has decided that in order to become financially more responsible it has to stop being part a wider social media ecosystem and forge a path as a distinct ecosystem in itself.

This may be the beginning of a wider trend. After a few years of open streams and cross platform sharing we may be entering a phase where each platform has its own distinct group of users. You can be a part of as many as you want, but they’ll no longer be connected to all via one.

This is what is generally known as competition. And in the media marketplace, competition is good – unless you’re a third-party app developer looking to cash in on free content that’s no longer going to be quite so free.

When the platforms established ground rules for colonizing the internet, they formed what essentially became a cartel enabling each to connect to the others so that could more successfully colonize every known web page in the universe. Those days are over. The job is done. Every page has share buttons for every platform, which leaves the platforms in a bind. What makes one distinct from the other other than a few key quirks ( like the 140 character rule), branding elements and UX gizmos.

The answer is how they make money.

Facebook has been the most efficient of the colonizers. It’s “like” functionality feeds right into its money-making potential by making its advertising that much more efficient. Google is catching up fast with “+1” which feeds right into their search and advertising dominance. The irony is that Facebook and Twitter can live on the same planet when it comes to colonizing the Internet.  But there’s one player that can’t.

Twitter. Twitter is different. Twitter is an anomaly.

What does tweeting a page link do for them? Nothing at all. It just clogs up the stream so people leave Twitter and don’t click on sponsored tweets or other money-making ventures. If you’re Twitter, this is not good, so you need to make sure you can separate and define yourself, to make people stay on your platform and click on your crap. Which accounts for the new-found muscularity of the company as it makes its play for more control.

One can understand how upset developers are that Twitter is putting up walls after so cleverly leaving them down for so long to attract users. Just about every aspect of the company’s success was created by users, from the hashtag to the retweet downwards. And how does the company reward its users.

By making them use Twitter’s own free functionality to Tweet. Not a big deal.

It’s a little nefarious, but nowhere near as seedy as any of Facebook’s shenanigans, and in order for Twitter to survive, and maybe even thrive, it has to move down this line. The truth is, that social media companies have to sucker us into helping them grow. They have to rely on our narcissistic, competitive urges to make money. And the developers who have earned a pretty penny working on third-party apps shouldn’t feel too bad. After all, this is just another form of creative destruction, and they’re sure to be in favor of that.

Written by coolrebel

August 23, 2012 at 2:08 pm