Community And The Media: Where Will It Begin?
There is a great guest post by Robert Young over at Om Malik's blog in reaction to a post by Jeff Jarvis that distills the changing dynamics between a corporation and its customer community down to its essence:
As the power shifts increasingly towards community, the corporation loses its grip on the traditional means of control. Yet, by letting go of control, the corporation creates an environment where the community willingly creates its own switching costs.Young uses the examples of the eBay and MySpace communities to illustrate: the value a customer derives from the service stems from the reputation he has built up buying and selling over time (in the case of Ebay), or the social network he has amassed (in the case of Myspace). The desire to keep this built-up value results in high switching costs, costs that were not built in by the owner of the system, but which were created by users of the system.
Young presupposes a system that is subject to Metcalfe's law (the system becomes exponentially valuable as the number of users grow.) This has significant implications for new media sites, most of which still largely use a broadcast model, rather than engaging visitors in dialogue. Let me quote from The Cluetrain Manifesto, which I am in the middle of reading:
The broadcast mentality isn't dead by any means. It's just become suicidal.
So the question for media sites that want to thrive in a hyperlinked world becomes: what are the fastest and best ways to engage visitors in conversation with other visitors about the news?
Hint: you don't have to look beyond this blog's feedback system to find an easy first step, however, it will take a fundamental shift in mindset for an existing media company to cover the news in this day and age--adding story comments won't be enough. Embracing principles of transparency, sharing, communication, trust, and openness will form the basis for such a company to be successful. These principles are more important than the technology platform that a new media company will use, because they will influence how the platform is built.
Also of interest is the question of what advantages are conferred upon the first big mover in the space. Friendster had critical user mass before MySpace, but ultimately provided little value and so users left their profiles to decay. MySpace learned from Friendster's mistakes and moved in to provide a personal space for people to customize, communicate, and connect.
No big media companies have effectively transitioned from the broadcast model, because none of their competitiors have yet forced their hands by drinking the user-generated conversation Kool-Aid. I know that there are enough smart people working at big media companies to make first-mover advantage into the space an asset. A well-designed platform will attract users, and if Young is to be believed, help users create their own switching costs.
So if a well-designed product will help users stay locked in, which media company will accept the risk of being the first mover, step up to the plate, embrace openness, and launch the first technology platform that helps visitors connect and converse?