Slow Down Or Risk Blowing by the Mainstream

Slow poke!

Slow poke!

Is the social web moving too fast for the mainstream?  Has the speed of the creation and destruction cycle gotten too fast (look at what is happening to newspapers)?  Are new and exciting innovations being ignored by the mainstream because they fear to invest too much time and resources into technologies that might be flash in the pan (could this be especially true for small businesses)?  Are early adopters and technology advocates who declare social web platforms and applications hot and then dead at record speeds part of the problem and stalling mainstream adoption?

Here are some observations to ponder:

  • Blogging is only about 10 years old – and the explosion of popularity around blogging happened about five years ago.  Yet six months ago, Wired blogger Paul Boutin declared blogging dead (and he hasn’t been alone).  Boutin called the blog “so 2004” and said it couldn’t compete with Facebook and Twitter.  As of 2008, approximately 12 percent of blogs were run by corporations, according to Technorati.  Isn’t it amazing that a format can be shuffled off to the cemetery in a body bag when only slightly more than one out of every 10 companies have even tried it?  Shouldn’t blogging be a crucial component of online communications?
  • RSS is also about 10 years old (but the common orange RSS logo didn’t come into common usage until 2005).  It’s difficult to determine how many people use RSS feeds, but Forrester Research reported in October 2008 that adoption was at 11 percent of internet users and that RSS might have already peaked.  I think those numbers were low then, but regardless they are probably much higher now.  But most likely not above 20-25 percent.  However, we now have a growing movement (led by Steve Gillmor) declaring RSS dead.  Gillmor believes Twitter and other realtime platforms are better ways to find and track news.  It wasn’t long ago that RSS was seen as one of the cornerstones of the social web.  Can that really be over already?  Should be wait until at least half of Internet users try it?
  • And how can Twitter be dead?  Yet many early technology adopters are already moving off of Twitter and onto FriendFeed or Tumblr.  MediaPost ran a column this week about why Twitter won’t change marketing. I think its too early to tell if Twitter will change everything (although clearly it has had a large short-term impact on marketing in less than three years of existence).  But the most interesting thing about the MediaPost commentary wasn’t the rather sketchy conclusions, but the numbers.  According to the piece, only one percent of Twitter users visit daily (although this number is misleading because most people access Twitter through desktop applications, not web browsers) and more than 70 percent of those that sign up don’t return.  Clearly Twitter is still in its nascent stages.  The service has great potential, but it was only founded in 2006 and didn’t hit the mainstream consciousness until late 2008.  Declaring it over or complaining about its overall impact seems rather short-sighted at this point.
  • Remember the hype around Second Life and how it was going to transform businesses?  Early adopters in technology bought islands and built grand virtual office complexes.  But almost as soon as Second Life seemed to get going – many early adopters turned on it.  Valleywag declared Second Life dead in February and called it “firmly headed into irrelevance.”  I’ll also confess that I’m guilty of piling on Second Life as well.

The social web – and the concept of communicating via web technologies – isn’t going anywhere.  But the hyper-pace of adoption and then declaration of R.I.P. seems to have hit ridiculous new speeds.  It’s become difficult for mainstream audiences and businesses to figure out what technologies to embrace because of this environment.

The key is for consultants to advise above the jostling, crowded and hyperactive environment of specific applications and platforms.  Consultants should be helping clients understand what the social web means: which is direct, one-on-one communications with constituent groups.  The social web enables everyone – from your neighbor Judy to the local bookstore to the mega-large corporation – to become publishers.  In the end, technologies will come and go – at least for the time being.  But the concept of communicating via the web isn’t going anywhere.

Remember the dot-com and then dot-bomb era when shopping online skyrocketed and then imploded?  Well, online shopping has continued to grow and its a $200 billion industry.  The social web will probably follow the same trajectory.

Just like the dot-com/bomb era – expect a social web shake-out.  This will be powered in part by the confusion among the masses about which platforms to use and which ones not to use because of the speed at which this cycle now takes place.  Remember how long it took to move from record albums to cassettes to CDs to MP3s?  That’s happening at blazing speed now.

Hopefully, not too fast that the mainstream will take years to catch up.

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