The Problem with the Next Big Thing

I’m writing today after a few quiet days on Facebook and Twitter. The quietness is perhaps due to winter blues (if you are in the northern hemisphere) or summer holidays (in the southern). Or, you can be cynical like me and say that people are virtually “socialized out”; that, after all this time on the two big social networks, we’re looking for other stimuli. Maybe real life?

I read Michael Moore-Jones’s review of Quora with interest. He is very enthusiastic about the new website, and with good reason.

I’m still in the “wait and see” camp. I joined, part of the 2011 rush he wrote about, though I had heard of the site earlier. However I had stumbled upon Cwora, the spoof site, before I ever signed up into Quora.

Quora is attractive at the moment because of the people who are on board. The folks who invited me I both respect, so, like other networks in their infancy, you assume there’s a nice community of well educated people involved. But will it always stay that way?

Facebook is, as it has been to me since I joined in 2006, a tool. Admittedly, I have been suckered in to using it as a time-waster as well. But that seems to be out of my system. I’ve organized school reunions on it, and I’ve played quizzes on it. Other than as a tool to talk to people, it no longer holds much appeal to me as a social network where I want to waste time.

Twitter was ruined when the Twitbots started trawling the Twitterverse for other accounts to follow. I used to delete them as they came in but I just can’t be bothered any more.

Perhaps it’s the economy kicking off again. There are things to do, things we put on hold for a few years while we reoriented ourselves. Facebook—forget it, it’s not important. Tweetbots, why should I care?

I wrote a few years ago, for one of the Happy About series of books predicting the following year, that people would go back to brands they trusted for online entertainment. That hasn’t happened—Facebook has continued to grow and become something that Altavista, Infoseek, Go and the like failed to become in the 1990s. It has become a portal; somewhere where people go to before they even venture to the loo each morning, and from which they can springboard to other places. Forget Google: Facebook has filtered your interests for you.

But have we become so used to Facebook that it’s starting to become invisible? And if it is invisible, then maybe we’ve incorporated it into our lives so it’s no longer a novelty. We take it for granted, like television or radio. As a medium, it is noise. It’s just there.

Not long ago, we of the Gen X years sat round the telly and enjoyed our two state-owned channels. There was a shared culture of everyone watching the same things, mainly because there was nothing else to watch. Television was the novelty and, oh, the choices we had with two channels! And, in 1989, our choices exploded with a third!

So where is that wave of excitement now? Television might try to innovate with Tivo or HD, but I watch so little of it now. Very, very little on prime-time even piques my interest, when all that seems to reside on the terrestrial channels are reality shows (I live in reality, thank you—I don’t need Mark Burnett’s version of it).

In the early 1990s, that wave of excitement was the advent of the Internet. So we all rushed to it. We all got email addresses—I’ve had mine since the late 1980s. But who among us doesn’t now see email as vanilla, as noise, and even as an annoyance?

The appeal of email in, say, 1992, was the growing number of people using it, usually our peers. And those who were not our peers were well-educated people who had some similiarities to us. The business people on it were often trying to learn beyond their borders, as was I. I had looked at telex machines years before and marvelled. I saw War Games and was captivated. Now this stuff was becoming real, on the screen in front of me.

Then the spammers came and ruined it. But, never fear, there were blogs. Blogs were the next frontier, and so many blogs were worth following and reading. Then the sploggers came and ruined it. YouTube, what a great way to watch videos! Then the commenters came and ruined it. The pattern repeats, and while Quora compares favourably to the likes of Yahoo! Answers for now (which has also, in part, been affected by netizens who just want to vent and be cheeky), will it too ultimately become vanilla?

It seems there are two potential paths for social networks to tread. One is to get big and risk the same-old downward trend of the other services. The other is to think small.

LinkedIn, despite falling into a funk in the middle of the decade, seems to be back with a vengeance—but as a fairly closed network where they’ve insisted that you only connect with those you know and wish to do business with. A Small World, which some have labelled ‘Snobbook’, revels in its exclusivity—I’ve certainly been picky in whose invitation I accept, again, thanks to the site’s strictness.

Yet I have come to trust both brands. They are still tools, but neither has been ruined in the eight and six years I have been on them respectively, because of the desire to consciously limit their growth.

I’m going to hold back on being as enthusiastic as Michael. We are on the hunt for the next big thing, but I have a feeling it’s going to be something even more radical—as in, upgrade-your-gear-or-miss-out radical. Luddites queue here!

[Image Credit: jonahkessel.com]

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...

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