First of all, yes people, this blog is not (entirely) dead. I’ve been a bit busy with stuff over the last few months. In many ways, Flickr and Twitter have replaced this blog for cataloging my random acts of self-expression. And while there were a few subjects I felt worthy of real blog posts in that time, and I even started writing up a couple of them, I just haven’t had the time (or, more accurately, the attention span) to see any of them to completion. But today, I found myself writing a blog post sized comment on my friend Ian’s blog for the second time in a week. So, I figured why not leverage some of that energy over here. So, here goes…
Right now it seems that everyone is talking about Apple, and you can’t talk about Apple without talking about Steve Jobs. As a student of business and management, I find Apple since the return of Steve Jobs to be an extremely interesting case study which I’ve followed very closely. And for someone who’s never worked there, I think I’ve been able to glean some relatively deep insights into the company:
I’ve been an avid Apple customer for the last 17 years, giving me a solid grasp of the history of their consumer product efforts
The product I work on was originally Mac-only and is now competitive with features in OSX, so I know what it’s like to be an Apple ISV and competitor
I work with a number of hardcore Apple fan boys (and one ex-employee/fan boy) — no less than 5 members of our team waited in line for the iPhone — so I get to observe first-hand the impact of Apple-mania even though I’m no longer as personally passionate about the company as I once was
A little over 2 years ago, I sold the 200 shares of Apple stock I bought back when Jobs returned to be CEO. At $41/share, I made a tidy profit and an $18,000 mistake based on yesterday’s closing price (or, more depressingly, $21,672.35 based on the 52-week high). Why did I sell? Simple, I underestimated Steve Jobs.
I originally invested in Apple because I felt it was undervalued based on the assets that were in plain sight. Contrary to people who thought Apple was on its last legs and about to be steamrolled by the cheaper WinTel ecosystem, I believed strongly that the innovation and quality Steve Jobs brought to computers insured that Apple would lead the growing high-end segment of the home PC market and would be profitable doing so. When the stock started surging on the hype of the iPod, I sold because I felt the market was placing too much value on a non-core product line with unsustainable growth. Boy, was I wrong!
I just finished the first of my three planned white papers last night, and decided to let it percolate a bit before moving on to the next two. It is currently a six-page screed on microeconomic theory in the digital age, and I will likely post some portions of it here soon. In the meantime, I thought I would catch up on some blogosphere surfing and MyWebbookmarking (come on Yahoo! marketing, where’s the verb for that? MyWebbing? Gong!). And after reading through a couple of posts linked to from Kareem’s highly-underrated blog, something just snapped.
I work at Yahoo!. We are the leading community on the internet both in size and breadth of tools. And, we have some brilliant people who really get community (shouts out to: Ian, Michael, Russell, Randy, Stewart, Caterina, Danah, and Cameron, among others). But we also have some people who seriously don’t get it. They see community as a means to an end, not the end in itself. They are jealous of MySpace and Facebook and whatever the next big fad will be, because of their rapid audience growth.
Audience is what matters to these people because audience is what you sell in conventional advertising [oh, wtf…I’ll succumb to the 1.0/2.0 cliché – I guess it’s only a cliché because it works], let’s call it advertising 1.0. As Google has taught the world, advertising 2.0 is about selling intent. In the pre-digital age, audience put through a number of filters (like content association, demographic information, etc) was used as a proxy for intent. Advertisers weren’t really happy with this approximation, because they knew it was an inefficient means of buying what they really wanted – access to consumers with a certain intent. But, that was the best that conventional media could do, so advertisers settled. As John Wanamaker said approximately a hundred years ago, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” I won’t go further into advertising 2.0 other than to say that it is coming faster and faster. What makes advertising 2.0 relevant to this particular rant is the fact that it favors monetization of communities, not just audiences.
Getting back to the people who don’t get the “it” of communities; the way you can tell these people is that they talk about “user-generated content” way too much – they treat it as some kind of panacea that will fix the problems inherent with trying to port conventional media business models to the internet. The worst of these offenders use the term so much that they have taken to saving time by abbreviating it…from this day forth, I vow to walk out of any meeting in which someone actually uses the term “UGC” in anything but an ironic context. (Ok, I probably won’t really do that if there are executives present…but, that person will be put on my moron list).
Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot. Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.
So what’s user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with packing peanuts. Lovely.
Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online “user-generated content” is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, “Hey baby, let’s have intercourse.”
Amen brother! Derek goes on to suggest the term “Authentic Media,” which I like a lot and hope gets memeified. Authentic media definitely jibes a lot more with all the web and media 2.0 theory around which people are beginning to coalesce.
Anyway, back to the rant at hand. The reason I ironically titled the post “Community ‘Products'” (yes, my over use of quotation marks is often meant to denote irony), is that I don’t believe big companies can succeed at community products. Big companies, like Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and even AOL, contribute most to the community value chain by building community platforms, on which the community builds its own products. Isn’t that the real underlying goal of online communities, to incite scalable self-sustaining user-behavior? If you define the product as what the end-user actually consumes, the value of any community product to a given individual user tends to be proportional to its focus on his interests. On social networking sites, like Friendster, Yahoo! 360, MySpace, Facebook, etc, what the end user consumes is a combination of content produced by the host, the community, and himself. The more that product management rests in the hands of that user, the more focused the product will be on that user’s