Now the dust's settled on Facebook's IPO, some of the mainstream media are saying this is the end of the 'social media' bubble…whatever their perspective is on what that phrase means. Buzzwords and phrases have a great way of getting in the way of reality - while it's true that Facebook has slipped into an internet middle age, defined mostly as a vast collection of apparently unmonetizable uploads of everyday photographs and images, the pace of change is rapidly accelerating past the constraints of just thinking around 'social' ideas anyway.
Read any business plan book and you'll quickly find the part that warns you that just because there are 10,000 people in your town, it doesn't mean they will all come and buy your lemonade. The reality of a billion people all having accounts and interconnections on Facebook's seamlessly global website has been an amazing feat, but as the financial offering has proved, hard questions are being asked about the commercial value of the free service, despite its highly addictive qualities to users.
The continuing explosion of Web 2.0 and mobile developments has similar challenges in some cases. Like the Web 1.0 dot com days, when proclamations that web banner ads had only months to live before a blazing new philosophical marketing paradigm would sweep all before it online, the last two years have been long on hype and short on pragmatic reality. Banner ads are not only still with us - along with paid keywords and email marketing they continue to be the dominant form of online advertising. Facebook may have just gone through an expensive lesson in scale: running a billion user account free website with little commercial activity is not dissimilar to Borders Books providing expensive for them air conditioned locations where people can browse books and drink coffee... while getting on their smartphones to price shop and order books from Amazon.
That didn't end well for Borders, who were also behind dot com boom flame out WebVan - you'd think they might have learnt a lesson about supply chain from that. Showroom syndrome is killing big box retail and may prove to be the Achilles heel of Facebook, who aren't exactly the darlings of the advertising industry today, which is where they hope future profits lie.
Just like the 'e' era (eMail, eCommerce, eTail etc) and the 2.0 suffix (Web 2.0, Collaboration 2.0 etc) 'Social' started out somewhat focused and authentic feeling before quickly becoming co-opted as 'new' software and mobile product feature descriptors and differentiators. These terms outlive their usefulness and can often come with so many different contextual meanings and accumulated baggage they are more confusing than helpful. like the old pre internet computing term 'Multimedia' for digital video, audio and animation creation, which quickly became large categories by themselves, 'Social Media' is a broad, vague term, and the social prefix applied to business, learning and other areas arguably constrains evolution. We're hopefully at the tail end of the 'Social Media Power Influencer' era that owes more to individual's digital public relationship skills to amass a following than it does to any credible substance in where you are leading your followers, and the quality or accuracy of the ideas and information you are 'sharing' with them...
So what's next? The rapid shift to mobile smart devices is of course having a huge impact on our digital use patterns, but the fundamentals remain the same. 'Social' has splintered into lots of different verticals and largely become part of the furniture.
While Facebook's founders extracted large sums of money from the retail public markets on the much promoted promise of 'Social' in very dubious circumstances, Google quietly started launching 'the knowledge graph' across computers, smartphones and tablets this month, the next generation of search with links to different sets of results based on contextual meanings for any given search term, with additional information based on popular related queries.
Google bought Metaweb and their Freebase entity graph of people, places and things, which relies on population by the open data community, back in July 2010, and this infrastructure forms a large part of the next gen Google search capabilities. I wrote about the Freebase Parallax search engine way back in August 2008 and it's fascinating to see this thinking now become a core part of Google's search.
Search Engine Watch, a web site that is closely watched by the advertising business since keyword search is such a major business, had a good objective write up by Miranda Miller of the attributes and concerns about the Google Knowledge Graph earlier this month.
There are a couple of big weaknesses in our data and information explosion era: time to information and the ability to filter the flow of fragmented information nuggets. The timeline format, where information is superseded by newer updates, relies heavily on search to find information once lots of content has been created. This blog for example relies on Google searches to find old posts unless you want to scroll and click all the way back to the Metaweb piece I wrote back in 2008.
Google are arguably solving this problem with their knowledge graph, and this could have major ramifications for future social networking experiences, particularly given that Google are a global advertising powerhouse. Humans are fickle in their patronage of social locations whether a restaurant or a website, a bar or a holiday location. Fashion plays a large part in our choices and we tend to like new things.
No experience can afford to stay the same for long in the rapid evolution of digital connectivity, and the connected landscape is sure to look very different in the coming months, and so is the online marketing business.