A couple of recent articles in Wired got me thinking about just how social media services, and thus the value of the big data that they create, could be under threat from their own customers.
The first article, “Silicon Valley Needs to Lose the Arrogance or Risk Destruction,” outlines some issues around the tin ear of the larger social media organizations. I consider this to be more of perception problem for a young industry and their owners rather than a real issue. The free services provided are just too popular at this point.
However, when looking at the entire social media culture, there could be concerns. “The entire business models of Google and Facebook are built not on a physical product or even a service but on monetizing data that users freely supply. Were either company to lose the trust and optimism of its customers, it wouldn’t just be akin to ExxonMobil failing to sell oil or Dow Chemical to sell plastic; it would be like failing to drill oil, to make plastic.
When William Gibson envisioned cyberspace as a “consensual hallucination,” he was right. Unsettle the consensus about the social web and you don’t just risk slowing its growth or depopulating it slightly. You risk ending it, as mistrust of corporate motives festers into cynicism about the entire project.”
The key here is that the big data underlying these products IS the product, or at least where the value of the product resides. No data means no revenue.
Not much of a threat? How is the customer going to duplicate the value of these services without participating and divulging their data for analysis and revenue generation? Funny you should ask: in the same issue, we have an article on BYOC (bring your own cloud). There are tools that allow one to host their own social media site. “But as I discovered, running a cloud brings with it deeper and weirder pleasures. When you’re master of your own domain, you subtly change your relationship to being online. In a thread with friends on my Tonido service, I discovered that I was far more willing to be jokey or nuts or to curse like a sailor. I was no longer worried about my postings suddenly becoming public without my knowledge, as when Facebook “revises” its privacy settings in the middle of the night.” Not only is the BYOC data not accessible to social media companies that need to live off of this data, but it also a bit more under the radar of government organizations. Of course, remember the rule about data: if it is it online, it is available to anybody who really wants to make an effort to obtain it.
And most of us have an old unused server or laptop that could easily be tasked for this purpose. The ease of use of these tools will evolve, and the Torrent culture will spread these tools to all whose interests are peaked. Peaked by, let’s say, their perception that their favorite social media service is stepping on their toes?
Maybe this isn’t just a perception problem after all.