Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Cutting edge of the Web: Social Publishing

As we know, the Internet has evolved from a crude communication tool to its current role as the backbone for global information publishing and acquisition, communication and commercial transactions. When we quickly review the changing World Wide Web, we see that we started with static web pages. They were basically brochures online. We have see from there several interesting developments in communication on the web, moving well beyond emails and instant messaging. These all fall into the category of publishing, and represent the democratization of information, and the formation of community.

The first trend in publishing to consider is “Micro-blogging” (the most famous of which is Twitter). This content is highly perishable, and only relevant in fleeting moments in time. People literally share their moment by moment experiences; their reactions to events and the actions of others. It is social small talk with a wide range of subjects. This type of information and its frequent updates is best suited for mobile phones and less appropriate for social networks.

The next and perhaps best established trend is the use of weblogs or “Blogging” (Wordpress, Typepad, Blogger are all big players). This is generally less stream of consciousness, and more considered content. It will generally have a longer shelf life. It is very common to link to other websites and even opinion blogs. The power of this software is being able to easily create and edit content, pulling different threads of information together. For the author, being able to return and edit ideas, revisiting and revising them is appealing. With an audience, there is an opportunity for limited dialogue vis-à-vis comments or discussion forums.

The third area of web publishing is the large and growing “Social Networks” (Facebook, MySpace, Linkedin, and Bebo to name the biggest). These are largely ways to present one’s identity. The content is relatively static – your sex, age, education do not change. The connections are also casual and circumstantial – where you went to high school or college. This has been a good start, but the content tends to be photographs of parties. When someone gets serious about publishing, they appear more like people using a blog or twitter with their new found audience. These sites have run into image problems because of stalkers online or false identities leading to disasters (a young woman committed suicide after a false boyfriend hurt her feelings). Also, when young people post compromising photos (drinking excessively, or committing vandalism), their potential employers find them and decide “no hire.” Thus managing a new persona, as Will Ferrell showed us as “Frank the Tank” in Old School, can be difficult if not done carefully.

The last, and most important are is “Social Publishing” (Wetpaint, Ning, Wikia are the best known). When they first appeared, wikis promised to allow “many to many” publishing and editing of information. Wikipedia has been an amazing success in one sense – it has a lot of information. But in another critical sense, it has been a disappointment. It is not easy to use. Moreover, the hierarchy created -- editors, moderators and contributors – leads to a division of power. Only administrators or editors can decide what stays and what goes. There is “an ongoing tension within Wikipedia is characterized as the inclusionists versus the exclusionists. The inclusionists argue that one of Wikipedia's core values is that it should be open to all ideas that truth emerges from a variety of directions. Better to include than exclude. The exclusionists see Wikipedia's utilitarianism diminished if too much froth clouds the valuable information inside,” according to Sean Silverthorne at Harvard Business School Cases.

What is keeping wikis or true social publishing from taking off? For one, the user interface has not been easy to use until now. With http://www.wetpaint.com/, and its competitors, anyone can follow a simple 1-2-3 process and establish a site, and then begin to “click and type” to add content. The question will move from “how can I be heard or find my 15 minutes of fame?” to “how can the power of social publishing be used to benefit my business or organization?” Some of the first benefactors of social publishing have been non-profits and charities, especially in the area of education. Also, media publishers, literally those who distribute video and music, may well find social publishing to be a way to address the chronic challenges they face in monetizing their intellectual property and securing a loyal and growing community. Let’s look at several key constituents beyond the individual creator of websites and wikis.


IT Professionals: For the most part, platforms offered by firms like wetpaint or wikia are ad-sponsored or free. In the case of wetpaint, they are easy to set up and require little training and administration. These platforms can and have been deployed for a number of internal applications, including: Knowledge management; Project documentation and collaboration; E-learning Archival record keeping; and Status reporting

Publishers: What social publishing offers to traditional is a chance to create community and engagement around their IP, and to monetize the “long tail” of content. The growing atomization of content has thus far been difficult to capture for publishers. Netflix and Amazon have done so with different business models. Social publishing encourages people to not only create community and content around books, magazines, movies, television shows, and issues, but it also establishes a commercial platform for the IP owner. The potential is only limited by the imagination:

1. User-created topical content mediated by a publisher’s editorial staff
2. User-enhanced content where additional content is added to existing material (for example, dynamically generated newspapers or newsletters created by volunteers).

Software vendors: Social publishing offers a platform for software vendors to establish customer service centers with the users aiding each other in problem solving. Moreover, users of social publishing in the software space can and will drive development of technology solutions to meet their needs. Software vendors should keep this in mind as they continue to layer functionality on top of products that may already be over- engineered. Another lesson is that if off-the-shelf products aren’t available to meet users’ needs or they are priced too high, users will invent their own solutions. Moreover, in the increasingly altruistic world of software development, they are quite likely to share their solutions with others. Open source and public domain software philosophies are completely consistent with the social publishing application to the collaborative work space.

To summarize, the newest and most exciting wave in the evolution of the web is happening right now. It is social publishing. The applications for improved individual identity and experiences on the Internet are manifold. The opportunity for community-building around any topic or passion point is nearly limitless. The implementation of social publishing in business is very promising – from acquisition to owner loyalty engagement to customer service to product development. In total, social publishing and wikis are just beginning but will soon shape everything we know as Web 2.0.

2 comments:

Amy said...

If you had asked me 30+ years ago whether Jeff Bell could have a cogent thought, let alone a sentence containing words, phrases and/or acronyms such as "semantic web," "conditional reflex," and, ok.. just the word "semantic," I would have laughed in your face.

Today, I humbly bow before my old friend and say, "well done."

BTW, I found ONE pic on FB that even remotely looks like you did in HS. But it was there, and I remembered good times. So glad you're in the Blogosphere. I'll try to keep up and try to figure out what you're trying to figure out. Not there yet, but I'm getting there!

Grace & peace,
Amy

Amy said...

sorry, I left out the acronyms. But I'm too tired to go back and find them.