The Future of Social Media

As the various predictions come out about people’s projections for 2007, I am beginning to see more and more impressive predictions about what will happen in the social media space. People are projecting that the power of human input will do all manner of incredible things.

But there is a basic problem with all this. Unregulated human input on a large scale has serious problems with accuracy. One of the most interesting experiments along these lines is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the largest example of this concept at work.

The site can be an amazing resource on all kinds of different topics. Like many people, I use Wikipedia as a resource from time to time. However, I would never consider it an authoritative resource on an important topic. Let’s look at a couple of examples of this:

  1. If I am looking for information on a technical topic, such as how the DNS system works, I would use the Wikipedia article. One reason for this is that the alternative sites I might come across the same information on are not likely to be more authoritative in any obvious way.
  2. If I am looking for information on a medical condition, I would never rely on the information in Wikipedia. There is plenty of free information available from more authoritative sites that I can hold accountable for what they have told me.

The biggest reason I won’t rely on the Wikipedia information when there is a viable alternative is that information defined by comittee just can’t be depended on. Look, it will work often, maybe even most of the time. But last I checked, people are human. This means some of them are going to represent their own self interests. Ok, in fact, lots of them are.

Wikipedia works some of the time because there are lots of zealots that police the accuracy of the data, and these people work to keep self interested behavior out of the site. But there are not enough zealots available to police the accuracy of every topic. Nor is it realistic to expect that you will ever find enough unpaid people to do this for you.

One of the more well known examples of this type of failure is the Open Directory Project, aka DMOZ. The failures of ODP well known. Too much self interest, and too little policing have blown the validity of this site out of the water. Think of it this way – when was the last time you went to DMOZ looking for quality sites about some topic? I don’t mean for your link building project – I mean for real information.

But what we need to realize is that the social media phenomena is incredible anyway. We shouldn’t try to take the concept of social media more than it is. Sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Second Life (to name a few) are fascinating and thriving communities, where marketing opportunities abound for the savvy marketer.

Social media smart companies realize that they have an opportunity that is unprecedented. You can now engage in real discussions with your customers, and at very low cost, making it scalable. For one thing, companies can use this dialogue to learn more about their customers than ever before.

In addition, companies can engage in dialogues with their critics. Social media smart companies realize that they have critics, all businesses do. Ignoring critics comes with great risks – the crticisims can build momentum and start to affect the growth of the business. Engage those crticics in a conversation, and you have the opportunity to address their converns.

It seems to me that this is pretty amazing as it is …


  1. “Link many people” – typo or freudian slip, Eric? ;)

  2. Eric Enge says:

    Hopefully, it’s not a “freudian” slip, but a slip it was … Anyway, I fixed it. Thanks!

  3. Andy Sands says:

    Similarly to Wikipedia, I think the main problem the ODP has always had is its failure to attract enough volunteers to perform all the link building, link checking and community management tasks needed. Admittedly Wikipedia does a better job of publicly going out there and attracting volunteers (which is helped further by its editing model being more open). I work at a media company in the UK and Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia) actually did a presentation a couple of years ago to some staff and journalists here. ODP doesn’t have any funding available to perform similar PR unfortunately. AOL don’t fund any staff other than technical support, and because of AOL’s ownership – ODP can’t seek alternative funding. I certainly think there is more ODP could do in the PR area – even without funding though.
    As for dialogue with critics – I reckon the problem the ODP has is that it doesn’t really have many critics (most web users have never even heard of it) other than SEOs/Webmasters who are frustrated by not having their sites listed. In many cases this is because there is insufficient editorial resource to review those sites, and in others it is because their sites are not actually listable according the the ODP guidelines. But reiterating that doesn’t really constitute useful dialogue I suppose,
    ODP Editor

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