Web 2.0 – Who’s participating?

June 25, 2007

BusinessWeek ran Web Strategies That Cater To Customers – a big title for a meager paragraph that doesn’t tell you anything more than “there are people out there who care about what you are doing – tune in to what they’re doing”. Thanks for this strategic enlightenment.

They had a couple of interesting stats to show, though, on the growth of social media usage and on what people are doing and who participates by Forrester. On average participation still follows the 1% rule so the interesting question is how to incentivize participation in the right way. Some musings on that later.

Let the tail wag

June 24, 2007

It’s been almost three years since Joi Ito asked the question “Will the tail wag?”. Will there always be a clear separation between producers and consumers of content or will the lines blur completely? Will most consumers create content as well?

Although there has never been a clear separation between the two as all producers are consumers and many consumers are also producers of content, Joi’s question is a very valid one. The rise of an environment coined with the buzz word Web 2.0 changed the rules of the game to the extent that now consumers are not only producing content in their private realms. They now have access to a global audience and crowdsourcing starts to substitute the traditional content-selection gate keepers within big media. Bands, authors, and journalists have proven their talent and marketability directly in the consumer space, landing deals with big media after the fact.

Too many books are being printed

The publishing industry has to deal with annual return rates of roughly 40% – or $7 billion. These are a lot of trees that get cut down just to be destroyed as an unsold book at the end of the value chain by my standards – and any ecological and economical standards, as well. Although marketing aspects come into play as well, inflating the print runs for a bigger splash at the book stores, the publisher’s are clearly not doing a very good job estimating the sales potential of a specific title.

Too few authors get published

On the other hand many aspiring authors are not being discovered, as the few editors at publishing houses are unable to screen the 6 million manuscripts in circulation. Those that get screened are being decided upon by the gut feeling of one editor. Prominent cases of disastrously wrong decision making spring to mind with twelve publishers rejecting J. K. Rowling before she was finally allowed to start her billion dollar career.

It is therefore obvious that the traditional process of content selection is seriously flawed: too few gate keepers create a bootleneck for the vast amount of creativity out there, preventing many great authors from being discovered or even screened. The wrong books are being printed in the wrong quantities as the decision making is based on the gut feel of a few.

Wisdom of crowds

The internet opens unlimited opportunities to tap into the wisdom of crowds. Anybody can publish, anybody can screen and review, the decision making for publishing certain stories as a book can be based on more relevant criteria than the gut feel of one editor. Authors with the most positive ratings by readers get a publishing contract. Publishers get more input for sales predictions by gaining direct insight into their target group prior to any print runs. And special interest topics with a limited expected sales potential still find their audience online.

Over the last couple of years I spent quite some time thinking about how to structure a platform that facilitates this process. I’m thrilled that with a great team of friends working on the development this platform is now becoming a reality. Stay tuned for our beta launch soon.