It was five years ago. We’d driven down to Spain to see my dad and as we sat in his living room I was amazed to see my teenage nephew and his mate typing ferociously on their laptops as they chatted away on the social network du jour (I’m guessing Facebook but I might be wrong). I remember thinking at the time what would happen if we could harness all that energy into doing something productive.
What I hadn’t realised is that Facebook had already figured out how to harness that energy. Most websites (ignoring the ones that sell stuff) draw viewers in by producing interesting content and make their money through advertising on the site. Facebook works in the same way, but it doesn’t produce its own content, it gets its users to do that. In fact it’s a brilliant system since the content that is produced helps to decide what adverts should get shown, but I can’t help feeling there’s a better way. If I write some content, I want to have the chance to earn some income from it. I know from my experiences here that the chances of me making a reasonable amount of cash are pretty low, but I still think the system where the advertising network takes a cut and the content producer takes a cut is a fairer approach.
I think there are two approaches possible. The first is to build a competitor to Facebook, where the users take a cut of profits. I think this could have a few problems, how do you decide who gets what?, how do you stop fake users signing up just for a cut?, how do you stop click through fraud to increase earnings?
So here’s another option, we develop open protocols that allow different sites to hook up together and provide similar functionality to Facebook (and Twitter and Google+ and LinkedIn). There’s not a lot to it as far as I can see, the basic actions are add a friend, follow someone (that’s pretty much RSS), like something, send a message to someone and publish a message (that’s essentially a blog post). None of it is rocket science. And then we all have a choice. A geek like me could mash all my social networking stuff together on my own site and have the chance to earn some money. Ordinary users could continue to use the services they want, new services would crop up that aggregated all your social networks together. Everyone wins…