Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz, famous for off-the-cuff comments and some tart language, said the other day that Facebook would be a competitor "someday." Which got me to thinking of the big web media companies: what is their core underlying DNA and what are the essential characteristics that will create a successful business model in the future?
Yahoo! is easy. They were born as a directory service back when the web was small enough and slow moving enough that human taxonomy was possible. Over the years it's evolved into a media company, but still very much with the core concepts of gathering and offering an editorial experience to users.
Google began its life as an engineering company -- building and refining what is clearly the world's best search engine. It has evolved into an advertising network, widespread and technology enabled. But at the core of Google is code.
AOL under Tim Armstrong is evolving from an access provider to a hybrid of content and advertising. Unlike others in the space, Armstrong has doubled down on human editorial talent, rather than algorithms and technology. With more than 750 journalists now employed at AOL, as well as distributed content creation solutions like SEED and the recent purchase of TechCrunch, Armstrong is placing his bet on professional humans.
So, where does Facebook fall in all this? Facebook is a socially curated network.
Just look at its roots. It was born on a college campus. It was born not to sell ads, or to be a web directory, or to hire journalists. It was created to connect people. To make students' virtual friends visible.
Facebook solves problems for its users. And the problems it solves only gets more extreme as the web content explosion continues.
Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, told a gathering back in the summer that from the beginning of time until 2006, just 5 exabtyes of information had been created. Now, that much information is created every two days. And, it's clear that the volume of content (or data masquerading as content) will continue to grow at a stunning rate.
We're drinking data from a firehose. "Filter or Be Flooded" says content strategist Jeffrey MacIntyre.
Human curation is the future of advertising, search, and publishing.
In the face of this overwhelming data flood -- trusted sources become necessary, essential, critical voices in the unfiltered datasphere.
So, who do you trust? Your college roommate? Your mom? Your foodie friend?
Facebook has a massive lead in the Curated Human Network space. Because their entry point is college (or younger) you don't age out of Facebook, you age in. The connections, relationships, contacts, and social currency increases in value over time.
The nature of large social networks is that you need to have filters inside the filter, and that's why Facebook's updated Groups function represents how clearly they understand the value proposition of their business. Offering new tools is critical to keep the Curated experience properly filtered.
There's no doubt that all this sharing creates value, and complexity. My friend Jules Polonetsky, the former head of AOL's privacy practice, says that there is a complex line between purely private sharing, and semi-private sharing. For example, where there was a power outage in his Washington DC suburb, he posted: "Does anyone know when the power will come back on." No doubt he was reaching beyond friends and family, to neighbors and others whom he'd never met. Yet, did he want to see his posts about the black out in the Washington Post? He says no way. He wanted to be semi-public.
The dynamic between sharing and privacy is very much a work in progress. But at least right now, the human curated network seems more useful and personal than the algorithms that are chasing us around the web trying to figure out what we want to know so they can predict our behaviors.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the other day he doesn't get Facebook because he doesn't want to know what things people are doing. Yet, if you've been to his office at City Hall -- you quickly notice that he's put his desk in the middle of a wide open sea of humanity. Bloomberg is, in fact, intensely social. Much like a trading floor in a brokerage, there's a fast moving and open flow of information. And that's the way he likes it. New York's City Hall is Bloomberg's "Facebook" created in a real-world setting. It seems he too values a curated network of friends and colleagues.
Facebook is about people. And people matter. As the world gets more complex -- people will only matter more.
Going forward the companies that are going to be the next-generation Yahoos will blend machine and human intelligence. They will use technology to find and filter the flood of content that is overwhelming current systems. But they will also embrace and implement curation methodologies that have their basis in human pattern recognition and style. Facebook has already got a massive head start, with an army of volunteer curators that don't think of what they do as work. After all, how much effort does it take to click the 'like' button? Now, the question is, how much aggregate value does that create.
That's the power of a socially curated network.
Steve Rosenbaum is founder and CEO of Magnify.net, and the Author of the forthcoming McGrawHill Business book "Curation Nation" (March / 2011). Follow Steve Rosenbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/magnify
this post was originally published in Mediabiz Bloggers
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