Another one of those rockin’ good videos about a new Web trend, this time showing us why social media is already changing the world. This one is promoting the new book, “Socialnomics.”

The data and observations will make you want to jump out of your seat and reassess your company’s strategies.

(Thanks to the Radical Patron for the pointer.)

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


17 Thoughts on "Think Social Media is a Fad?"

How ironic that just yesterday we were discussing the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Sigh. What a total strawman argument. Does anyone really think that communication and networking is a “fad”? I can make a clever video tearing down the argument that drinking water is a fad too, and fill it with all kinds of statistics to support my point (6.7 billion people drink water every day!).

A lot of their statistics, unlike mine, are highly questionable. Examples:
“35% of book sales on Amazon are for the Kindle”
Really? No. Not really. The sourced article quotes Jeff Bezos showing a graph of one month’s worth of data (no actual data released)–the month when the Kindle 2 was released and there was a spike on e-book purchases. It only refers to sales of books where a Kindle version was available. That’s only a small percentage of the total number of books available through Amazon and is hardly responsible for 35% of their total book sales.

“80% of companies use LinkedIn as their primary source for hiring employees”?
Really? No. The linked source is a survey of 440 companies (33% of them tech companies) that said they plan to use social networking sites in their recruiting efforts. Not as their “primary source” for anything.

The numbers on how quickly Facebook uptake outpaced uptake of other technologies are specious as well. Let’s see, larger world population now compared to when radio and television started, all comparable technologies other than Facebook required expensive equipment purchases (and limited functionality) where Facebook is a free service. What a surprise, more people will sign up for something free than spend thousands of dollars on a new and expensive emergent piece of hardware.

They’re also mistaking account creation for account usage.

I could go on, but please don’t let me ruin anyone’s basking in the hype flow. Go buy the book this is advertising, read more hype and receive no real-world practical plans or solutions. Hire the speaker to come to your company and offer more platitudes. Remember, the number one way to make money off of social media is to get companies to pay you to talk about social media.

Well, as rhetoric, strawman propositions are useful. We use them all the time. And there are people who do think social networking is a fad. They are fewer and farther between than ever, but they are among us. (I actually know three such people very well. All three do drink water, though.)

The Kindle statistic is misleading, but also irrelevant. I don’t know why it’s in a social media presentation at all. That said, a better analysis of the Kindle sales effect exists for those who want to dive more deeply.

The “80% of companies use LinkedIn as their primary source for hiring employees” statistic holds up much better when you download the complete report. There, 95% of firms using social media (and that’s somewhere between 68% and 81% since 13% said they were going to start in 2009) use LinkedIn. Additionally, 76% said they use it now to research candidates. So, yes, possibly imprecise, but probably not inaccurate.

The point about technology adoption is interesting. You allege implicitly that computers and broadband connections aren’t “expensive equipment purchases”. I disagree. Also, the amount of time I spend in my Office suite vs. in Facebook or email or blogging or any other browser activity is very small. One twist to the networked computer story is that there was a big infrastructure piece missing for years that concealed the power many expected to emerge, and that was broadband. Now that it’s arrived for most of the population, the adoption of social networking is a phenomenon. Yes, populations are larger now, but 50 million is still a fun benchmark to measure against. Penetration of population would be better, but again, this is just brain food.

Comparing Facebook to countries bothered me at first, until I remembered that a lot of citizens of various countries are deadbeat citizens, too. So, the comparison is actually valid. What % of US citizens vote? Know when Hawaii was made a state?

I certainly don’t advocate buying the book. I haven’t read it, and wanted to disclose why the video was made. It is worth looking at askance, but I do think it’s generally interesting and pretty valid.

And I wouldn’t scoff at the lack in the video of real-world practical plans or solutions. Those aren’t what the video was about, but to think that they don’t exist is just dead wrong.

Can you point me toward anyone who thinks communication and social interaction is a “fad”? There are lots of people who think individual technologies are fads (ie Twitter or Myspace), but anyone who thinks digital technologies are not affecting the way we communicate and interact is an idiot.

Firms saying they use social media to research candidates is a very different thing from saying that they specifically use LinkedIn as their primary way of hiring people. It’s completely untrue, and the survey itself is not a representative sample of “all companies”.

As for the Facebook numbers, you don’t need to own a computer to use Facebook, nor do you need a broadband connection. Many people connect at work, at school, at their local library or on their cel phone. Computers do cost money, but you’ve already got an installed base of close to a billion computers on earth as your starting point. None of the other technologies mentioned had that same headstart so the comparison is meaningless. If there were already a billion tv sets on earth at the start of broadcasting, you can bet that uptake of tv watching would have been faster as well.

And no, I wouldn’t expect to find real-world solutions in a piece of marketing fluff (and by that, I mean both the video and the book it promotes). No one said they don’t exist. I just think you’re unlikely to get them from the talking heads of the echo chamber, particularly one so willing to stretch the truth and engage in overhype as the one who made this video.

Well, I won’t point you to the people who think this is a fad since you’d end up thinking some people I consider to be friends are idiots. Best to let them keep their dignity.

However, some people also cling to intelligent design theories (or ideas even less rational). Humans are a fairly crazy bunch of semi-evolved primates (or is that poorly designed primates?).

Fair enough.

I can’t think of these new technologies as a whole as a “fad”, although I do think it is highly likely that many of the uses now in fashion will turn out to be fads. But overall, the way people are communicating through them will be incorporated into much of what we do.

But the hype surrounding them, particularly when spurred on by half-truths as in that video, make it very difficult to see a reasonable path to incorporating those new technologies into one’s business plan. The blatant self-promotion and self-declared experts aren’t helping anyone other than themselves. Business models will eventually become evident, and there’s no need to panic and blindly jump on the bandwagon out of fear that you’re missing out on what everybody else is doing.

Ah, serendipity. From today’s Ars Technica, Uncouth Facebook postings closing doors for job candidates:

In fact, nearly half of the employers in the US now search for job candidates on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, according to survey results from CareerBuilder. The job-finding firm said that the numbers reflect a twofold increase over those who reported doing so in last year—45 percent in 2009 versus 22 percent in 2008—and cautioned that many employers choose not to hire based on information they find online.

Facebook was the most popular site for researching job candidates this year—no surprise there, since Facebook has exploded in popularity as of late. “Professional” networking site LinkedIn came in second at 26 percent, MySpace came in third at 21 percent, 11 percent read blogs, and seven percent followed candidates’ updates on Twitter.”

Sounds a little more realistic to me than 80% using LinkedIn as their primary resource for hiring.

I lean more toward David Croffty’s perspective. Thanks David, you have looked beyond the hype to find out what real evidence supports it. If all consumers did this, a lot of disillusionment and wasted resources would be avoided.

I have Advertising, Marketing and other media related training and this is my opinion. Advertisers and other promoters sell what they are offered payment for. They look at the pros and exploit them and even exaggerate them. And to a large extent, they ignore or hide the cons.

So consumers of everything, including social media, should know exactly what they want to achieve first. They then should conduct a form of research to find out if a product (social media in this case) can meet the needs they have identified. I.E. the research should address the following among other things.
1.Are claims A, B, C and D made by an ad or promo true? What’s the evidence?
2.Can these claims help us meet our identified goals? What’s the evidence?

Doing this is more prudent than singing along and then blindly jumping into the band wagon.

There are two types of evidence you’re discussing here, and I think it’s important to separate them. The first is the kind David was disputing — whether the video accurately reflected the facts reported elsewhere. While there were quibbles, tne thing about fast-moving trends is that the data they throw off is often preliminary and directional. Even David scoffed at the false strawman premise, which indicates that the data are, to him, so overwhelming now that to think otherwise is just idiotic. So, no, the video’s representation wasn’t perfect, but it hardly matters.

Which brings me to the second type of evidence you’re talking about, which is evidence of acceptance and utility. Game-changers are especially hard to measure prospectively. Would you have opened an online bookstore in the 1990s based on the evidence of acceptance of online bookstores? Would you have spent millions on R&D for an MP3 player and music purchasing system in the age of Napster, when the only evidence was that free music ripped to CDs was accepted? Would you have waited until e-commerce systems were broadly adopted and accepted to start an online banking/transaction site? Amazon, Apple, and PayPal took risks — entrepreneurial risks. Do all of these pay off? Certainly not. But to demand complete evidence before moving is analysis paralysis. Even forcing ourselves to define a goal beforehand and stick to it borders on the obsessive. Most entrepreneurs have a starting hypothesis they use to enter the market, but they adjust as they learn what works and what doesn’t. Did Amazon know that DVDs would be huge for them when they started? That cloud computing would be a line of business? Did Apple think that telephony lay in its future when it launched iTunes?

I don’t mean to come on too strong here, but I fundamentally rebel at the notion that we should await evidence of consumer acceptance and goal achievement if we’re going to be leaders and entrepreneurs.

A final point — social media (reviews, recommendations, ratings) is a major tool in leveling the marketing playing field, as real customers can now talk about their experiences. Do we even recognize these things as social media now? Probably not. Ratings and reviews are so well-established that they’re now part of the ecosystem. I’m sure glad someone took a chance on introducing them a decade ago, probably with little more than a working hypothesis and the willingness to try, learn, rinse, and repeat.

The main problem I had with the video is that it’s meant to over-stimulate and over-hype viewers. You start with a Fatboy Slim song rarely heard outside of cheerleading competitions, and couple it with major exaggerations and half truths, and try to whip viewers into a frenzy where they feel they have to act (“Oh my God, I’m being left behind! I better buy this guy’s book before I go out of business!”). It’s like much of the Web 2.0 echo chamber, and makes social media come off more like snake oil than a set of tools that can be useful when appropriately applied.

Each of the ventures you mentioned were gambles, but each had a clear path to revenue. Online book stores were going to sell books at a profit. MP3 players and songs would be sold at a profit. Online banking would be done while taking a percentage of all transactions, resulting in profit. And that’s what’s missing here, and the reason so few are willing to gamble–there’s no way to go from step 1 (set up a Web 2.0 site) to step 3 (profit).

It should also be noted that Apple was a latecomer to the MP3 world. There were already many MP3 players on the market long before the iPod was released. Apple took their time, and approached the market with something unique, something better than what everyone else was offering. They didn’t need to be the first mover or rush into things, or flush money chasing new technologies without a real plan.

Your last paragraph though, I agree with wholeheartedly. The key word is “marketing”. Web 2.0 offers some great marketing and advertising tools. But I think they should be kept in that perspective, and approached and budgeted as such. Adding functionality to your properties is always nice, and always something of a gamble. It’s important to have a plan for that functionality to at least pay for itself.

So, a few things here are worth pursuing a bit more, in my opinion.

The first — that Apple, viewed with the benefit of hindsight, pursued a latecomer plan with a clear route to profit — is debatable. At the time, people were saying music as a paid concern was done, that concerts and merchandise were going to be the items that generated revenue, and that the space was being leveled because the new price for music was zero. Apple took a pretty big gamble introducing the iPod and iTunes. I distinctly recall pundits scoffing at the play — the device was over-priced, the lack of Windows integration was a fatal flaw, the days of the paid MP3 were over with. Apple only made it work because it kept adjusting, advancing, and refining. If I handed you a first-generation iPod today, you’d be pretty skeptical. It was a fairly clunky little piece of engineering, the MP3 playing wasn’t unique, and it didn’t work with the majority of computers.

Amazon actually purposely deferred profits in order to execute what Bezos called his “regret minimization framework.” Investors wrote the company off multiple times in the early days, and even more recently, to be surprised again and again by the performance of its diversified business model. There was no clear notion that the logistics, e-commerce, customer acceptance, and nimbleness of the new model would work.

Online banks (Wingspan, others) came and went, without profitable business models. The transaction model of PayPal wasn’t destined to work — it took passion, adjustment, refinement, some smart partnerships, and some great technology to make it happen.

The notion that there’s “no way” to go from idea to profit for social media properties is, I think, dead wrong. This video invites people to think twice, and explore further, if they’re skeptical or unmotivated by the social media revolution. Yes, there is some hyperbole involved, and they grabbed a song that’s typical for this sort of thing, but nobody is questioning the basic tenet — social media is going to matter a whole lot more in the next 10 years than it does today.

And, if you have the chance, like Facebook has, of slowly cultivating a paradigm-changing online property that could leverage social media to overthrow and devour a $16-billion search and advertising behemoth, you might take the Bezos approach — defer profitability while you implement a regret-minimization program. People who demand profits from Day 1 may remain perplexed, but playing it safe has never had much of a spot in the world of entrepreneurs.

I guess this gets me worked up because I think STM publishers need more of that entrepreneurial, long-term, adventurous streak. We have a lot of intellectual ability and business savvy, but caution and prudence can be our greatest enemies. We need to make some strong plays.

Finally, to categorize social media as merely a new way to accomplish marketing is to miss the point. It’s a new way to accrue and involve audience. The examples I gave are only a slice of social media, selected because they are the slice that is becoming invisible to us, it’s so familiar. That said, business are being launched off these items, many of which we don’t know about, yet they have a chance to be profitable because they provide quality markers and aggregate audience.

Seems familiar.

Having a risky business model, or even an unsuccessful business model is not the same thing as having no business model. Yes, there were critics of many of these now-successful ventures. So what. Each had a solid business plan, or at the very least, a clear idea of how they were going to make money. What’s the business plan for Twitter? How do they plan to make money? What’s the business plan for the Nature Network? How do they plan to make money from it? As far as I’ve seen, the best Web 2.0 business model is to build a service, let it get popular and then sell it off to a bigger company. Friendfeed is a good recent example of this. Paypal, one of the companies you’ve mentioned, is another.

You’re totally missing Apple’s business model. They are a hardware company. They’ve always been a hardware company, and (at least to this day), they remain primarily a hardware company. It didn’t matter if paid mp3’s disappeared, or musicians stopped selling albums. People still needed to listen to those mp3’s, and Apple planned to profit from selling a device for that. If you go back and look at their early statements, they broke even, or made a small profit on the iTunes store, but that didn’t matter because it only existed in order to sell more iPods:

“The iPod makes money. The iTunes Music Store doesn’t,”

All it had to do was break even, and help sell the profitable hardware. A solid business model was in place, and the more recent profits seen from the Apps store are serendipitous in light of the store’s original aims. And if you think the gen 1 iPod was clunky, go back and look at the competition at the time.

Regardless, just because Apple/Amazon/Paypal had doubters/stumbles doesn’t mean they didn’t have business plans with clear pathways to profitability. Selling products for more than you pay for them seems pretty obvious to me, as does charging fees for transactions. What’s the clear pathway for a blogger or even a blogging platform?

I probably shouldn’t have used the phrase, “no way”, and should instead have softened it to something like “no obvious way”, or “no clear path”. And no, the point of the video is not to get people to think about the next 10 years, it’s to sell books and/or speaking engagements by the author. Facebook does have some interesting ideas about where they’re going, we’ll see if they can pull it off. If I were them, I’d sell out for $15 billion in a heartbeat and let it be someone else’s problem. Even if they succeed, I have a hard time believing my journal of molecular biology techniques can follow the same pathway to profitability, as the audience isn’t large enough to generate the scale they need for their business model. So that’s a non-starter for us niche players. What other business models do you have to offer us?

Social media may end up being useful for all kinds of things, but for businesses, one clear use is in marketing, in helping to sell other things that are actually profitable. The author of this video has used social media like YouTube and his blog to try to sell his book, as just one example. If you want to dip your toe into the world of social media, that’s a good starting point with an obvious objective. Keeping this in mind will also help you curtail overenthusiasm and overspending. The important thing to realize is that audience does not equal profit. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, having a big audience of freeloaders doesn’t pay the bills.

I still think 20/20 hindsight is handy. Apple has failed plenty as a hardware company (Newton, IIc, Lisa, Pippin), and they have now shifted into a mixed hardware/software business, with their software sales accounting for 10-20% of their revenues (it’s hard to separate App store sales from iPhone sales in their books). This is a business mix I doubt they had in mind even with the iPod (as your quote demonstrates). My point is that doing business requires thinking on your feet, adjusting, abandoning, and creating. Apple, Amazon, and others adapt well. Other hardware companies (Digital, Zenith, Compaq) didn’t. Apple had to take some major risks to bounce back from the edge of irrelevance when Jobs returned. Remember, they used to be on the brink of insolvency or irrelevance (or both) at least 1/3 of the time, it seemed.

In our world, I’m worried about the adaptability of STM publishers.

The issue of scale is an interesting one, and abstraction from current practices is one way to think about potential. Does your molecular biology techniques journal have an abstract strength that can be scaled and leveraged on a larger stage? Does it have a digital, immediate, engineered solution at its heart, and you just have to look at it again to see it? That might get the ideas flowing.

If you start going into social media thinking it’s just a marketing tool, your ability to hypothesize an initial business approach and find a real business model will stop there, I fear. You have to go beyond that, seek and discover, be tenacious and aware.

Taking risks is part of being in business. However, taking a risk just for the sake of taking a risk, or taking a risk just because you’re afraid you’re missing out on a trend is ludicrous. When you take a risk, you need to have a clear idea of the benefits you expect to gain from the risk, and how you intend to get there. Apple had a plan in place–sell songs, make a small profit or break even, and use it to drive iPod sales. That’s hugely different from the “build it, get it popular, then figure out how to monetize it later on down the line” offered by most Web 2.0 opportunities.

There’s no hindsight needed, I quoted articles from the actual launch of the iTunes store, they knew what they were doing from the start. They’ve added more profitability to the store as time has gone by, but they always had a plan from the get-go. They had a plan in place with every major risk they took. Sell the iMac for more than it costs to manufacture, profit. Sell the iPod for more than it costs to manufacture, profit. Their plans may have been risky or even wrong at times, but they always had a clear idea of how they were going to drive revenue. And that’s not the case for most social media.

And if 90% of your revenue comes from hardware sales, you’re a hardware company.

I also think you’re overestimating the capabilities of a lot of scholarly publishers. Most of us are parts of non-profit organizations, scholarly societies or universities. We don’t have the infrastructure or the capital to become hardware manufacturers or software entrepreneurs. Those aren’t our core strengths, if they were, we’d be in a different business. We can’t afford to hire employees away from Google or Apple. We can’t afford to flush millions of dollars down the drain chasing after rainbows just because everybody else is doing it. We have to be prudent and cautious in how we invest. We need a clear idea of how any big investment is going to yield a return, otherwise we can’t make it. Throwing money against the wall to see what sticks is not something most of us can do. Maybe the societies you work with are flush with disposable income, or maybe you’re addressing the big corporations like Elsevier and MacMillan, but that’s not the case for the rest of us. We are flexible and ready to experiment, but not ready to throw away money without a plan.

I’m not exactly sure what you mean by an “abstract strength” and “engineered solution”, which sounds very business-speak to me (I’ll be sure to facilitate a deliverable for the paradigm shift though). We’re a biology publisher, part of a not-for-profit biology research institute. We’re not going to branch into publishing cooking magazines or becoming a dating service or other unrelated industries. It wouldn’t fit our mission or our expertise. Because of this, the scale of the audience we’re going to see is limited, and our ventures must fit the proper scale. Which means we can’t just copy Google or Facebook and succeed.

If there’s a new technology that will increase the quality of our products, that will increase our subscriber base or generate more purchases, we’ll be all over it immediately. So far, all of the social media functionality built into science journals have failed miserably. JOVE had to stop being open access. Very few people are commenting on PLOS papers. The Nature Network is a clubhouse for only a small cadre of scientists. What, exactly, do you propose we do that we’re not already doing? Specifics please, no vague buzzwords accepted, and be sure to include a statement on how this action will drive revenue.

Right now, the best use of Web 2.0 is to help monetize other non-Web 2.0 ventures. I wrote about that here. It’s a great way to help sell something else, or to make something else better. It’s not an end to itself. Even the hype-meister behind the video in this posting is using Web 2.0 in this manner. He’s using it to sell non-Web 2.0 products, a book and his own speaking services. In other words, it’s a marketing tool. And that’s not a bad thing. In the beginning, the iTunes store was a marketing tool, used to sell iPods. That didn’t stop Apple from hypothesizing further business models to add in, and it shouldn’t stop anyone else either. But from the get-go, it had a solid plan in place that didn’t require some vague future miracle for the gamble to pay off.

Well, we’re not going to agree on this, I can see. My main point is that it’s easier to create business opportunities when you’ve created something of value than otherwise. You need a starting hypothesis, but it might be abandoned fairly quickly as ideas meet reality. Apple almost went bankrupt in 1996, but acquired the failure NeXT (and, ultimately, Steve Jobs again). The problem with Apple in the mid-1990s was that they were being out-innovated. Not anymore. And, yes, we agree, they started with an initial hypothesis about how to make money, and then adjusted. In some cases, they failed, adjusted severely, or only had to tweak. But during their successful eras, they never stopped adjusting.

(And they are a linked software-hardware business, really — you get their OS on every machine they sell. Again, their books are hard to untangle into these categories.)

My point about an abstract strength and engineered solution was actually straightforward English. STM publishers are excellent at validating information; penetrating niche, high-value, sophisticated markets; and attracting top-tier contributions from very smart people. Those are abstract strengths we habitually put into journals. Journals are evolved information dissemination vehicles, with the engineered components almost an afterthought and certainly not exploited as much as they could be (CrossRef has done a good job showing how to take citation [abstract function] and engineer it into useful products and services, for example).

I agree, Web 2.0 is a way to monetize non-2.0 items, but that’s not all it’s good for. Look at the options Twitter has now, despite doing everything “wrong” in your book: Twitter as licensed corporate tweet-farms; Twitter as market research base; Twitter as news service; Twitter as micro-AdSense; Twitter as subscription product.

The head of Facebook is renowned for firing people who don’t share his vision of where Facebook is headed. Has he executed well? He’s hunting Google, and they’re looking back with some anxiety. They should.

This is a very important point that separates our views fundamentally — venture capitalists actually recommend that VC requests not go into financial detail in business plans since the spreadsheet jockeys can then start discounting the time-value of money in the plan and “value” the business, probably inaccurately, thereby making it harder for innovation to emerge. This kind of insistence on hard numbers and specific business plans is exactly what drives innovation out. What VCs look for are owners with a great idea that will get traction, who are tenacious and aligned, and who offer something unique. It’s counter-intuitive, but true — a full business plan can kill an idea because it’s too precise but not accurate.

I think we’re just living in different worlds. Your plans make perfect sense for a cash rich company, particularly one that can amortize success over a wide variety of properties to add scale. You talk about how VC’s do things, but you have to remember that VC’s expect to fail 9 times out of 10, and hope that the 1 success pays for the failures and then some.

Small academic publishing houses can’t afford to have a 90% failure rate on expensive ventures. The 10% of successes probably aren’t going to scale up enough to pay for that, particularly when you’re talking about technologies with no obvious monetization path. Where I work, every dollar we lose is a dollar that could have been spent on cancer research. That’s hard to justify spending willy-nilly on technology without a business model. For society journals, every dollar lost is a meeting that can’t happen, or a student who doesn’t get funded. Universities were hit very hard by the recent economic crisis, and their endowments have suffered greatly, so university presses aren’t in much of a position to gamble wildly either. Give us technologies that make sense, that have clear reasoning behind them, that have a plan for at least paying for themselves, and we’re all over it. But you can’t expect us to spend like the big boys, to throw millions into new technologies on a hope that maybe we might find a way for it to pay off down the line.

Facebook is a singular case, and there are hundreds of Bebos, and Orkuts, and Buzznets, and Epernicus’, and dare I say it, Myspaces for every one Facebook that succeeds (I wonder if we were having this discussion two years ago, would you have used Myspace as your example instead of Facebook?). I’m betting that someone right now is developing the new system that will do to Facebook what Facebook did to Myspace. They have a limited window to act here, and chasing Google is not the same thing as catching Google. We’ll see where they go, but as I’ve said, I’d have pulled a Mark Cuban here and taken the money and run. The same goes for Twitter. Late in the game there are some ideas for profitting, but we’ve yet to see if they can pull it off.

There are some great lessons to be learned though. Google and the iPod show us you don’t need to rush into a market, that if you have a superior product, you can come in later and still dominate. Facebook shows us a similar success story despite not being a first-mover. Instead, they were able to appeal to a particular niche (college students), and focusing on niches using something that’s already proven in the market is probably a better approach for most small publishers.

I think we also have very different views of Apple’s history. As a longtime fanboy, I have to take issue with your version of history. Apple was not getting out-innovated in the 1990’s. Don’t make me pull out my old “Windows 95 is Apple 1986” t-shirt. Apple got out-managed, and out-businessed. They were beaten by a better business plan, not by better technology. They also had to face an illegal abusive monopoly, and did a hell of a lot better job surviving than any other operating system at the time. Commodity computing, cheap prices driven by high levels of competition won the day over Apple’s vertical approach with a focus on quality rather than price. Interesting to see that they’ve essentially stuck with the exact same business model since then, and the tide is beginning to turn their way once again.

Also, Apple’s software exists to sell hardware. Note that you can’t buy a copy of Apple’s operating system by itself. It is not for sale without the purchase of an Apple computer. You can only purchase an upgrade for an OS you already own, and the license that comes with boxed versions of OSX spells this out. They are becoming more of a service provider these days with their storefront, but the core of their business is, as it has always been, selling hardware, whether that means computers, iPods or phones.

Well, I always thought MySpace was a mess, so I don’t think I would have argued for its longevity. Facebook, on the other hand, seems like a much better garden to stroll through.

While I know the financial realities of smaller societies, so do some philanthropic groups that are willing and able to grant-fund innovative scholarly and society initiatives. And I’m proud to say that some of our better experiments where I work didn’t cost much at all. Ning, WordPress, and other technologies can be leveraged for very little money these days, a fraction of what holding a meeting or funding a student would cost.

I’ll defer to your Apple fanboy knowledge. I was forced into Windows many years ago, and only watched from the outside.

Success in new ventures is difficult and somewhat uncommon. A fundamental issue we face, though, is the increasing irrelevancy of our current ways of delivering value. There is a problem in front of us, and I think someone reading this exchange probably senses the terrible truth that we’re both right to a certain degree. The challenge is reconciling these save/spend, plan/try perspectives into a way forward. I’m just afraid that save/plan has one possible outcome in the medium- to long-term, while spend/try at least has a chance of working.

There is a way forward, but it’s not the same as the road that brought us here.

WordPress is certainly making this a difficult discussion to follow, apologies to all for the seemingly random order of comments, trust us, it’s not something we’re doing on purpose. Note that each comment is tagged with a date and time, so if you follow things chronologically, they’ll make more sense.

I always liked the description (can’t remember where I saw it) of publishers as being like a group of penguins standing on the edge of an ice floe. As soon as one penguin figures out a way to get more fish, all the others will dive in.

I think a readiness to experiment is important, but I also think a level of conservatism is of value here too. I’m preaching that one should experiment wisely, with a lot of forethought, a plan for how your experiment is going to pay off if it succeeds. That plan may be altered as things proceed, but it needs to be there as a starting point. There’s something too “dot-com era” about the notion of building it and hoping to figure out a business model further down the line. Too much money was thrown away for too little return back then, and much of Web 2.0 smacks of the same sorts of approaches.

There’s also the question of whether there’s going to be a “first-mover advantage” in these markets. I can see there being one if you’re trying to appeal across the board to a wide variety of audiences, as once people are signed up for one central service, it’s hard to move them to a different one. But, since many of us serve dedicated niches, it may not be that difficult to adapt any successful technology that someone else develops for our focused audience, so being the daring first mover may not be worth the risk. Waiting for someone else to come up with a fish and then diving in immediately might be more cost-efficient than paying for a lot of failed experiments yourself.

We’ve built blogs and Twitter functionality into our journals, and are working on a wide variety of widgets to add further functionality. As you say, these are fairly easy to do in house at low expense. I’m not sure how much of a difference they’ve made to our readers so far. We do have commenting and discussion functionality, which has gone over like a lead balloon. I’m hesitant to do systems for rating articles for reasons we’ve discussed elsewhere, but I do think there’s value in something like Amazon’s recommendation engine (customers who like X also liked Y).

One thing to also think about is that many, if not most publishers outsource their hosting to platforms like Highwire or Atypon. Any venture has to plug into their systems which can be time-consuming, expensive and difficult. The good news is that these platforms do provide a level of scale, as costs can be amortized across a lot of different journals. The bad news is that they’re often slow-moving and lack the agility you’d have if you controlled things yourself.

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