Can social computing succeed against the drive for commercial organisations to exploit it or governments wanting to control it?
“Freedom is fostered when the means of communication are dispersed, decentralised and easily achievable” Ithiel De Sola Pool (Political Scientist)
Current levels of internet access, speeds of connectivity and ownership of digital cameras & mobile digital telephones mean that you could argue that this is what the internet is capable of delivering, and is in fact the result of what Social computing delivers. The question is, will it be allowed to continue and can it become truly global?
Social computing is growing at a phenomenal rate and large organisations are already developing strategies designed to turn this to their advantage. Start up sites such as Myspace and more recently Youtube have already been swallowed up for unbelievable sums by Newscorp $580m and Google $1.65bn respectively, these are to name but 2 of many examples (facebook, flickr, friends reunited) . This is the sign that the future of social computing will be driven by commercial organisations so can it remain true to the factors that have brought the early success?
Social networks share information, experiences and advice and as a result are very interesting for any business to be able to gain acceptance within these communities. Compete Inc have recently found, through research, that social computing influences online sales, this is being termed social commerce. It has been identified that social site members listen more to peer feedback than any other source of information. This may not come as a big surprise, and early examples can be seen throughout the web, a clear one being the online buying and selling site e-bay. Buyers submit feedback and ratings that act as a comfort or re-assurance for other buyers if they can see feedback about the seller they are looking to buy from. This however can be open to exploitation as there is nothing to stop sellers submitting positive feedback about themselves, both from the private individual level and from a business’ point of view.
The next stage in business exploitation comes as a result of the technological advances online and the growth in blogging (Technorati claim 55 million blogs currently exist Feb 2007), marketers are now looking to take advantage of these opportunities to try and communicate with potential consumers. Marketing is effectively a means used to sell something to someone, what makes it happen does not matter. What one could argue is that an agency or organisation can produce better “stories” which are presented as better content which in turn get noticed. Organisations are generating enormous amounts of content, either directly or through third party agencies with the initial hope of being noticed, but the ultimate objective is to gain acceptance that will lead to sales. Blogs have been used by businesses to spread messages but now with the introduction of even richer rich media - vlogs they have a very effective means of communication, vlogs enable commentary and video that makes bloggers voices heard.
Even websites with the force of major organisations behind them have to make sacrifices in their corporate aims due to pressures from the governments of certain countries. Google’s aim of indexing the world’s information to make it easy for anyone to find whatever they are looking for suffered a setback at the hands of the Chinese Government who have insisted on restricting what actually is made available to the Chinese population. In France the Government insisted that Greenpeace removed a mash up as it contravened an EU law. How can social computing succeed and become truly global if organisations have to bow to regulation and legislation within certain geographies. Potentially more concerning is the question as to whether bloggers become open to prosecution as a result of their site content, the answer to this question is yes on more than one occasion.
3 questions to contemplate in relation to Social computing going forward. Please feel free to offer your opinions.
- Will we be able to distinguish between true consumer generated content and organisational content in the future?
- Will consumer content become lost amongst a battle ground for organisations and brands to gain share of voice?
- Will Governments around the world hinder the chance of social computing to grow to its full potential?