Friday, July 10, 2009

Web 2.0 supply side substitutability

In the 2½ years I’ve been blogging, I’ve thought occasionally about who writes blogs, who reads blogs, what value they provide and (most of all) whether it’s something I should be doing.

Among people I know or follow, some occasionally blog with long articles, while some blog with very short referrals to existing articles and little if any marginal commentary. Others have given up on blogging and just tweet, and a handful both blog and tweet while running their day job.

I always assumed there was a self-selection involved — some people craft long pieces with words, others frenetically toss out ideas, still others have the skill to produce a YouTube video.

But Peter Whitehead of the FT Digital Business section argued Thursday that at the margins, blogging is just yet another form of social media:

[S]tatistical and anecdotal research indicated the vast majority of existing blogs had not been updated for at least 120 days and that amateur bloggers seem to have shifted to Facebook and Twitter, the social networking websites.

But surely the activity of these blogs – let alone their present inactivity – has never been of any real consequence.

Apart from a very small percentage which are informative, original or entertaining, they have little or no value. They are vanity publishing, only made feasible by the removal of costs.

The fact that their creators appear to be giving up on them is hardly surprising, given the amount of time they take to write, to discover and to read. Only a tiny proportion of any working population has this time to spare.

Worthwhile blogs – and there are many of them around – tend, according to my own anecdotal evidence, to be linked to well-known organisations able to provide time and resources, or they have become professional concerns in their own right.
I think his claim of what’s “worthwhile” is a little too narrow, since some of the most interesting blogs are from very smart people who spare a little bit of their time from their day job to share ideas. (e.g. Madisonian, or Michael Mace’s blog).

Still, what I found interesting — what prompted this blog post — was his idea of supply-side substitutability for social media. In strategy classes, we teach future managers to think about defining potential competitors not just by similar technologies, but about substitutability of demand and (in some cases) substitutability of supply.

Whitehead argues the same pool of people with the same amount of free time will choose between some very different technologies. It’s not just Typepad vs. Blogger, but Tweeting vs. updating your Facebook page. (The exception of course are blogs that are “professional concerns in their own right,” such as Om Malik.)

Interestingly, Twitter seems to be the 140-character least common denominator between many of these technologies. You can view and update your Twitter feed within Facebook, or you can convert your blog postings (via RSS feed) into Twitter postings. (Although Whitehead advertises his Twitter feed, the newsman’s feed seems to have less news content than OSS execs Matt Asay or David Wood).

Because of that, I’m a little more optimistic about Twitter than Rupert Murdoch. That may not be saying much, given how much Web 2.0 prowess he’s demonstrated by running MySpace into the ground.

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