The Agency Record Blog

3 Unintended and Valuable Consequences of Social Web Technologies

It’s always fascinating to read about ways that the social web is being used. The staggering growth and acceptance rate of technologies that were not even a blueprint two months ago is itself a staggering thought. The social web, for all its fickle-minded users and fad-chasing business models, has always had a bleeding edge where the “cool stuff” gets made. I should know, I’ve been involved in creating some of it.

But it is because of the fast and wide-scale adoption of these platforms and technologies that we have a full and healthy dose of the Law of Unintended Consequences operating today. For every new break-away service that comes into the light, there are a crop of parallel (and some would say “parasitic”) technologies that emerge alongside. Given the popular trend of public data APIs, this sideline innovation is often where the bleeding edge is found, much to the chagrin of the original technologies’ founders.

I’ll give you a few examples of the unintended consequences I am talking about.

  1. Search. Platforms like Twitter are poised to benefit from an emerging view about the data being batted about on any given day in the social web. Turns out that this data is valuable, and once it was made searchable and discoverable, it shines as a plausible replacement to search giant Google as an even more real-time search engine. Who would’ve thunk it? Certainly not the tops at Twitter, at least not from the beginning, and I’d bet money on that.
  2. Marketing. Facebook knows something about the data it has in its system. It’s a freakin’ gold mine. And if it can ever transition the unrealistic expectations of its user base to accept a business model that allows Facebook to sell more of this data (anonymous or otherwise) Facebook will be worth triple the inflated numbers that were bandied about several months ago. Marketers are standing by with very long extension cords, just waiting for Facebook to tell them where the high-voltage power receptacles will be located. Because marketers instinctively understand that knowing what Facebook already knows about its users, based solely on their organic and voluntary use of the platform, will likely fuel a global economic recovery. But if Facebook had realized the full value to marketers from the start, I think they would have laid some ground rules that would have made it much easier to do business without sparking user-generated revolt.
  3. CRM. How would you like to find out what people are saying about your brand, and quickly respond before an influential rogue micro-blogger can do real damage? The social web is already changing the way businesses manage customer relationships. But I am positive that blogs and microblogging platforms were not conceived out of that desire. It’s another beneficial yet unintended consequence, and it has incredible value to those interested in harvesting the data.

The real party-pooper in the above scenarios is the user and his/her expectations about the social web and the platforms that prop it up.  For now, the social web remains a Fortress of Free, and the expectation that the user-added data in these public systems will remain private and untargeted (ridiculous notions, by the way) are so strong that any wholesale moves toward marketing the vast data sets are met with rigid and unwavering protest. Yet another unintended consequence of making everything free from the start…

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