The Agency Record Blog

The Unsustainability of The Social Web


There is a dynamic that has developed within the social web over the years which I find disturbing yet pervasive, and about as hard to eradicate as an infestation of cockroaches. But the future of the Social Web depends on a close examination and realignment of thought regarding ingrained user expectations. Facebook is drawing fire from users for recent (some say misinformed, inaccurate?) news about plans to sell user data to market researchers, and I think this illustrates my point beautifully.

After one of my own social startup experiments failed to gain traction with its intended audience, I had some time to reflect on my interactions with social web users, and here is a list of some of the expectations and (often contradictory) attitudes I encountered regularly (I have shared these views at times myself):

  • I should be able to sign up and use Social Web apps and services for free.   If you cannot figure out how to monetize the service without bothering me, I will leave.
  • Ads bother me. So do requests for donations.
  • The publicly available personal information posted on my pages is mine, mine alone, and should not be used in any way I did not intend for it to be used. I don’t care if it’s public, and your commercial use of it is actually anonymous.
  • I should not have to look at a lot of on-page advertising in “my” pages. They are mine, and I do not want them cluttered up.
  • The free services I use should remain free, remain up, available, and working as expected 99.9% of the time. Service interruptions should be scheduled for the hours I am not online.
  • Delays, slowdowns, and interruptions to service are intolerable. Figure out your infrastructure and scalability issues before you bother to launch.
  • My features wish list is reasonable, and should be implemented, even though I do not plan on using the features regularly; they should be there because I think the ideas are cool.
  • Web apps should not have too many unnecessary features.
  • I think there should only be one or two Social Web apps and we should ignore all the others, so that it is easier for me to manage my digital life and connect with the world in the context of my favorite social app.
  • There should be a mobile version that does exactly what the full web version does, and works in exactly the same way. Screen size, operating systems, phone model and carrier contracts be damned. Make it work. Now.
  • Once my favorite app gets so big and successful as to a be an obvious target of criticism, I will openly blast them for their successes and work to destroy any attempt they make to monetize the service or use my anonymous data.
  • When a dumb service I loved at first, then wanted to change, then criticized for changing, doesn’t succeed in meeting all my above expectations, I will place them in the deadpool, and tell the world I knew they wouldn’t make it all along.

There is another side to the user experience; it’s the side of the brave people who dream up and actualize cool Social Web technologies. This is the environment in which they have been asked to launch, develop and prove commercially viable their free services. Perhaps we need to tame down certain unrealistic expectations, mmm? How else will the Social Web find its path to sustainability?

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