Re: Ignorance bliss when it comes to sharing

I was recently asked to comment for a newspaper article on the selling of‘s web infrastructure (an online media support community) by the owner of the site’s domain to internet video provider, RealTime. My response and the article can be seen here on The Age (Melbourne), and also on the Sydney Morning Herald.

While I am happy with the general gist of the article, I just wanted to make one correction and add a few additional thoughts. The fact that I have already submitted my PhD for examination and have just submitted my final approved version for publication (as seen in my previous post) some how got lost in the mix – no big deal I suppose.

I principle I agree with the final statements of the piece:

…in Melbourne last week at a Churchill Club meeting, an industry discussion on the economics of Web 2.0, the consensus was “who does it hurt?” If a site provides a good service and has enough users, few care who owns it or why.

“The best that can happen to (an) application is to be bought by Google or Yahoo!,” says Deloitte Digital chief executive Peter Williams. “You get zealots who complain.”

Quick-links managing director Sean Kelly agrees: “Passionate users are one in 50 people – the other 49 don’t give a rat’s arse.”

It’s no great surprise this would be the outlook of an ‘innovation and entrepreneurship forum‘ (but of course not all online communities share these values or objectives). Also, I’d like to add that according to the notion of the 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto principle, it is likely that the one in the 49 will be just the person providing some of the most valuable, high quality material or contributions to the community. I would also argue that the success of the largest mass collaboration to date,, is due precisely to its ‘zealots’ (only a few in comparison to the overall contributors) who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help generate one of the world’s more influential information sources – I know just how many undergraduate university students are turning to it as an entry point for their research assignments.

So perhaps such concerns – whether or not your community will be sold out from under you and what implications this might have – may be different for different kinds of communities. Communities such as MySpace, Facebook and xpmediacentre may be less concerned about such issues as perhaps their contributions are more ephemeral and based in discussion, while a project such as Wikipedia may need more explicit licensing in order to assure its users that they will always have access to their contributions (which may be similar to other knowledge generating projects who’s output is oriented towards more lasting artifacts – such as scientific and academic research endeavours etc).

Regardless, it is an interesting issue which will no doubt feature in years to come – how will you feel when your favourite social networking platform goes belly up or trades hands and all your communication (the intelligence and interactions you and your peers have rendered upon the platform) disappears with it too? What if this information and development is used by someone else to make a few bucks, and you’re left out in the cold? Can you even export your Facebook encodings (I don’t know)?

To me, this makes a good case for a kick-ass open source, open access social networking platform (think Facebook meets Firefox meets Wikipedia). Hmm, I bet there’s already one out there just waiting…

This content is also mirrored at my other blog, Mass Collaboration.

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