The news last month that Microsoft may wind up offering Facebook $500,000,000 for a 5% stake is great news … for the tiny number of Facebook insiders who stand to gain from this move which would effectively value the social media giant at about $10,000,000,000. For the millions of Facebook folks like me who provide the content and faces that drive Facebook it means … um … more advertising.
Gee, thanks Facebook.
When people wake up they may start to realize that we’ve got a potential crisis as small numbers of “info intermediators” like Google and Facebook scoop up the lion’s share of the online ocean of cash while the “info creators” are distinctly second class citizens in the big show. Small time web publishers and mom and pops are in this group. So are major newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post and most other print outlets who tend to make relatively little online despite offering much of the web’s best content to date, especially now that the foolish paywalls of some newspaper outlets like NYT are coming down. Having no paywall will allow them to make more, but it’s not clear to me they’ll make enough to keep all that high quality content coming.
Print and newspapers are hurting and that is going to continue. That’s OK as long as websites and blogs continue to provide great insight and breaking news, but it’s about time the big players in the online world start working *a lot harder* to feed the hands that are feeding them. It’s about time they realize that the best web ecosystem encourages high quality content and not just socializing for the sake of hanging online with friends.
Yes, it is true that revenue sharing programs like Google adsense give publishers a nice share of revenues that come directly from activity at their websites. However lost in this debate is the fact that *most* of Google’s money (and virtually all of Myspaces), goes into the pocket of Google and Fox (owners of Myspace). This is because most of the cash comes from searches done at Google.com rather than publishing affiliate sites, and Google keeps all that despite the fact it’s generated *indirectly* from the ocean of content Google has categorized. Sure Google should make *a lot* from categorizing *your content* so effectively, but should they make 100%? You can argue this arrangement is fine if the big players turn around and do things with that money that make the internet ecosystem thrive and grow in ways it could not without their involvement. I think that argument was far more valid a few years ago than it is now. Literally thousands of startups are dying off as the Youtubes and Facebooks – built squarely on the shoulders of other people’s content – scoop up the super gigantic big money. It is not a problem that startups die – in fact it’s a good part of the ruthless evolution of things – but it’s problematic when the lion’s share of online resources from the work of so many are redistributed to so few. Not because this is “unfair”, but because this type of inequity does not lead to optimal system efficiency and growth.
Social media in all its various and sundry forms is a wonderful development. Finally we see clearly that people, not computers, will be at the heart of future online developments – probably for some time into the future. Facebook users are now leading the innovation in this area, though Alice at NYT thinks this could lead to unintended consequences.
To protect this new socially charged online environment from the ravages of our silly, stupid and prurient human interests we’ll need better incentives than the big players currently offer to quality content producers. Those incentives will ultimately shape the quality of online content for years to come.