or, Bebo: A Cautionary Tale
I am convinced that the study/observation/analysis of social media has been, to date, simply a prologue. Social media has been the “new frontier” which none of us have experienced before. Thus, most theories regarding it have largely been bald suppositions. This is not a bad thing: it is how the study of all subjects evolve. First, blind ignorance. Next, awareness. After awareness, curiosity. After curiosity, relentless pursuit of knowledge. Throughout it all, answers – even if they aren’t the final answers.
And while our disposition towards a subject changes, it must change also. In order to facilitate proper examination, we must see our subject in all its phases. Consider medicine, for example. Consider yourself a medical student. Do you think you could glean all you need to know about the human body just from work with infants? Could you learn how to treat the feverish symptoms of an adult simply by examining the hiccups of a child? No. For medicine to arrive at where it is today, we have studied humans of all ages and varieties – but especially, we have studied corpses.
So, does it not hold that we would need social media corpses in order to study what factors determine “healthy” social media? If so, we need not wait much longer. While I’ll grant you that some social media corpses littered the internet more than a decade ago, I suspect there will be distinct differences between social media sites which were born and died in virtual anonymity (read: no media attention, very little public awareness) (pun intended), versus those which matured in the spotlight and then faltered or became titans.
In an April 8, 2010 CNN Tech column, Mashable‘s Pete Cashmore observes that Bebo – the social networking site which has found broad acceptance in the UK – might soon some crashing down. More important to us – as consumers and technorati – is why? He suggests that innovation is the key.
James Robinson of The Guardians‘ Observer column seems to agree. He points out that Bebo’s unique visitors have fallen 45% in the last year and asks, why? Why has Bebo lost traction while Facebook and Twitter have gained it? Ultimately, he agrees with Cashmore: Bebo simply failed to be creative, therefore, it faltered.
Darwinism is certainly at work on the internet and this is exemplary evidence of that. Innovate, it seems, or go the way of Bebo.
This is a good warning to be heeded by companies large and small who wishes to establish an impactful online presence. After all, as Robinson points out, one of the major challenges facing social networks is that they are subject (i.e. they have subjected themselves to) the fickle desires of the viewer. Nowhere is this more poignant, because on the internet your competitor – or some beckoning distraction – is only a mouse click away.