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I'm just wondering: is this a mere naiveté or why do people around
business tend to  identify social networks with gimmicks like MySpace?
What do they see that sociologists cannot understand?  Your cues will
be appreciated.


Craig Cox
This article appeared in Ode issue: 37
Social networking sites like MySpace are reshaping cyberspace—and the
business world

Social networking sites like MySpace are reshaping cyberspace—and business
Next time you're feeling a bit annoyed by your teenager's obsession
with MySpace, consider this: She and 72 million of her close friends
may be shaping the future of business.
 That may sound like an overblown description of the role MySpace,
YouTube, flickr and play in the ever-evolving world of the
Web, but there's ample evidence that business leaders are catching on
to the ways this sort of "social software" can help them tap new
markets, monitor customer behaviour and create strong and vibrant
 "Companies, whether they sell software, movies or dog food, are
changing the way they communicate, make decisions and develop and
market products, all because of the exponential rise of new tools that
allow people to express themselves more easily online—and on the
streets," writes Anya Kamenetz in Fast Company (June 2006).
 How powerful are these social-networking tools? Kamenetz highlights
two recent examples: In March 2006, a small group of Mexican-American
activists in Los Angeles organized a high-school walkout over
immigration issues that attracted some 40,000 students by spreading
the word online. Thousands more walked out later in the week in
California, Texas and Florida.
 And in April, a 24-year-old British singer-songwriter named Sandi
Thom inked a major recording contract with RCA/Sony BMG without ever
playing a live gig. She did, however, attract an audience that
approached 100,000 on her Web site, which captured 21 straight nights
of her performances—from her London basement.

This is the next generation of the Internet, and the primary
relationship is no longer between the user and his or her computer;
it's between the user and other users. That transforms the screen into
a massive networking tool.
 "It's hard to overstate the coming impact of these new network
technologies on business," writes Kamenetz. "They hatch trends and
build immense waves of interest in specific products. They serve
giant, targeted audiences to advertisers. They edge out old media with
the loving labour of amateurs. They effortlessly provide
hyper-detailed data to marketers. They provide an authentic,
peer-to-peer channel of communication that is far more credible than
any corporate flackery. And all this after only four years or so in

OpenBC, sort of a MySpace for business people, allows members to view
detailed profiles of other members and share information and leads
with one another, which ideally leads to new business opportunities.
"If I need a caterer for our Hyderabad office, all I need to do is
post a request on the site," Sandhya Advani, a manager for Sitel
India, told the India Times (April 30, 2006). "It reduces my costs and
ensures I get someone I can trust."
 Like openBC, LinkedIn, Ecademy, Spoke, Ryze and Zaadz, and other
social-software sites are essentially returning to traditional
business practises, which allowed commerce to emerge naturally from
the first-hand recommendations of trustworthy peers. LinkedIn and
Ecademy focus on business networking; Spoke delivers sales leads; Ryze
is a more general networking site; and Zaadz, which is still in its
beta stage, offers what founders call "social networking with a
purpose, a community of seekers and conscious entrepreneurs
circulating wisdom and inspiration and wealth."
 As LinkedIn co-founder Konstantin Guericke noted in Business Week
(April 10, 2006), social software is becoming more popular as
traditional media become noisier and less credible. "People are
relying more than ever on recommendations from people they know, [not
from] machines or editors who don't know you," he explained. "The
Internet made things more efficient. Now we have information overload.
The next stage of the Web is to integrate people and trust and
personalization back into the Web."
 The development of these networking tools is no coincidence. In a
2006 survey of opinion leaders conducted by Edelman, the international
PR giant, 68 percent of those polled said "a person like yourself or
your peer" was the most credible spokesperson for a company. That
number has tripled since 2003.
 "Networked consumers are not passive participants in the consumption
process," Kamenetz notes. "It's easier than ever for them to ferret
out unbiased, independent information about companies, products, or
brands—and to post in turn their own highly biased opinions about the

But as much as a site like LinkedIn or Spoke can help members connect
with their peers, it's the potential of social software to describe
its users down to the most intimate details of their consuming
behaviour that has marketers licking their chops.
 Perhaps the most provocative example of this next generation of
online networks is TagWorld, a site based in Santa Monica, California,
that has been called the "MySpace killer" for its powerful range of
services and its ability to gather real-time information about its
 TagWorld combines all the services currently available on the most
popular online social networks: blogging, a music player (for your own
or other's tunes) and classifieds, along with the ability to share
photos, videos and bookmarks. But the site also lets members know who
is reading their blogs or listening to their garage-band tune or
watching their latest quirky video.
 "It's really the way business will be conducted going forward,'
TagWorld co-founder Evan Rifkin told Fast Company. "Businesses can
have a lot of data without putting the work into it. Let's say you are
sitting on your computer listening to Bloc Party and automatically
that info is posted on your website. You've generated content by the
act of doing something for yourself. That information will
automatically get pushed to me, as a marketer, and I get a list at the
end of every day."
 That information, of course, could be used to fire an endless series
of direct marketing salvos toward the unfortunate Bloc Party fan, but
that wouldn't be the best use of the technology, says online activist
Alexandra Samuel of the progressive Web firm Social Signal, based in
Vancouver, British Columbia. Because the millions of people now
connected via social software represent a increasingly powerful voice
in the market (witness Chevrolet's disastrous attempt last spring to
invite consumers to create an ad for its new gas-guzzling Tahoe),
business must take a more collaborative, rather than manipulative,
approach to marketing. "The name of the game now," says Samuel, "is to
engage the user in creating value."
 After all, they don't call it MySpace for nothing.

The Network Unbound

How TagWorld and other next-generation social networks could feed your
business--and maybe even change the world.
From: Issue 106 | June 2006 | Page 68 | By: Anya Kamenetz

The spring of 2006 will go down as a curious moment in the annals of
buzz. The mainstream-media steamroller caught up with a bona fide
cultural phenomenon, then flattened it into a cliché before the
average person knew what all the fuss was about. That's ironic,
because the fuss was about the average person--that is, his or her
participation in what's known variously as "social media," "social
networking," "user-generated content," the "live Web" or the dreaded
"Web 2.0." But don't worry, this isn't yet another story getting all
up in MySpace or metaprofiling Friendster profiles. This is about how
those sites, and their successors, are growing up--and about their
impact on how business gets done. Companies, whether they sell
software, movies, or dog food, are changing the way they communicate,
make decisions, and develop and market products, all because of the
exponential rise of new tools that allow people to express themselves
more easily online--and on the streets.

Two major examples of the networks' real-world power broke barely a
week apart. On Monday, March 27, about 40,000 mainly Latino high
schoolers in Los Angeles played hooky to protest the Senate's proposed
bill to crack down on illegal immigration. It was believed to be the
largest such demonstration in L.A.'s history, double the size of the
historic Chicano walkouts of 1968. Through the week, thousands more
walked out in California, Texas, and Florida. Then, on Tuesday, April
4, 24-year-old Sandi Thom signed a £1 million, five-album deal with
RCA/Sony BMG out of her basement in London, live via Webcast. She had
just finished 21 straight nights of live performances--also Webcast
from her basement. By the end, Thom was pulling in a nightly audience
of 100,000 listeners. In both cases, the "audience," whether of
pissed-off students or besotted roots-rock fans, was drawn together,
at least in part, by word of mouth on social-networking sites such as
MySpace, the two-and-a-half-year-old company with an unbelievable 72
million members.

"In the beginning, there was sociability," proclaims Danah Boyd, the
28-year-old savant of social networks. But in the first-generation
Web, technical barriers meant that the pleasures of group
communication online were limited to the geek subculture. Blogs, then
social networks, changed all that. A PhD student at UC Berkeley's
School of Information, Boyd is helping invent the field of Internet
anthropology. The occasionally boa-clad Burning Man attendee has
studied online social behavior from Usenet (the early-1980s bulletin
board for groups such as alt.rec.camping) to Craigslist; Friendster;; Blogger; and now, armed with a research grant from the
MacArthur Foundation, MySpace. Separately, she looks at social media
for Yahoo Research Berkeley, a major initiative by the company to work
closely with academics in the hope of figuring out where the Web is
going next.

Boyd's point is that while first-generation Web sites were all about
human-computer interaction, culture now drives the Web and its design.
"What you're seeing now is people interacting not just… with 'the
computer' or with 'information' but with other people," she says. "You
have to bring out the sociology and anthropology." Personal
connections--forged through words, pictures, video, and audio posted
just for the hell of it--are the life of the new Web, bringing
together the estimated 60 million bloggers, those 72 million MySpace
users, and millions more on single-use social networks where people
share one category of stuff, like Flickr (photos),
(links), Digg (news stories), Wikipedia (encyclopedia articles), and
YouTube (video).

This hive of activity has already generated a lot of noise, but what
most observers have yet to realize is just how productive the hive
really is and how powerful it can be when it swarms in a particular
direction. In fact, it's hard to overstate the coming impact of these
new network technologies on business: They hatch trends and build
immense waves of interest in specific products. They serve giant,
targeted audiences to advertisers. They edge out old media with the
loving labor of amateurs. They effortlessly provide hyperdetailed data
to marketers. If your customers are satisfied, networks can help build
fanatical loyalty; if not, they'll amplify every complaint until you
do something about it. They are fund-raising platforms. They unify
activists of every stripe, transforming an atomized mass of
individuals with few resources into an international movement able to
put multinational corporations and governments on the defensive.
(Those immigration protests played no small part in stymieing Senate
action over immigration.) They provide an authentic, peer-to-peer
channel of communication that is far more credible than any corporate
flackery. And all this after only four years or so in development. On
the day you read this, a quarter of a million more people will jump
onto MySpace, each with her own particular purpose in mind.

Medium = Message

As in the first Internet boom, many social-media companies started out
as hobbies for their founders. Jonathan Abrams, the guy who started
Friendster in 2002, one of the early examples of its kind, just wanted
a better dating service. But the difference on today's Net can be
found in one thing: adwords. Those pay-per-clicks remain the most
obvious way of monetizing the Web--and the reason venture capitalists
and big companies are interested in growing these networking sites in
the first place. Yet the productive quality of social networks only
starts with directing eyeballs to banner ads, a fact that has eluded
most business-world observers. Take one limited (and well-traveled)
example: Rupert Murdoch's acquisition last summer of MySpace for $580
million. The deal was covered mainly as a giant real-estate
transaction, the buying of the right to serve ads to a place where
millions of teens hang out. And it was certainly that. But News Corp.
clearly sees a bigger upside: Social networking, after all, is a new
channel for media, Murdoch's core business. Not only will the site
generate simple ad revenue, but it's also a gold mine of new ideas and
tastes, a buzz-building machine for brands, and a vast pool of new
talent and content for outlets such as the newly formed MySpace
Records or even, says News Corp., TV. Over the years, those
opportunities might be worth a hell of a lot more than ads. Similarly,
Yahoo has bought Flickr and, and it's sharing metrics on
its half-billion users with researchers such as Boyd, simply to learn
more about how and why people interact on the Web and to give them
more reasons to do so.

"Social networking isn't a product or, God forbid, a company, but a
feature that lives in service of some other mission," says Bradley
Horowitz, head of technology development for Yahoo. "The spirit of
social computing is the concept of leaving value in your wake." That
value starts with expression. Users of social-networking sites are
producing and freely sharing a whole universe of content for others to
consume. Some of it approaches journalism in quality, some approaches
art, or advertising, and a great deal of it is more fun and appealing
to the 18-to-34 target demographic than whatever is on TV. Why watch
fake "reality" shows when you can connect with actual reality? In
Boyd's analysis, networks such as MySpace and Flickr are amplifying
and speeding up what the hippest kids on the street always did:
incubate trends, nurture subcultures, and remix styles. For media and
Web-portal companies, then (and really, what's the difference these
days?), the new social gadgets can look like a magic money machine.
Rather than exhaust yourself producing what you think the kids might
want, you sit back and let them show off for one another. "Our core
asset is the audience and community that exist on our site," Horowitz

How that community can feed--or destroy--an existing business is fast
becoming the most important analytical challenge in the marketplace.
Rock stars, long expert at connecting intimately with crowds of
thousands, have been the prototypical new-Web marketing geniuses.
Musical Cinderella stories such as Sandi Thom, emo kids Fall Out Boy,
and Britain's Arctic Monkeys--all pop-culture phenoms made online--are
only a few examples of how the network can manifest itself in the
nonvirtual world. So is the movie Snakes on a Plane, starring Samuel
L. Jackson. The absurdist title alone made the thriller a cult hit
online, though it won't be released until August. New Line Cinema and
director David Ellis heeded the first tenet of life online--respond to
what people are saying--by reshooting for five days, cranking the film
up from a PG-13 rating to a solid R. Then New Line teamed up with
TagWorld, a next-generation social network, to offer a songwriting
contest: People submitted their tunes, TagWorld members picked the
finalists, the filmmakers are choosing the winner, and that song is
slated for the movie's soundtrack.

How much bigger could this stuff get? Well, one out of three South
Koreans already has a "minihompy" (mini homepage) on Cyworld, a
social-networking site coming to America later this year. But it is
TagWorld, a startup based in Santa Monica, California, that represents
the most ambitious vision yet of what online communities could be.
Bloggers are calling TagWorld the "MySpace killer" for its deep menu
of services, which integrates features from seemingly every successful
network out there: blogging, of course, plus a multipage site; a
gigabyte of storage; a music player that serves up your own tunes (as
well as those pulled down via a Music Discovery Engine); classifieds;
and photo-, video-, and bookmark-sharing. As the name indicates, all
of these bits of data can be tagged with short, descriptive names
("Dave's party," say) for easy search and retrieval by other users.

Evan Rifkin and Fred Krueger, TagWorld's cofounders, are serial
entrepreneurs who funded it from their successes in the dotcom days.
The community added 1.4 million members between November 2005 and
April 2006, healthy growth for a site still in beta, but Rifkin is
confident that he'll have 100 million members within a few years.
"This is the beginning of social networking," he says, walking me
through his personal TagWorld site over the phone. "User-generated
content on the Internet will dramatically increase…. We don't think
this is a coolness issue. We believe people want to live their lives

My (Smarter) Space

TagWorld's real competitive advantage, however, isn't its jukebox or
some other widget. It's the real-time information the site gathers.
Musicians who post their music and videos online will be rewarded with
demographics on exactly who is listening and where, bloggers will see
exactly which other members are reading them, and advertisers, once
there are some, will be able to find out similar information (within
privacy guidelines, of course). That kind of supermuscular data and
easy, automatic feedback makes TagWorld's platform even more
potentially valuable to businesses than the current generation of
social networks. "It's really the way business will be conducted going
forward," says Rifkin. "Businesses can have a lot of data without
putting the work into it. Let's say you are sitting on your computer
listening to Bloc Party and automatically that info is posted on your
Web site. You've generated content by the act of doing something for
yourself. That information will automatically get pushed to me, as a
marketer, and I get a list at the end of every day." In other words,
when you press play on your music player, that choice could become a
bit of autogenerated content, and a piece of easily aggregated and
invaluable marketing information (e.g., the number of urban
19-year-old girls who downloaded the song yesterday).

The key here, however, is that networked consumers are not passive
participants in the consumption process. It's easier than ever for
them to ferret out unbiased, independent information about companies,
products, or brands--and to post in turn their own highly biased
opinions about the same. The wattage of social networking means those
personal opinions can be set to music, Flash-animated, and propagated
around the Web; the more interesting or entertaining or useful they
are, the further they travel. The emergent power of those collective
judgments shows up in a 2006 survey of "opinion leaders" by Edelman,
the huge international PR firm, which found that 68% of respondents
rated "a person like yourself or your peer" as the most credible
spokesperson about a company. That number has tripled since 2003.
What's more, 36% of respondents said that if they don't like a
company, they go online to say so. And a Pew Internet & American Life
Project survey released in January found that 60 million Americans
consulted the Internet for help with major life decisions, including
big-ticket purchases. When it comes to information, the balance of
power has truly shifted to the consumer.

Vision Critical, a Vancouver-based market-research company, was built
on the premise that online feedback can make or break companies.
Vision Critical constructs custom online communities for large
companies to get far more detailed data and better response rates than
traditional market research delivers. The idea is to build
relationships with "panels" of thousands of users who are folded into
the decision-making process and given feedback on their feedback. One
major retailer, for example, offered teenagers the chance to help
choose its new spring line online. "It's only in the past year and a
half that we've had companies start to embrace this," says Jason
Smith, the company's senior VP of sales and marketing. "There are some
statistics saying that almost 50% of market research is being done
online." Vision Critical built another unbranded site, called Pet
Talk, for a major company in the pet industry. "Pet owners can upload
photos of pets and share stories," says Smith. "Keeping connected that
way builds trust. We're connecting in a way that's not just marketing
to them." When the company sends a Pet Talk survey to these thousands
of members, response rates are much higher and the data much deeper,
because respondents feel like a part of a community. (We'll see how
long it takes Pet Talk members to find out who's behind their
"community"--and how they feel about it.)

Social media is far from being all cupcakes for business, however. In
expressing and funneling the ever-changing will of the people, it
remains a fiercely independent and mutating beast. Chevrolet's foray
into user-generated marketing backfired in March because it misread
its audience and lost control over its own campaign. Chevy offered up
a Web contest to create an ad for the Tahoe, but the entries that got
passed around, blogged about, and eventually covered in the mainstream
media were all about the SUV's abysmal gas mileage and melting polar
ice caps.

The average person's opinion becomes even scarier to companies (and
governments) when someone starts aggregating those opinions and
targeting them for maximum impact. It was no accident that a political
protest was one of the first real-world demonstrations of social
networks' power. Activists adopted these new technologies early on
because the tools mesh perfectly with the goal of connecting and
empowering individuals. "Those of us in online activism have been
thinking about these issues for years," says Alexandra Samuel, head of
Vancouver, British Columbia-based startup Social Signal. "Suddenly the
tech world and the business world are interested in collaborating and
building communities." Samuel wrote her 2004 poli-sci dissertation at
Harvard on "hactivists" who use legal and illegal means online to do
things such as protest international trade agreements; her startup
builds and grows customized online communities. And while her first
clients were all nonprofits and government agencies, now she's getting
approached by businesses, including Canada's largest credit union.
"The name of the game now is to engage the user in creating value,"
she says.

"We're honestly at the very very beginning of this," says Vision
Critical's Smith, of the use of social networks. "This community
concept is just going to grow and expand." That expansion will be
driven not just by the technology but also by the various causes of
the people who use it. The new Web, after all, lets us create value
just by doing what comes naturally: speaking up.

Anya Kamenetz is the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006). She
lives in New York.

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