Promoting Network Effects vs. Promoting Customization Services

Against the backdrop of the previous 2 interludes (addressing various aspects of the present-day consumer orientation towards media), I would now like to return to the issue of how to promote more participation in communities such as those engaged with the WordPress platform. As I noted in ”Inviting, Welcoming, Promoting More Participation”, the vast majority of the community interacting with the WordPress platform does so in a primarily disengaged manner, and the 2 interveneing interludes have underscored the consumer orientation towards ”free offer” mentality which hardly involves any participation, engagement, involvement, let alone ownership in the WordPress medium / platform.

This widespread aloofness and disengagement is – in my humble opinion – mainly attributable to a lack of economic motivations, but in part also due to a very narrow, limited self-centeredness throughout most civilizations today. People are generally unaware of how their own actions impact their environments – the most obvious case of this is probably the ”global warming” problem.

The groundwork for the economic disenfranchisement of the vast majority of the world’s population happened about 15 years ago, when Google decided to disregard (and/or ”completely devalue”) all comments made on the Internet (this came to be known as the ”nofollow” algorithm, and has since then been expanded to many media platforms, perhaps most significantly websites like Facebook and YouTube). Note that at the time Google made this decision, its repercussions were not widely understood (and indeed many people actually applauded this as a way to censor spam). In other words: it is not alone Google’s ”fault”, it was the widespread adoption (of ”nofollow”) among publishers that drove these nails into the coffin of community engagement.

Within a few years, all of the awe-inspiring widespread community engagement of early web-communities such as Digg had all but completely vanished. Today, the vast majority of websites are barren wastelands when it comes to user participation. The very few and very far between exceptions of so-called ”user-generated content (UGC)” firstly substantiate the rule, and secondly are of extremely dubious nature – since most of this content is outright pirated or in some other way fraudulent (e.g. ”fake news”).

It seems that apart from hoodlums selling suckers vast varieties of ”get rich quick” schemes, there is virtually no incentive whatsoever to be engaged in any way.

What might be good ways to incentivize more user participation?

One method very popular among “free market” thinkers is money. I would not rule this method out completely (see, e.g. this question about “paid content”), but there are some indications that money does not function well as incentive (or as motivator) for creative tasks. Also, money seems to have a way of dehumanizing activity and I find such dehumanization might be counter-productive when it comes to promoting participation, social cohesion and / or community engagement, etc.

My proposal to link together the WordPress community has by and large fallen on deaf ears. Apparently, just as very few people are motivated to actively engage with WordPress in general, so also very few people seem to care very much about the wider WordPress community. One visualiation might be to imagine someone like Carl Sagan describe the WordPress project as millions and millions (perhaps even as “billions and billions”) of isolated islands in a huge ocean (the Internet), not really connected in any way other than a common technology (much like a multitude of homes and other buildings built with similar [standardized] hammers, nails, etc.).

In order to promote collaboration among these individual buildings, isolated islands or self-oriented websites, the potential participants seem to need a clear indication of “what’s in it for me?”

I continue to believe that improvements in the functionality of the WordPress search engine’s capabilities could provide very significant benefits to all WordPress users. Likewise, functionalities to promote more efficient and more effective business networking capability among WordPress users ought to benefit every single WordPress user significantly. Indeed: such very powerful and very positive network effects seem obvious to me – I wonder why they do not seem as obvious to (or even to just so much as mildly resonate with) other members of the WordPress community. My hunch is that the vast majority of the WordPress developers believe that widespread adoption is unlikely. In fact, I wouldn’t even rule out that such a collaborative effort might even be unwanted, because developers might fear that such network effects might lead to a reduction in demand for their own lucrative customization services.

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Interlude #2: “the first time an alliance that represents all sides of the media industry is forming”

While I was attending WordCamp Europe (WCEU) 2019 in Berlin, something else was going on at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. I learned about this later through the NoAgenda podcast (who also provided a detailed account of the setting for how + why this happened — see “Brand Safety“).

Although I believe I understand the impetus behind this decision, I feel as though the raison d’être is misguided. In order to explain my critique, let me step back and offer a quote from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)’s website describing the proposed project:

An immediate focus will be to form and empower an inclusive working group charged with developing a set of initial ideas and prioritizing next steps. This is the first time an alliance that represents all sides of the media industry is forming, underpinned by a working group committed to meeting regularly and reporting back on its progress to members and the industry.

https://www.wfanet.org/news-centre/global-alliance-for-responsible-media-launches-to-address-digital-safety/

If this were an inclusive alliance “that represents all sides of the media industry”, then I would have been asked to join. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t. 😯

But that isn’t the reason why I believe the project is misguided. I believe the project is misguided because I believe the way advertising used to work is different than the way successful business / brand communications work now, and the way they will become increasingly successful in the future.

In my opinion, the old-fashioned myth that editorial content and advertising content are independent of one another is no longer viable — and the proposed “Global Alliance for Responsible Media” only underscores this increasingly clear fact.

In contrast, the new way forward ought not to be focused on safety (i.e., something like a blank canvas), but rather on appropriate contextualization. Obviously, what one advertiser feels is appropriate, may not be appropriate to another advertiser. This is, after all, what has led us to the very rich and varied media landscape we now have and cherish… an environment which is increasingly becoming more and more diverse by the day.

I believe the way forward for brands and brand owners must involve becoming more aware of the environments where they intend to be (and even to become more) actively engaged, not less. This will also involve more participation from (and engagement with) each brand’s potential customers. Disengagement, discord, distance, dissociation and the like are simply paths to disintegration.

I understand this may very well fly in the face of “creatives” and other media partners who have grown accustomed to economies of scale, mass production, and strong walls separating supposedly different classes of content. My hunch is that such old-fashioned approaches need to adapt to the changing environment, or perhaps proponents of such old-fashioned techniques and technologies will at some point simply have become extinct (or maybe just increasingly marginalized).

Interlude

Why Should People Read Your Blog?

https://aguycalledbloke.blog/2019/04/26/qq-why-should-people-read-your-blog/

If blogs were only for reading, then I think most blog software would be considered bloated.

In order to simply read, plain HTML is completely sufficient and fine.

IMHO, the main reason why people should read is pretty much the same as the reason to listen: it is an essential part of communication, interaction, engagement, participation in a collaborative effort towards mutual understanding and life / project development, growth, and the whole notion of “progress” in general.

To that end, blogging software / technology must be more sophisticated than plain paper, ink, printing presses, dead trees and other such “outdated” technologies.