Economists think about reality in terms of markets. In practice, a market is just an abstraction, and drawing the limits of markets out of actual information is a difficult task.
Consider the social networking market today and one can easily conclude that the rate of change makes it difficult to actual put boundaries around the definitions of "the market".
Systemically speaking, some well differentiated markets are transformed into new ones, because of changes in the technology and the demand that cause the products or services of the original markets to end up by serving identical needs to the same customers. In such a situation, firms are faced with big opportunities and big potential drawbacks. Example: How many people are networked to the same people in different networks? How many businesses do you know that are leveraging the reach and richness of the social web?
Those that is able to correctly foresee the future developments can gain an important head start and position themselves so as to obtain an important competitive advantage. On the other hand, making irreversible investments in the wrong technology can seriously threaten the competitive position of a firm. Thus the dilemma for today's operators of social networks and uninformed business leaders that consider the social web as a fad.
New markets are formed by visionaries who can see beyond the chaos and complexities of the day. Visionaries formulate strategies for creating products and services that are driven by the natural phenomena of convergence and demand for improved performance by end users. So step back from what you think the market definition is today and define what you believe it will become tomorrow. Just think about movements like OpenSocial, Doc Searls VRM and the current craze for new video technologies. Collectively the meaning of all this goes way beyond what we are experiencing today.
Technology is Converging
There are different technological segments currently operating independently but on the fringe of convergence. Consider what is happening in the telecommunications industry. Mobile devices have advanced to the point of enabling users to watch live and on demand broadcast, receive emails, surf the net and now the fastest growing mobile applications are aimed at social networking. Mobile devices have a shelf life of six months only to be replaced by a newer version having increased functionality. Information and communications technologies are advancing faster than ever before.
Now consider on line social computing technologies. Look at the rate of new applications flowing out of Facebook, the rate that new networking platforms are appearing on the market, the grow of YouTube as a defacto online broadcasting medium, digital content is exploding, new developments are being announced daily and users are having difficulty keeping up. This growth has regulators concerned about privacy issues, abuse concerns and of course fulfilling their perceived position of protecting the citizens from abuses. When you follow the threads of forums discussing the current "market noise of social networks" common themes from the user's perspective are becoming clear. These include:
- "I am getting tired of all this networking"
- "I am being invited to join yet another network from people I am already networked with"
- "What do we really gain from all this networking"
- "I wish networks would network with each other thus making my life easier"
- "I am in way to many communities and all this is a distraction from real work"
- What Video application enables me the greatest function, features and easy of use?
- Which community should I focus on?
- How do I create returns from all the time I spend on this stuff?
- How does one keep up with the rapid changes, it is crazy out there"
- When will all this make sense and be easier?
Convergence usually comes from outside an existing system and led by those watching the fringes. Our conclusion is that the obvious is starring us all in the face but the chaos of the moment distracts us from seeing the obvious. We are in fact the community but for now we have to jump from one community to another to effectively converse, share and collaborate. Tomorrow we will individually be the "community" and we'll be empowered to choose who, what and when others participate in "our space".
From our perspective convergence is not a question of will it happen but rather an issue of when. The sooner the better for the end users. In the end we, the users, will gain more control over our time. The technology will enable us to consolidate our activities, participation and empower us to be our own broadcast stations with affinity channels that we leverage for "your attention and the attention of others".
When will this happen? The ripples of change are already forming waves. Can you see it or are you drowning in the "choices of the moment"?What say you?