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Why social networks are like early television

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Newton MinowThe new limiting factor is time, right?

Using a social network isn’t rewarding until we invest time in it. More time, more reward.

What if social networks were TV channels circa 1948? The appearance of ABC doesn’t make me enjoy CBS or NBC less. But broadcast TV is capital intensive, so all 3 channels made money by delivering identical goods to a mass audience. Homogeny: road map to a vast wasteland.

Online social networks are built on a different type of capital — the aggregated time investments of their users. Google+, Twitter and Facebook are all trying to maximize that investment by offering identical functions to a general audience. User time investment has replaced airwave frequencies as the source of scarcity. The effect is homogeny.

“More time, more reward,” the cardinal rule of these early social media giants, is a broadcast mentality, even though the delivery system is digital.

This new ABC looks fine to me. But the next social networks that really matter — the ones that disrupt CBS and NBC rather than competing with them — will be the ones that figure out how to offer different sorts of rewards while demanding less capital from users: TNT, AMC, ESPN.