Thursday, March 12, 2009

worst mistake in Web 2.0 and social media as gaming

As I see it currently, the biggest flaw in the development and marketing of Web 2.0 is the failure to respect the free version and its user community. This disrespect, a mirror of how game developers alienate users by dumbing down and commercialization, wrecking what used to be a cool game, is widespread.

I mention gamers because web activity, of all types, can be seen from the point of view of the content-free form of the interaction. Disregarding the intent and outcome of internet behavior, all of it can be viewed as gaming.

For example, you Friend bands on MySpace Music to promote your band and to meet other musicians. You express your enjoyment of their tunes, and post a complimenting comment. You upload new tunes, videos and artwork. You fuss with your bio/About.

It's like playing a video game. Don't misunderstand me. You may do serious, professional work online. But in many respects, it's like a video game. And I'm not talking about "gaming the system" or exploiting social media for personal advantage.

I'm talking about how what we do in social media is very similar to what is done in gaming, though I myself am not a game player. Those of you who are could probably add a lot to my reflections here.

For examples of console game woes, see Gamer's Manifesto.

Your total counts on Friends and plays of your tunes, plus comments and private messages, and other bands displaying your avatar in their Top Friends displays, are how you keep score.

You can apply the same analysis to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Digg, Wikipedia,, and all the other social media. People are using these Web 2.0 tools as a way to exhibit themselves, meet others, accomplish business goals, and exert influence through online activism.

Too often, however, once a Web 2.0 tool forms a substantial community of users, and achieves some success and media attention, it coasts or deteriorates. Rarely responsive to user requests, complaints, or suggestions, the customer-centrism suffers due to the fact that it's "free".

Oh, really?

Web 2.0 tool communities are "free" in order to generate a large user community, with the buzz and prestige these provide to the developers. Then VC money and other funding is obtained. New servers are purchased. But the bulk of the money, after partying, seems to be directed toward premium services for customers of the upcoming New Improved Paid Version.

One method to bully the free users into the paid version is ad proliferation, degraded functionality, and declining reliability. They figure thusly: "Screw them, if they want a good tool now, they're gonna have to shell out some money. Their free ride is over."

So the charter members, the beta testers, the WOM fans, the core customer base is despised, as the greedy and amateurish Web 2.0 team lust for big money. And they know most of this big money will come from, not the freebie user base, but new, corporate customers.

So the poor, the young, and the struggling have been exploited again by The Man.

The game of using the free version is spoiled, more and more, by the clutter of commercials, the pop-up ads, the broken view counters, the disabled special effects, the sporadic connectivity, and the archiving problems.

By deterioration of the free version, they hope to annoy users into moving into the paid premium service. Motivation by aggravation is their brilliant idea. Instead, it will backfire, and a more user-centric company will meet the new needs of the disgruntled users.

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