Friday, June 13, 2008

The great disruption of social networks reaches its tipping point

I feel like I've been warning that global warming was about to reach its tipping point - and suddenly images of the arctic glaciers collapsing, crashing into the sea at an alarming rate, are being broadcast around the world, providing hard evidence for all to see.

The great disruption of social networks has reached its tipping point. The theory of the impact of the networked world has become real. The evidence is now with us.

A short time ago I wrote that the disruption caused by social networks had only just begun. I thought we'd been guilty of over-estimating the change that the internet heralded - and of underestimating the significance of the rapid charge toward ubiquity of social connectedness - via the easy-to-use tools of 2.0 - social networks in their various guises.

But it looked to me like a two-speed 'social' world had emerged:
1. UGC-powered broadcast models (where 99% of the 'audience' consumed what 1% created)
2. Total Communities: where to take part you have to create part (eg twitter, secondlife, facebook (reversing the 99/1)

But now, Via JP Rangaswami's Confused of Calcutta, comes evidence of the inconvenient truth of the speed with which the networked world is emerging - a shock for those of us who perhaps thought the UGC-powered broadcast model was something more persistant than a hangover of the broadcast world.

It's evidence of the speeding up from broadcast to networked, from centre to edge.

It concerns youtube - one of the models I placed firmly on the UGC-powered broadcast side of the equation.

In the past our assumptions were that it followed the 1% create, 99% audience model.

That may be changing - and very rapidly indeed.

JP Rangaswami tells us that Dr Michael Wesch, (of The Machine is Us/ing Us and A Vision of Students Today) is speaking on the Anthropology of YouTube at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

And this, according to the Library of Congress news release is what he will be talking about:
"More video material has been uploaded to YouTube in the past six months than has ever been aired on all major networks combined, according to cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch. About 88 percent is new and original content, most of which has been created by people formerly known as “the audience.” "Wesch will discuss the three-year-old video-sharing Web site in a lecture titled “The Anthropology of YouTube” at 4 p.m. on Monday, June 23, in the Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the Library of Congress’ James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C."

Update: " finishing highly experimental presentation for Lib. of Congress ... 50 minute video made of over 300+ YouTube vids that I will narrate live"

I think this part is worth repeating:
"In the last six months...About 88 percent is new and original content, most of which has been created by people formerly known as “the audience.”

The numbers were so impressive that I thought I ought to check with Dr Wesch. I am extremely grateful for how rapidly he has responded:

"The numbers are as fuzzy as the distinction between professional and amateur. We are very confident that at least 80.3% of all content is UGC ... and as much as 95% (depending on how it is defined).
"The difficulty comes because many "users" are now creating near-professional-level content and are often getting paid for it - even if they did not expect to get paid for it when they started creating videos. I would consider myself one of these people in this fuzzy category (see my youtube account "mwesch")
"And one more clarification: the 88% figure refers only to what is new and original (and may be ugc or pro) - the other 12% are repeats, reloads, or stuff that was copied from TV, etc.. I think 80.3% is the safest figure for what we call "unambiguously user-generated content"

The notion that we are all publishers now (and that also means we are all advertisers now) has taken a giant leap from theoretically possible to actually happening.

The networked world is becoming reality before our eyes.

The end is in sight for the silent majority
When all is said and done Youtube may yet remain a UGC-powered broadcast model, attracting large audiences to consume that which is created by ever-larger numbers of user-creators. But as surely as participation rises towards the norm, so those who would passively consume will fall into a silent minority.

They'll get as much as they ever got from the broadcast world, which is to say, rather less than those of us enjoying the fruits of the networked world.

I'll be speaking about some of the implications of this in New York next week. Find me at WidgetWebExpo I'll be in NYC from Saturday evening.


  1. re: my tweet - what % of 88% is pish?
    I'm no nay-sayer but i'm just wondering - we berate trad media/advertising for mass approach and question old school metrics such as reach but on the other hand get excited about big numbers of uploaded ugc or whatever. i'm still thinking it through...

  2. Icebergs and glaciers crashing into the sea at varying rates have been happening for millions of years - this is nothing new.
    Real world satellite climate measurements show that the climate has cooled since 1998; Antartica land mass is increasing and plant life is flourshing because of very slight warming over the last 50 years and increased CO2 levels (CO2is not a pollutant but the is the lynchpin to plant life)

  3. Richard M Marshall6/13/2008 1:22 pm

    Next statistic that we need to assess this is what percentage of views counts as original UGC?

  4. richard, hope Dr Mike has answered your question (just updated the post with his response). I've also asked a few follow ups about change over time and also whether increase in ugc is having an impact on the creators/consumers ratio.

    eaonP: I hear you! Forever seeing bloggers getting excited cos they are on the TV news, for example. hmmm. We all crave a little 'fame' I guess (see Clay Shirky's contribution to the post we had about that on here not so long ago...)

    The quality/relevance thing I alluded to in our twitter discussion is key to understanding the rise of ugc, I think. ugc doesn't have to be great. It just has to be good enough for its intended community of purpose. So my mates in the pub discussing crisp manufacture in Pakistan can be of very low quality because it is of such high relevance to the three people involved. It only matters to us.
    Social networks are made up of thousands of groups exactly like this.
    Having a platform that offers effective tools for thousands of these small groups is something to shout about. But you can't claim you've created an audience, imho. They are all looking at each other, not at you.

    Am I drifting in the direction you were aiming at? Feel free to pull this elsewhere.

  5. david,
    You've articulated more or less what i was fumbling around, cheers E ;)

  6. Richard M Marshall6/13/2008 4:03 pm

    Thanks for the update David. I wonder where this puts us in the 1%/99% range.

  7. I think my belief around the huge amount of blogs and UGC that now exist, and will continue to grow, is that the next innovations that stick will be around aggregation (Friendfeed/socialthing etc), and also around filtering - both human and automated.

    The thing to remember is that you don't have to watch any of the content created - but the choice is now there, as opposed to four or five main broadcast TV channels.

    And you now have more and more opportunity to interact with the creators of both the UGC, and the traditional broadcast model to continue to shape it to be more relevant.

    My only concern is around discovering the things you never knew you wanted or cared about -e.g. common causes overseas, if it's not in your normal sphere of interest

  8. @dan
    re 'discovering the things you never knew you wanted'
    nothings changed there. as a young punk rocker i discovered Dr Alimantado via the Clash. cross contextual linking or something. just happens faster now.


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?