Myspace may not be considered technology by its users, but for the business community it represents a technological "bar" set at an unbelievable height. How many businesses are you aware of that can accept over 100,000 new customers each week and survive?
The "Death of the Producer" (a panel discussion co-produced by the Emmy Advanced Media Committee and the Producers Guild of America East) which I was honored to moderate, included "rock star" guests: Jeremy Allaire, founder and CEO, Brightcove; Scott Heiferman, CEO and co-founder, Meetup.com; Murray Hidary, co-founder, iAmplify; and Shawn.
The intended subject was how producer's roles might change with the proliferation of user-generated content--but the evening quickly metamorphosed into a demonstration and discussion about state-of-the-art communication tools.
Jeremy gave us an up-close and personal view of Brightcove's tools for the distribution of professionally produced content using IP Video. Murray demonstrated iAmplify's tools for the creation and distribution of user-generated content using IP Video, RSS and other popular techniques. Scott explained how moms and the San Fernando Valley Chihuahua Meetup group were changing the world with a social network called meetup.com, which he described as "America Offline." And finally, Shawn showed us a video and some slides about "social networking for fun and profit" at myspace.com. (one in four Americans have a myspace page... do you?)
Each of the companies represented on the panel exemplifies "best practices" and, IMHO, "best of breed." You can find many organizations that do what each of them do, but this is about the most knowledgeable foursome you are likely to find on this subject. So I asked, "What's the model and where's the money?" After an uncomfortably long pause, it was Jeremy who eloquently posited, "I'm not sure there is a business model."
Truthfully, it was a gutsy answer--and no one else took the bait. That's because there are time-tested models for monetizing aggregated eyeballs with sponsorship (TV advertising is about a $66 billion industry and you can easily double that if you add online, out of home and event marketing dollars to the mix), but nobody knows how, or even if, there is a meaningful way to transform these small, fragmented communities of interest into sustainable businesses.
Is there a sponsorship model? How relevant does advertising have to be work in a social networking environment? Is this just a bunch of home enthusiasts setting the stage and paving the way for new models of professionally produced product? What about piracy? What about registered trademarks? Just how out of control is social networking? At the end of the of the day, there were far more questions than answers.
However, I think Scott summed up the opportunity best by saying "on the Internet, everyone will be famous for 15 people." He thoughtfully attributed the quote to David Weinberger, co-author of the seminal book The Cluetrain Manifesto--but if you Google the phrase, in 4/10ths of a second you'll find 40,000,000 pages of alternative attributions.
Which takes questions about ownership and monetization to a completely different place.