Content is king. That’s what Bill Gates said in 1996. “Those who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products – a marketplace of content.”
Gates chose to build his company by defining content as software, which was really just the means to an end and still at least a step away from the experience economy he propounded. Over the years these software tools have become more and more meaningless as they’ve become increasingly commoditized. And Microsoft is suffering now from its limited vision of content. Gates was right, content is king, but I believe the companies that will thrive in the future will be those that broaden their definition of content and participate as co-creators in the “marketplace of ideas and experiences.” Facebook has that potential.
Many companies still think of content as data. Most are focused on helping us manage that data – sharing and controlling information across a vibrant and complex network. This is where Facebook lives, with its mission “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
With Facebook’s IPO looming, many are speculating about the company’s future. Clearly right now Facebook is winning the social media game. A recent All Things D article states, “Even though the average Facebook user has just 130 friends, Facebook research indicates… that it takes just four people sharing content from a brand to reach one million users.”
My question is, in the future, what value will the tool that facilitates sharing have? Will it eventually become a commodity like Microsoft’s software? Thinking years out, my guess is that unless Facebook evolves from seeing itself as the public scrapbook where we all pin our collections, to a fertile and collaborative environment fostering creation and self-expression, it may follow Microsoft’s decline. (I realize that the decline of Microsoft is an arguable point; it’s strength is formidable but it still does not hold the pivotal position it once did.)
Already Facebook fans are doing more than sharing. We are creating ourselves through the collage of ideas, images, video and experiences we chose post and broadcast. Looking beyond what we post, I think the key is understating why we post – not the means, but the messages we are sending. That nebulous “content,” the original experiences we are creating online, the “I” that we are inventing, this is what Facebook and companies like them must learn to understand and facilitate.
On his blog, Rober X. Cringely speculates that, “My interest is in what follows Facebook, which I think must be its disintermediation by all of us reclaiming our personal data.” He predicts that, “The trend is clear from “the computer is the computer” through “the network is the computer” to what’s next, which I believe is “the data is the computer.””
I’ll take it a step further. What’s next, I believe, is that there is no computer. The content we create is us.
“I am the computer.”