I Am Product

18 Oct

If I were a product I’d probably be part of a recall. A defect from the norm. Or so I would hope. Who wants to be part of the crowd?

Yet, when I think about it, I am a product, and not such a unique one, at least as far as the boardrooms of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and the rest of the social network empires are concerned. I am part of the noisy crowd that comprises those companies’ product. Without me and millions of others like me typing away, attaching links, posting videos and photos, generating more and more content, there would be no product for social networks to sell.

We are all product.

But, I ask you, what kind of company can succeed in the long run when it does not own, control, influence, or manage its own product? As I’ve said here before, the faddish nature of consumers and their likes and dislikes of online services make any social network ephemeral, which is why I swing between astonishment and amusement when supposedly sober people value, say, Facebook at $33 billion. For what?

Once upon a time capitalists, so-called captains of industry, aspired to own real things. Ironworks. Railroads. Steel mills. Oil wells. Baseball teams. Something they could point to and say, “That’s mine.”

What do the capitalist captains of social networks point to when showing off their accomplishments? The leased servers in the hosted data centers where the “secret sauce” of their proprietary software runs? Maybe, but it’s rather pathetic when compared to the real value created in the real world by the business titans that preceded them.

My concern is not that the fortunes of new billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg are built upon shifting sands. Rather, when (not if) fickle users of today’s social networks shift their gaze to the next shiny thing, I fear current and future investors will be wiped out. I also worry that as a nation, the United States seems to be obsessed with building an economy based on virtual products (me and you) and not real things with value in the real world. Social networks are the reflection of an economic engine, not an actual one.

Facebook, Twitter, and the rest won’t help the USA overcome its ongoing economic woes. The best they can do is distract us from them for a while. But only for a while.

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