Social media smog

I ran a session for Deirdre and the Chinwag crowd at the Ad:Tech conference yesterday. The theme (which we’ve covered before) was ‘micromedia’: widgets and microblogging and the atomisation of content and app functionality that’s going on out there. My speakers were: Nick Halstead, whose is an interesting entry in the social bookmarking/blog aggregation area, Miles Lewis who’s a proper biz dev geezer and works at Last.FM and the near legendary Umair “Bubble Generation” Haque who is an all-round interesting bloke.

It was the most interesting of the various sessions I’ve run on this theme. Umair gives good analogy and his comparison of the social media chaff we’re creating by the truckload with the toxic debt produced by the financial community was instructive. He said that the increasingly clever and sophisticated architectures we’re developing are like the impossibly exotic financial derivatives that have brought a large part of the investment banking industry to his knees.¬† I suggested we might liken the wasteful, unsustainable social media that’s beginning to clog the wires to the smog that disfigures big cities everywhere.

I’m not going to test Umair’s analogy to destruction but I can certainly agree with him that there’s a risk we’ll forget the purpose of these devices we’re building if we allow them to gain a life of their own, just as derivatives originally meant to hedge risk for simpler securities have grown into markets in their own right.

Umair’s final point was that the richness or effectiveness of a particular device is irrelevant if it’s being used in a miserable or exploitive way. The business of marketers should be to invest in durable, authentic content and experiences for their customers, not coming up with increasingly effective ways of taking them to the cleaners. At a conference and trade show devoted to online advertising I think this was a good message to leave behind. I suggested we start a service that ranks social media gadgets¬†according to their authenticity, sustainability¬†or social value. It’ll be a huge hit.