Doc Searls recently shared his impressions of Google+ in a post titled “Tools for Independence”. Doc refers to Google+ and all the other “social containers” as commercial web dairy farms.
Doc writes” I’m thinking more about infrastructure these days. Facebook, LInkedIn, Google+ and Twitter are all good at what they do, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient as infrastructural elements supporting personal independence and real social interaction, like the kind we’ve always had offline, and in marketplaces since the days of Ur. Right now nearly all the sites and services we call “social” are platforms for advertising. That’s their business model. Follow the money and that’s where you end up. Then start there to see where they’ll all go. (LinkedIn, to its credit is an exception here. They have a serious set of professional personal services.) Yes, a lot of good in the world gets done with ad-supported social sites and services. But they are still built on the dairy model. And everything new we do on that model will have the same problem.”
Doc’s use of the term ‘dairy farm” as a metaphor for all these social silos caught my attention and I began to think about the model of a dairy farm. Dairy farming is a animal husbandry, enterprise, for long-term mass production of milk, usually from dairy cows , which may be either processed on-site or transported to a dairy factory for processing and eventual retail sale. Now think about how our content, profiles and all the related data is used by these “social platform factories”.
In essence our profiles are nothing more than containers used for us to produce conversational content (milk). Our content is used to feed our connections (the marketplace). These dairy farms are supported by advertising models which are created by the data we produce when using these factories for business or personal reasons. The more cows in the farm the more milk produced for consumption by friends. Friends represent the masses which are the marketplace. The marketplace devours our target rich data with the aim of making ads more relevant to specific targets.
The problem with this dairy farm model is that “milk” does not produce enough substance to sustain efficient human growth. The meat for growth comes from human interactions aimed at learning new knowledge to sustain us individually and collectively. Cows contained on a ranch (silo networks) are fed grain (ads) to produce milk (short term revenue). These farms will eventually become obsolete when the cows find greener pastures in the open space.