Your Content Is Only As Valuable As Links It Receives.
In the majority of discussions about the future of media, the assumption is that ‘content’ is valuable and if we try hard we’ll find the way of ‘monetizing’ it.
Once we give users the right tools, the story goes, they will start paying each other for access to content (whether that’s micropayments, nanopayments or tips in various forms).
In many ways, we’re still stuck in the industrial era narrative of the ‘copyright’ which is maintained by the centralised institutions protecting ‘rights’ of the owners. Therefore, we need to ‘protect’ our content by putting up paywalls and charging for access. But while the ‘copyright’ model might still work for the 1% of top creators (supported by the major movie studios and record labels), for the rest of us it’s already game over.
In the digital network economy, the value of content is not determined by the copyright deals. It’s determined by content’s location in the network. By location, I mean the number of incoming connections that point to that content.
We use different metaphors for these connections — on the Web there will be links, in the Facebook’s walled garden — likes, friends or follows, Instagram — hearts and follows etc.
The economic value of your content will dynamically change depending on how many of those links you receive.
But it’s always the location in the network graph that determines the value of your content, not the content itself.
“You Can Have Your Photos But We’ll Keep The Links”
Music, photos, videos, articles — can be easily copied and shared. What can’t be copied is the link structure that points to them.
The famous Gangnam Style Video on your hard drive is worth nothing. But it’s extremely valuable on the YouTube channel with billions of views, comments, subscribers.
You can export your posts from Facebook in a zip file but the reality is that outside of Facebook your posts are worthless. What’s valuable is the ‘friend/like/follow’ structure you’ve accumulated over the years. And this link structure is owned by Facebook, not you.
In fact, this is how you build the social media platforms today. Attract users with your service, provide them with a superior experience and let them create the social graph on your servers. But once they’ve invested time and effort in building their graph, they can’t take it elsewhere.
So while we obsess over the old school terms such as content monetization, rights or licenses, it’s The Link/Social Graph ownership that we should be really thinking about.
The Promise Of The Blockchain — Owning Your Social Graph
The publicly visible, auditable trail of transactions that public blockchains enable can be useful not only for purely financial transactions.
Blockchains open up a possibility to think about future social networks where users contribute to the shared, common social graph while being in control of the nodes in this graph.
While blockchains are not yet scalable enough to maintain mainstream social networks, we can already experiment with the niche ones.
So in the next post, I’ll explore issues related to the value propositions and possible user experiences of blockchain based networks.