I have had a few conversations recently about the difference between media and communications. The dominant idea for as long as I can remember has been that media and communications are converging – and this is undeniably the case in the sense that many of us buy a blend of media and entertainment from the same company via triple play packages, and also in the sense that the web is at once a comms and an entertainment network.
However, as so often happens, I think the pendulum has now swung too far – and we have started to lose sight of the fact that providing media (i.e. entertainment) services and providing communications services are very different disciplines.
Media is all about delivering an enjoyable experience to the consumer whilst communications is all about delivering a highly efficient service. The price of entertainment is arguably going up whilst the price of comms is undeniably heading towards zero.
Effective service delivery therefore requires a very different mindset from one to the other. That is why the media initiatives at telecoms companies have tended to fail (think BT Vision, and telco portals at the beginning of the internet) – it is also why my expectation is that despite their current strong position the mobile operators will not end up with a significant position in the mobile internet (beyond network provision).
Social networks are also suffering from confusion in this area. In one sense they are comms companies, helping friends to stay in touch with each other via an array of web-based techniques – personal messaging, walls, various poke-me type applications, IM, photo sharing and live chat. Yet on the other hand they are places where people go to kill time and be entertained – via friend accumulation, profile hopping, and game play.
The challenge for socnets is that people are getting bored of accumulating friends and profile hopping and there is no obvious new entertainment service to build. Hence the platform strategy.
The worry in all of this is that the things socnets are good at are on the low-value comms side whilst the value of their platforms for entertainment is still to be proven.