Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Social Media Suckers: Bleeding You Dry

 Some rights reserved by outcast104


I'm currently reading a really good book. It's called Suckers, and it's by Ann Bilson. Set in the eighties, it follows a cynical, sociopathic stalker that finds out that the whole of London, and the object of her affections are being stalked by creatures of the night. Vampires. Set against the boom-and-bust of the fashion and publishing industries in the eighties, it's a satire on the societal mores of the time. The yuppies are willingly turned. They start to develop a taste for various forms of blood, baby blood being the most popular. They start to refer to normal people as 'nips' - merely a vessel keeping the plasma warm until the are needed for feasting.

The centre of this evil lies in the docklands of London, in a big black tower called MultiGlom.

It may sound a bit heavy handed to non-horror fans, or people who may prefer more nuanced, Salon-esque essays on greed and the noveau riche, along with their attitudes towards the hoi-polloi.

But visions of this book returned to me when I read an article today regarding a recent 'investors' tech party held on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. The people at this event, which included a keynote speech from Richard Branson, were all silicon valley start-up kids. Tech geeks, angel investors, entrepreneurs (AKA the unemployed) rubbed shoulders and other body parts, toasting their own success.

Let me make a prediction here: 90 percent of these businesses will fail in the next year. Nobody, not even Martin Lewis, needs that many coupon sites in his life.

Perhaps the most shocking thing to me about this article is the amount of self-indulgent backslapping that seems to take place at these events.

"Take Travis Kalanick, a Summit-goer who founded Uber, an on-demand car service that uses mobile apps. In February, less than eight months after its launch, Uber rounded up nearly $12 million from investors at a $60 million valuation. Kalanick said Uber has more than 10 investors with a long line of suitors eager to snap up shares.

Aaron Batalion, co-founder of the daily deals site LivingSocial, also had something to toast at this year’s Summit. Four days before the conference, and less than four months after landing a $175 million investment, Living Social raised $400 million at a whopping $3 billion dollar valuation."

So that's a car rental company and a coupon/pyramid promotion company. So far, so not a big wow.

But these investors aren't stupid. JP Morgan are not stupid. We may baulk, justifiably, at the valuations of some of these platforms, but the truth, is, we are the 'nips' in this little vampiric tech circle-jerk.

All of these investors, all of these sites, all of these silicon valley hot-shots, are getting rich off of your personal data. Data that we are providing willingly to these sites, often just to try them out before deciding 'Oh, that's a bit shit', and never visiting again.

That's the worst thing.

And these are the people who will probably laugh their asses off at the Skype/Microsoft deal, just because hey, it's Microsoft, that company from the nineties that have faded into obscurity (i.e fallen out of fashion) because they don't make cool phones or have Lykke Li fronting an ad campaign for them.

But maybe they should be taking note.

Because if Skype, a genuinely transformative, long-haul company that has successfully spawned and maintained thousands of long-term relationships, and MSN Messenger, a still-relevant so-called relic from a bygone era, are combined, then you have a seriously useful platform. An enabler of relationships. Genuine interactions from you and me. And Microsoft have paid cash for a company with that potential, with is a fraction of the $67 billion that Facebook is currently valued at.

You could say that they've jumped in with a rash purchase that potentially backfire much worse than NewsCorp and Myspace, or AOL and Bebo.

Or you could say that they've put down cash to buy a solid business that could provide real benefit for them at the fraction of the market value of the biggest social hub on the planet.

That's what I think.

Who are the suckers now, kids? Not Microsoft in my books.